Email from Bradlee: With the Kelvin Benajmin trade, which rookie will be MORE IMPORTANT to the overall offensive success? Continued usage of Christian McCaffrey or Curtis Samuel's ability to spread the field?
We may as well pick up where we left off.
The continued expansion of McCaffrey's role is obviously a vital part of the Panthers' future. So is the wait for the big play(s). But it's not like he's wasting away. The rookie leads the NFC in receptions and is the only player in the NFL this season with at least 150 rushing yards (183) and 50 catches (54).
Because we've seen signs of what McCaffrey can and can't do for the offense in the first nine weeks, I'll go with Samuel. We still don't know how his speed can truly affect a defense. But there were some hints Sunday. Including here:
Notice Samuel sprinting past the safety?
Sure, Cam Newton didn't launch the ball downfield, but other teams are watching. And what they'll see is a guy they'll have to plan for even if he hasn't yet hauled in a deep ball.
Yes and yes.
But as far as your first point, watch what the safety does before the snap here:
That's not something the Panthers saw much of when Benjamin was on the field, and it sure gives them a better chance to run the ball if defenses aren't stuffing the box like they were.
Email from Greg: James Bradberry tends to shadow a specific receiver throughout games, whereas Josh Norman typically stayed to one side or the other. Is that a product of Steve Wilks' new defense, Bradberry having a different skill set than Norman or the coaching staff simply having more confidence in JB than they ever had in Norman?
Think you're misremembering a bit, Greg. They did use Norman to shadow, especially in 2015.
Like with Norman, though, they're not sticking Bradberry on a No. 1 wideout every single game. And like with Norman, they've done it against guys like Atlanta's Julio Jones and Tampa Bay's Mike Evans.
Norman has better ball skills; Bradberry has better speed, but same number, similar strategy.
Best Ice Cream Flavor:
1) Cookies and cream
2) Everything else
Best Sports Movie:
1) Major League
1) Now & Later
3) Milk Duds
Email from Diarmuid: We're clearly blitzing more than ever this year, and while that's led to better D in terms of yardage and points allowed, why is the number of interceptions so much lower than (and I hate to say it as much as you hate to hear it) the '15 season? Is it that pressure ensures QBs release quicker leading to shorter completions or just better QB play from the opposition or just a case of bad luck? Seems counterintuitive that more pressure corresponds to fewer interceptions.
I love this topic because it's one with so many layers and possibilities. So my short answer would be all of the above.
One other potential reason you didn't mention was how they're playing more man-to-man under Wilks. What that does is ask corners to cover with their backs turned, limiting their ball-hawking chances. That may not be the biggest factor in the pick decrease, but it probably belongs on the list of things you mentioned.
Who was conservative? Surely you don't mean the defense?
If anything, they remained a bit too aggressive.
"As coaches we got a little greedy at the end," Ron Rivera said afterward. "I know Coach Steve Wilks was being very aggressive in trying to slow it down. But I will say this, he is going to stick to his guns and I'm proud of the job they did."
And as far as the offense goes, look what happened to Samuel on the third down before the final punt:
A year ago this week, Armah was getting ready to face West Florida in his final game with Division II West Georgia. So let's remember he's come a long way in a year.
They're working on it, but as a coach told me recently, "baby steps."
All right, we'll end with a double shot of Armah.
He is not. But I did some digging and here's how he ended up in that outfit:
When the rookies came in that morning, there were a bunch of costumes hanging in the visitor's locker room. It was first come, first served and Armah was the first one in. He at first picked the ninja warrior, but it didn't fit. So Cole Luke got that:
While Alex turned into Harry:
And that, folks, is how you do proper journalism.