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Winners and Losers from Panthers' Week 9 Contest

Stephen FenechCorrespondent IOctober 10, 2016

Winners and Losers from Panthers' Week 9 Contest

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    The Carolina Panthers notched their second victory of the season as they overcame the Washington Redskins 21-13 in Week 9. 

    The Panthers took the lead with 24 seconds remaining in the first quarter and never surrendered that lead. The offensive line performed well in pass and run blocking situations, as the Panthers averaged 6.6 yards per play. 

    On the other end, the Redskins averaged just 4.5 yards per play, as the Panthers defensive line turned in their second straight impressive performance.

    Unlike last week, the pass rush didn't dissipate in the second half. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy made RGIII run for his life late into the fourth quarter, as the two defensive ends combined to sack the rookie phenom 3.5 times.  

    There were far more positives than negatives for Carolina in Week 9, which was a refreshing change of pace from what has been a disappointing season. 

Winner: Charles Johnson

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    Charles Johnson had a monster day and he reinforced the point that he is the best player on the Carolina Panthers defense. 

    By day's end, Johnson had compiled two sacks, one tackle for a loss and another four tackles. Johnson also hit Robert Griffin III another three times, as he never allowed the young rookie to get comfortable in the pocket. 

    With Greg Hardy causing havoc at the opposite defensive end position, Johnson has become even more dangerous as a pass rusher. Due to Hardy's strong performance, the Redskins were unable to focus all of their attention on slowing down Johnson. Without constant double teams, Johnson proved to be too much for Redskins starting left tackle Trent Williams. 

    I feel sorry for offensive tackles who are given the responsibility of blocking Johnson without aid, because the ex-Georgia Bulldog is starting to round into elite form. 

Loser: Brad Nortman

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    While Brad Nortman has been decent for the most part in his rookie season, he has made a couple serious blunders in each of the past two weeks. 

    After punting the ball for six yards against the Chicago Bears in a Week 8 attempt, Nortman was only to boot a punt against the Washington Redskins for eight yards. In both cases, Nortman handed favorable position to the opposition which is unacceptable for NFL punters. The punting game should be automatic, as games in the NFL are won and lost by the slightest of margins. 

    As a whole, Nortman punted the ball five times in Week 9 and averaged just 32.2 yards per attempt. That average is his second-worst on the season, only behind his Week 8 average of just 25.7 yards.

    While Nortman will be given a bit of leeway because he is a rookie, his leash won't be as long as it would be if he were a quarterback. There are plenty of capable punters waiting for an opportunity, so it is in Nortman's best interest to improve quickly. 

Winner: Luke Kuechly

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    The emergence of Luke Kuechly at middle linebacker has made up for the absence of former Pro-Bowler Jon Beason.

    Against the Washington Redskins in Week 9, Kuechly compiled 15 tackles with nine of those being solo takedowns. While Kuechly may have taken some bad angles on running plays in the first half, that should be expected of rookie linebackers. With Kuechly in the middle, the Redskins were only able to average 4.5 yards per play which is their season low. 

    Overall, Kuechly was all over the field and proved to be capable of spying the speedy Robert Griffin III. The all-time leading tackler in ACC history still has improvements to make in pass defense and play recognition, but Kuechly should be praised for his strong rookie season through nine weeks.  

Loser: Mike Tolbert

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    When the Carolina Panthers signed Mike Tolbert to a four-year $8.4 million contract, he was expected to be the teams' short yardage back. Tolbert was also brought in to help replace the production that was lost when the team chose not to re-sign Jeremy Shockey. 

    While all three of the Panthers running backs have been disappointing this season, Tolbert has been the least effective. On the season, Tolbert has carried the ball 17 times for 42 yards with two touchdowns. That's an average of 2.5 yards per rush, which is anemic even for a short yardage back. 

    Against the Washington Redskins, Tolbert carried the ball three times for four yards while catching the ball once for seven yards. Overall, Tolbert touched the ball four times and compiled 11 yards, numbers which leave a lot to be desired. 

    The Tolbert signing hasn't worked out, as the Panthers would be better off using either DeAngelo Williams for Jonathan Stewart instead of Tolbert. 

Winner: Cam Newton

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    When Cam Newton takes care of the ball, there are few quarterbacks in the league that can pose as many challenges for opposing defenses.

    In Week 9, Newton completed 13 of his 23 attempts for 201 yards and a touchdown. He also compiled another 37 yards on the ground and found the end zone with 12:46 left in the fourth quarter to give the Panthers a 15 point lead. 

    While it remains clear that Newton still has to work on his accuracy from inside the pocket, his ability to make things happen with his legs make up for his errant passes for the most part. Newton is also the perfect red zone weapon, as his 6'5" 245 pound frame is not easy to stop once he gets a full head of steam.

    With the defense playing solid football, it will be important for Newton to take care of the ball as he leads the team into the second half of the season.

    The coaching staff has created game plans that accentuate Newton's strengths in recent weeks, the results of which are obvious when looking over his statistics. 

    The Panthers will continue to be competitive if Newton can maintain his current level of play, and I am betting that he will. 

Winner: Armanti Edwards

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    Armanti Edwards was targeted one time against the Washington Redskins and on that play he set a Carolina Panthers record for longest play without scoring a touchdown. After hauling in a beautiful pass from Cam Newton, a wide open Edwards sprinted down the sideline for an 82-yard gain. 

    It would have been inexcusable for Edwards to drop Newton's pass, but he still deserves credit for catching the pass and utilizing his top end speed to put the Panthers in a commanding position.

    The Redskins defense was probably taken by surprise when they saw Edwards on the field, as he was only targeted once this season prior to his big reception. 

    The element of surprise certainly worked, as Edwards ran freely down the field. Unfortunately, that play isn't likely to work again because opposing defenses will pay more attention to Edwards when he takes the field. 

    The catch by Edwards may have saved his job, as his role with the team was fuzzy with the assumed return of David Gettis from the PUP list. 

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