It's been a tough couple of months for the team, but some players like tight end Greg Olsen are still having good seasons. What are his chances of making the Pro Bowl? Anyone else? – George in Whittier, N.C.
Despite some uneven play from the offense as a whole, Olsen has been a consistent contributor and one certainly worthy of a Pro Bowl invitation. He's always been one of the best all-around tight ends in the league, but statistics are what usually sells with voters. Olsen has those this year, too, ranking fourth among tight ends in the NFL (and just four catches behind a trio) with 61 receptions and ranking second among tight ends with 778 receiving yards.
Linebacker Luke Kuechly again leads the league in tackles with 125 based on press box statistics and is first in fan voting at his position. Running mate Thomas Davis is having another strong season but again isn't getting enough love at the ballot box.
Olsen stands fifth in fan voting, which counts for one-third of the formula. Four tight ends will make the Pro Bowl roster. You can help the cause by voting for Olsen and other deserving Panthers.
With Carolina playing bad as of late, do you feel it's time to just pull the vets and let the young players get playing time and look forward to the draft? Not saying the NFC South title isn't within grasp, but I don't think we could win in playoffs. – Eugene in Maple Shade, N.J.
Yes. And no.
"We're going to put the guys on the field that we feel like give us the best chance to win – that's what we're going to do," head coach Ron Rivera said Monday. "If it just happens that we're putting a younger guy on the field, so be it. It's about seeing if we can win these football games. We plan to line up, play football, play hard and win."
Even before last Sunday's game at Minnesota, Rivera planned to find snaps for rookie Bene Benwikere behind cornerback Antoine Cason and for rookie Tre Boston behind safety Thomas DeCoud. Cason and linebacker Jason Williams were waived Tuesday, and rookies Carrington Byndom (cornerback) and Horace Miller (linebacker) were promoted from the practice squad.
In some ways, the fact that Benwikere, Boston, Byndom and Miller are rookies is coincidental. When an NFL team isn't getting the production it expects from a player – veteran or rookie – it looks to someone else for that production. In the Panthers' case, the next men up happen to be rookies who need to be evaluated.
Can you please explain to me why the Panthers defense is not playing with as much intensity as they were last season, and also why the offense is taking so long to get going? – Chase in Marshville, N.C.
Funny thing about intensity: No team ever really looks like it's playing intense when it's losing. No, the defense hasn't been able to match the dominant level of play it achieved in 2013 when defensive end Greg Hardy tied a team record and ranked third in the NFL with 15 sacks. Hardy has played in one game this season, a game in which he had a sack and forced fumble. It's certainly not a one-man defense, but that's one man whose absence has been felt.
On offense, it's been one of those season where the moving parts haven't all functioned at the same time nearly enough. Injuries have played a big role. The Panthers have used a different starting offensive line for seven consecutive games, and the backfield trio of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert just played its second game together. Quarterback Cam Newton has been up-and-down like those around him, as have a wide receiver group being led by a talented rookie in Kelvin Benjamin but a rookie nonetheless.
Unfortunately, it's been one of those years.