First Quarter Review


Top Offensive Player: QB Cam Newton

Aside from Ed Dickson's miraculous fumble return, Newton has accounted for all of Carolina's offensive touchdowns through four games – seven passes and two rushes. His athletic ability has been the engine of the offense, keeping drives alive with timely scrambles and finding open targets downfield when he escapes pressure.

Top Defensive Player: CB Josh Norman

You could make a strong case for Norman to be the current frontrunner for top defensive player in the NFL, let alone the Panthers. The stats are gaudy: a league-high four interceptions, a league-high two interception returns for touchdowns, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and eight passes defensed. What a start.

Top Rookie: LB Shaq Thompson

The first-round pick has played like a first-round pick so far. He's displayed explosiveness and physicality – two traits the Panthers liked when they scouted the former Washington linebacker. Thompson is executing his assignments and keeping the rookie mistakes to a minimum. He's performing well in his specified role, and there's a chance that role expands as the season goes on.

Biggest Surprise: DE Ryan Delaire

The undrafted rookie has played in one game since being signed off the Redskins' practice squad, and he's already the co-leader in sacks with two. Talk about immediate impact from an unlikely source. Carolina was looking for more pressure on the quarterback, and Delaire provided it in his debut against the Buccaneers.

Unsung Hero: LB Thomas Davis

With linebacker Luke Kuechly and defensive end Charles Johnson sidelined, Davis has been the steady leader for the defense. He leads the team with 36 tackles and has intercepted two passes and forced one fumble. After suffering a painful pectoral injury in Week 3, Davis was on the field the next week, pacing the team with 11 tackles in Week 4.

Offense Analysis: Newton has been stellar, and as he goes, so does the offense. Overall, the offensive line has done a solid job protecting their mobile quarterback, but the ground game outside of Newton hasn't quite hit its stride. Running back Jonathan Stewart is the leading rusher with 220 yards on a 3.7-yards per carry average, but Newton has the team's only two rushing scores. In the passing game, tight end Greg Olsen has been his typical dependable self, and wide receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. immediately showed why Carolina was so excited to bring him back. Ginn leads the team with three touchdown catches and is averaging 17.2 yards per reception.

Defense Analysis: The Panthers have exemplified team defense. Kuechly, the leader in the middle, only played half of one game, but Carolina continues to get it done. The Panthers rank second in the league with 11 takeaways. They've limited big plays through the air, allowing a league-low 5.7 yards per pass attempt. And the Panthers' 3.8 yards allowed per rush ranks eighth best in the NFL.

Special Teams Analysis: The coverage and return units have been serviceable, but the field goal unit became a cause for concern after two blocked kicks in the first two weeks. The issue appears to be resolved, however, as Graham Gano has converted his last five field goal attempts.

View top photos from the first four games of the season by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez.

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