Dec 30, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera paces the sidelines against the New Orleans Saints during second quarter of their game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina Panthers: Cats make it look easy in the Big Easy

The Carolina Panthers saved the best for last. They came out and owned the Saints. I have noticed that for a team with the nickname “Saints”, they surely do not play like it. This team, in my opinion,is dirty. They were badgering the Panthers all day, and when Carolina took the lead late in the game, it got ugly. For being an uber-talented, extremely gifted player, Jimmy Graham, in my opinion, is a punk. The antagonizing and berating of Panthers on the kick off team was just cheap and unnecessary. It really made me lose respect for Graham as a player and an individual. And as far as the Saints fans cheering when Cam went down with an injury, well let me just say karma is a b**ch! That being said, Carolina was more than impressive today. I will admit today’s ridiculous offensive explosion was against the most horrendous defense in NFL history. Nevertheless the Panthers looked deadly against the porous Saints defense. Cam and company did what they wanted for the most part and Carolina managed to gain 530 yards of offense while looking great doing it.

December 30, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams (34) runs for a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during the second half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Panthers defeated the Saints 44-38. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Again Carolina won despite Cam throwing an interception. In addition to the pick Cam managed to throw for 248 yards on just 16 completions. Certainly not his best game, but he did spread the ball around to several receivers. His accuracy is still his biggest weakness and this is due to his incredible arm strength. He is so strong he often times is able to throw the ball where he wants without setting his feet. On the touch passes he needs to have his feet set to accurately place the ball. Aside from the accuracy issues he did play okay. The importance of his role was overshadowed by the play of #34 DeAngelo Williams.

Williams had the game of his pro career today. He ran the ball 21 times for 210 yards. It was his biggest rushing day ever in the NFL. He was basically unstoppable today. The offensive game plan called for lots of  play run from the traditional “I” formation. The running attack featured several off tackle and inside runs. The Saints defense simply could not stop this running attack. I think offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski called a great game. He finally realized Williams is a traditional “tailback” and is best suited running from traditional formations. The infamous “read option” was ran today in certain spots with limited success but it did keep the defense guessing.  Down on the goal line, fullback Mike Tolbert was incredibly effective. He was able to punch it in from the one yard line on 3 different occasions.

Dec 30, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert (35) celebrates his touchdown against the New Orleans Saints during second quarter of their game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The offensive line played fairly well today. The the group did give up some pressures against the Saints but the Saints only managed to sack Cam once the entire day. The offensive line really showed its strength in the run game. They allowed Williams to get into the 2nd level of defense all day, and once he got there he made the Saints linebackers and secondary look really pathetic. Greg Olsen set the Panthers record for yards receiving in a season by a tight end in the game today. He broke the record set by Panthers great, Wesley Walls. Congratulations to Olsen on one really incredible receiving year. Another record to go down today was the record for most yards passing by a quarterback in the 1st two years of their career. Cam broke this record which had been held by Peyton Manning. With the success of Andrew Luck and RGIII we’ll see how long Cam is able to hold this record. With all the success by the offense today, the Panthers defense had a less successful day then what we have become accustomed in the last few weeks.

Brees lit up the secondary today. He is certainly one of the best quarterbacks in the league and I am stupefied as to why he was not invited to Hawaii for the pro bowl this year. Bress exploited the Panthers to the tune of 29/43 for 396 yards and 4 touchdowns. He did throw an interception but otherwise he had a fantastic day. The main reason for his success was the lack of a pass rush. Clearly the Panthers missed Greg Hardy, because without him they managed only 2 sacks, and really only pressured Brees a hand full of times. Again Luke Kuechly led the team with 13 tackles. This is another player whom I am befuddled as to why he did not make the pro bowl, at least as an alternate. Well it should be a lock for him to win DROY for 2012. This young man is a gifted athlete and has the makings of a future hall of famer, in my opinion.

The secondary has issues and must be addressed in the off season. Both Jimmy Graham and Lance Moore managed to gain over 100 yards receiving today. Graham with 115 and Moore with a whopping 121 on just 4 receptions. I think we have a found a starter at corner in Josh Thomas and a possible starter at safety in DJ Campbell. But this group is easily te biggest weakness on this team. The strength of the unit is clearly in its front seven. With the return of injured players like Jon Beason, and Chris Gamble (if we don’t lose him in a salary cap move), I like the way this defense has come together. The Saints are a potent offense and capable of explosive plays and putting points up in bunches, so giving up 441 yards is not anything to be ashamed of.

I think Ron Rivera has done a marvelous job with this team. Today’s win was his 1st as head coach when trailing by double digits. Back when we were 1-6 I too was calling for his head. But he and the team have kept the faith and continued to work toward success and we have begun to see the fruits of their labor. The offense is clicking and the defense was ranked 11th after today’s game. I believe if this team was going into the playoffs, there is not a team in the NFL that would want us as an opponent. I really wish we could have another shot at the Giants and the Broncos. The team we have playing now is a much different and much better team than the one both of those teams met.

The off season will bring some big changes to the organization. I only hope whomever the GM is will see the development of Rivera and his coordinators these last 2 years and see that he has earned a 3rd year as coach. If this team continues to progress the way it has these last several weeks and can finish on the winning side of games decided by 6 points or less then the Carolina Panthers will be making a deep playoff run in 2013.

God Bless!

Follow me on Twitter @JoeRiollano

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