CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said the Carolina Panthers have to play a better brand of defense. Head coach Ron Rivera summed up the defense as "good at times, sporadic at times."

Then there was linebacker Thomas Davis, who was more raw and truthful than anyone on why a unit that was one of the league's best last season is one of the worst seven games into 2014.

"We aren't playing smart football right now and at the end of the day it's going to boil down to us going out and doing our jobs, and that will be the determining factor of whether we get this thing going in the right direction,” Davis said on Monday.

Each was responding to what went wrong in Sunday's 38-17 loss at Green Bay in which the Panthers (3-3-1) were down 21-0 before the end of the first quarter.

"We're not executing or making plays, and we're not competing hard enough," Davis said bluntly. "From the film we watched we have a lot of guys that on a consistent enough basis are not competing hard enough, and it's showing up."

Asked why, Davis said, "I can't pinpoint what the reason is right now, all I know is it is a problem and it's something that has to be corrected."

One area Davis didn't hesitate to pinpoint was the lack of effort swarming to the ball. The Panthers had a season-high 11 missed tackles against Green Bay. That in part explains that 180 of the Packers' 255 passing yards came after the catch.

On the season, according to ESPN Stats and Information, the Panthers have allowed 978 yards after the catch for an average of 140 a game. They allowed only 1,688 all of last season for 106 yards a game.

The result is more big plays and touchdowns. Opponents already have 15 receiving touchdowns compared to 17 all of last season.

"It's a competitive thing," Davis said. "You have to be willing to go out and compete and give yourself up for this team, for this defense. You have to play like that the whole game. You can't pick your spots and say 'Hey, I'm going to play right now and I'm going to take this play off.'

"That play you take off could cost us the game."

Davis refused to blame a specific group such as the secondary, which has three new starters in cornerback Antoine Cason, strong safety Roman Harper and free safety Thomas DeCoud.

"It ain't just the secondary," Davis said. "It's linebackers, D-line. You go back and watch the film. We had D-linemen downfield making tackles when we didn't make them sometimes last year.

"If I miss a tackle or someone misses a tackle, we had guys flying around and making that play, and it covered up some of the stuff that was going on. Right now, we have a lack of that going on."

The Panthers rank 26th in total defense and 24th or worse in four major categories. They are tied for the seventh-most penalized unit in the league with 16.

Carolina didn't have one broken up pass Sunday against Aaron Rodgers, who completed 19 of 22 attempts for 255 yards and three touchdowns for a rating of 154.5.

"We've got to find a way to contest throws," McDermott said.

Less speed in the secondary could be one issue. Rivera said players have to use their technique and abilities better. He also said the coaches have to find a way to get more pressure on the quarterback to help coverage.

Then it comes back to effort.

"Regardless of how fast you are, it's how fast you play," McDermott said. "And it's the effort behind the speed."

There seemed to be little effort from Harper after Nelson got past Cason in the first quarter, turning a relatively short catch into a 59-yard touchdown.

The Panthers have allowed an average of 9.2 missed tackles over the past five games in which they have surrendered 37 or more points four times. They averaged only 6.8 missed tackles a game last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

"When you play fast, and you play physical, you're going to miss some tackles," McDermott said. "As long as somebody else is coming, that's OK. It's when you're missing tackles from technique, and nobody else is there ... ."

Can it be fixed? McDermott reminded that after two games he was being asked if this year's defense was better than last year's that finished No. 2 in the NFL.

"And I said, 'Wait for 16 games,' " McDermott said. "I'm going to tell you wait for 16 games."
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Carolina Panthers could have running back DeAngelo Williams back on the practice field Wednesday, coach Ron Rivera said Monday.

Williams has missed the past three games with a high ankle sprain suffered in the first half of a Sept. 28 loss at Baltimore. The team’s all-time leading rusher hasn’t participated in practice since.

Williams walked through the locker room Monday with no visible signs of a limp, but there was tape on his right ankle.

The Panthers' offensive line has several injury situations to work through this week. Rookie right guard Trai Turner has a sprained ankle and knee and likely won’t be available for next Sunday’s game against Seattle.

Turner suffered the injury in the first half of Sunday’s 38-17 loss at Green Bay.

Left tackle Byron Bell suffered an elbow contusion that doesn’t appear to be serious. His status for the Seattle game will be determined later in the week, but Rivera sounded optimistic on his availability.

Left guard Amini Silatolu, who missed Sunday’s game with a calf injury, could return this week.

Rivera didn’t sound optimistic that nickel cornerback Bene Benwikere, who missed his second straight start with an ankle injury, would return. But he said Benwikere would replace Charles Godfrey in the lineup when he does.

Rivera remained in wait-and-see mode on whether Josh Norman, who has missed two games with a concussion, would return as a starting cornerback.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera says middle linebacker Luke Kuechly should not have been ejected from Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers and most definitely should not be fined for making contact with the official.

"No,'' Rivera said emphatically when asked Monday if Kuechly should be fined. "Not at all. Zero chance.''

The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year was ejected after he swung his arm as he was being restrained by back judge Steve Freeman with 1:39 left in the third quarter of the 38-17 loss.

Kuechly said he wasn't aware it was Freeman who had grabbed him from behind, adding he simply was trying to free himself from the scrum when he made contact with the official.

Rivera felt Kuechly should not have been ejected at the time of the incident and didn't change his mind after watching it on tape.

"I disagreed with it,'' Rivera said. "I disagreed with the explanation I was given. I looked at the tape and I felt the tape agreed with what I felt.''

Rivera said at some point he'll talk to league officials about what happened. For now, he said general manager Dave Gettleman and his staff will lobby that Kuechly shouldn't be fined, a fairly standard consequence for contact with an official.

Kuechly said he didn't mean to make contact.

(Read full post)

Our weekly attempt to expose and explore the gray area involved in officiating NFL games. Sunday suggestions welcome via Twitter (@SeifertESPN). For all Inside Slant posts, including the weekly Officiating Review, follow this link.

Play: No official review after the St. Louis Rams were ruled to have recovered their own fumble on the penultimate play of their 28-26 victory against the Seattle Seahawks.
Referee: Brad Allen
Analysis: Rams running back Tre Mason fumbled after converting a game-clinching first down. Teammate and tight end Cory Harkey fell first on the ball, but a large pileup soon formed. Allen's crew ruled a recovery by the Rams, who then quickly lined up for a final kneel-down before replay official Jim Lapetina -- who has complete control over instant replay in the final two minutes -- could initiate a review.

This type of play became eligible for review this season under the so-called "NaVorro Bowman" example. (Bowman's apparent fumble recovery against the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game was not reviewable at the time.) The NFL's official play-by-play credits Harkey for the recovery, but a replay broadcast before the Rams' final kneel-down made clear he lost control of the ball prior to the pileup. The ball was last seen underneath Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who told reporters he maintained possession under the pile and assumed he would be credited with a recovery that would have given the Seahawks' offense one final chance to win the game.

In the end, none of the angles shown on the Fox broadcast provided indisputable evidence of the recovery. NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino tweeted that he reviewed the call in New York and that there was "no evidence of who recovered the ball."

It doesn't appear that the outcome would have changed had Lapetina initiated a review, but watching the sequence of events live suggested the NFL was more fortunate in this case than it was efficient. Did Lapetina know in real time that there was no angle to support a credible review? I suppose it's possible. Still, I don't think many of us would have argued against a 60-second stoppage of play to evaluate a game-changing call at the end of a two-point game just to make sure.

[+] EnlargeLuke Kuechly
AP Photo/Mike RoemerPanthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was ejected for making contact with back judge Steve Freeman in Carolina's game in Green Bay.
Plays: Two linebackers, Erik Walden of the Indianapolis Colts and Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers, were ejected for making contact with an official.
Referee: Gene Steratore for Walden and Jeff Triplette for Kuechly
Analysis: Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1(h) prohibits "unnecessary physical contact with a game official." It leads to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a disqualification.

Walden's infraction occurred when umpire Bruce Stritesky was separating him from Cincinnati Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham. Walden used his right arm in what appeared an attempt to ward off Stritesky from pushing him away. The contact was gentle by football standards, but Stritesky immediately threw his flag.

Kuechly, meanwhile, had been at the bottom of a pile attempting to recover a fumble by the Green Bay Packers' Eddie Lacy. Packers tight end Richard Rodgers pulled Kuechly out of the pile, which appeared to anger Kuechly, and back judge Steve Freeman grabbed Kuechly from behind to prevent a confrontation.

Kuechly wriggled his left arm to free himself from Freeman, only afterward realizing it was an official rather than another player who was restraining him. Freeman, who appeared to take an arm to his face, immediately threw his flag.

The structure of the rule allows officials some leeway by including the word "unnecessary." It implies the existence and possible acceptance of inadvertent contact, which surely applies in Kuechly's instance. There didn't appear to be any intent to make contact with an official on his part, and either Freeman or Triplette should have let it go.

On the other hand, there is little doubt that Walden's contact was deliberate. Again, officials have some leeway. The contact in this case was hardly forceful. But delineating the power behind contact would seem to compromise the larger goal of demanding respect for officials. Walden certainly didn't get his money's worth, but the physical contact was in fact "unnecessary" and merited a penalty.

Play: San Francisco 49ers defender Dontae Johnson collided with umpire Mark Pellis on the goal line, opening up Denver Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders for a touchdown.
Referee: John Parry
Analysis: Many of you will recall the 2010 change that moved umpires from their traditional position behind linebackers to a safer, less-trafficked spot 12-15 yards deep in the offensive backfield. So why was Pellis standing on the "O" of the "BRONCOS" end zone lettering on third-and-goal? Because of an NFL rule exception, of course.

A few months after the initial rule change, the NFL circulated a memo that described several instances where the umpire would move back to his original spot. One of them was in cases like Sunday night's, when the offense is at or inside the 5-yard line. According to the memo, as reported by The New York Times, the league deemed it "useful for the umpire to be operating in close proximity to the line of scrimmage."

The exceptions were developed after complaints came from teams that ran no-huddle offenses, particularly the Colts, led at the time by Peyton Manning. Theoretically, getting the umpire closer to the line of scrimmage would allow teams to snap the ball more quickly.

Four years later, the re-positioning helped another Manning-led team. As the Broncos lined up at the 3-yard line, Pellis stood 8 yards away in the defensive backfield. He took two steps forward at the snap, then tried to backpedal -- apparently trying to move out of Sanders' way -- but slipped.

Sanders stayed upright and continued running, but Johnson collided with Pellis and toppled to the ground. The 49ers had no recourse; the umpire is part of the field, and falling over him is no different than slipping on a divot. The only call was to signal a Broncos touchdown.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Colin Cole took a moment on Sunday to reflect on his 2010 season with the Seattle Seahawks.

It had nothing to do with the defending Super Bowl champions coming to Charlotte this week.

It had everything to do with perspective.

The 2010 Seahawks went 7-9 during the regular season, which was good enough to win the NFC West in a tiebreaker over the St. Louis Rams. They went on to beat an 11-5 New Orleans team 41-36 in the first round of the playoffs.

Cole brought that season up to remind that as bad as the Panthers (3-3-1) looked in a 38-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, they remain in first place in the NFC South.

On a day when nothing went right for Carolina, the New Orleans Saints blew a fourth-quarter lead in a 24-23 loss at Detroit and Atlanta was pounded 29-7 by the Baltimore Ravens.

That left the Saints at 2-4 and the Falcons at 2-5.

The only NFC South team that didn't lose was 1-5 Tampa Bay, and the Buccaneers were on a bye.

"It's very positive that every team lost," Cole said.

That's about the only positive thing that came out of Carolina's loss, leaving the Panthers 1-2-1 in their last four games. The defense was horrible and the offense wasn't much better.

"Somehow we're still in first place, which is great, but by no means a reflection of how well we're playing at times," tight end Greg Olsen said. "It really is a week-by-week league."

And this week, the Panthers face a 3-3 Seattle team that has lost two straight and three of its last five games to fall two games out of first place in the West.

"You've got to put all your efforts into each game and try to get one win at a time," Olsen said. "You don't worry about stretches. You don't worry about who you have in a couple of weeks. You worry about the immediate.

"We've got a long time before we have to worry about the division, but it's nice that during some of these bad weeks we caught some breaks with the other teams struggling, too."

The Panthers may be playing bad defense, giving up 37 or more points in four of their last five games, but the rest of the division also is porous defensively.

It's so bad that former Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith called the NFC South a "finesse division" after the Ravens made the cumulative score 115-34 against Carolina, Tampa Bay and Atlanta this season.

Smith wasn't saying that a year ago, when Carolina had the league's second-ranked defense en route to a 12-4 record and the NFC South title. But that's another story.

The story of this season's division race looks much like the one Seattle had in 2010. The way things stand, seven wins might be enough to win it.

And as quarterback Cam Newton reminded, it's too early to call the situation critical as bad as the loss looked and with injuries continuing to mount -- now on the offensive line with left tackle Byron Bell (elbow) and right guard Trai Turner (ankle sprain) in question.

"What we going to do? Quit?" Newton said. "Absolutely not. We've got to keep going, keep fighting. We'll find a way to get out of this."

Because the rest of the NFC South keeps losing, the Panthers have time to do that.

"Hey, we'll take it how we can get it," free safety Thomas DeCoud said. "But we want to start winning some football games.

Packers receiver Randall Cobb comments on his team's 38-17 win over the Panthers.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The forecast didn't call for snow during the Green Bay Packers' 38-17 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Lambeau Field, but there was a snowball effect.

It started on the fifth play. The Packers faced third-and-12 from their 28.

Offsides. Third-and-7.

Offsides. Third-and-2, negating an interception.

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers then scrambled for 3 yards and a first down. He then completed a pass in the flat to Jordy Nelson, who slipped away from cornerback Antoine Cason and easily avoided safety Roman Harper.

Fifty-nine yards later, touchdown.

It snowballed from there. The defense that finished second in the NFL a season ago made one mistake after another. There were too many men on the field, giving the Packers a first down on their second possession, which seven plays later turned into a touchdown.

Safety Thomas DeCoud was called for unnecessary roughness -- leading with his helmet -- following a 14-yard reception on Green Bay's next possession. Two plays later, another touchdown.

Less than 12 minutes into the game the Packers were up 21-0 with 172 yards of total offense.

"I don't think the defense gave us an opportunity to win in the first quarter, and I am disappointed," said Carolina coach Ron Rivera, stating the obvious.

It steadily got worse. The snowball kept rolling until it turned into a bona fide avalanche.

When all was said and done, the Panthers (3-3-1) allowed 37 or more points for the fourth time in five games. Rodgers finished with as many touchdown passes as incompletions (three). It began in the first quarter, when he was 10-for-11 for 132 yards and three touchdowns.

The Carolina defense was so bad it seems wrong to keep comparing it to last season's unit.

The 2013 defense gave up 241 points in 16 games. This group already has given up 195 in seven games.

That's 15.06 points per game a season ago, and 27.85 points a game this season.

At this rate, Carolina will give up 445 points.

There are only so many times Rivera and players can blame this on gap control and trying to do too much. There are only so many times they can say what happened was "self-inflicted," as Rivera did to begin his postgame news conference.

There is something fundamentally wrong, even though Rivera said the unit is good enough to compete.

"They should be," he said. "We have six out of seven guys back from our front [seven]. We have a couple of veteran safeties that are capable, and you would like to believe that our corners can do the job. We'll find out."

They haven't done their job. There is no sign they will.

Not that the offense was much better on this overcast day. The first three drives ended in three-and-outs and the first five ended in punts. Carolina had only 5 yards of total offense in the first quarter.

But the defense never gave the offense a chance to overcome its slow start because it couldn't get out of the way of its own mistakes.

"We've got to stop shooting ourselves in the foot," DeCoud said.

There are no excuses for the offsides penalties. The Panthers practiced for Rodgers' hard count all week with noise.

There is no excuse for having 12 men on the field.

But what's just as alarming as the mental errors are the missed tackles. A team that was one of the league's best a season ago looks no better than a college team, at times letting the ball carrier get past the first or second defender.

This one got so bad that middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, was ejected for making contact with an official late in the third quarter.

"We had them exactly where you want them on the first drive," Kuechly said. "Sack. Drop them back, third down and 12.

"A good offense like them, you get them three-off on that first drive it throws a little momentum for us."

Instead, it snowballed the other way.

Packers reporter Rob Demovsky's game ball goes to Randall Cobb, who has been a touchdown machine this season. Panthers punter Brad Nortman gets the nod from David Newton.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Carolina Panthers' 38-17 loss to the Packers:
  • Kuechly
    There was a lot of disbelief that middle linebacker Luke Kuechly was ejected after making contact with an official in the third quarter. Kuechly said he wasn't even aware it was an official grabbing him from behind when he raised his elbow to separate himself from the scrum. Linebacker Thomas Davis said he has seen way worse that hasn't resulted in an ejection.
  • Coach Ron Rivera and several players used the term "self-inflicted" to describe all the penalties, missed tackles and mistakes that led to a 21-0 deficit in the first 12 minutes.
  • "Somehow we're still in first place. That's not a reflection how we're playing," tight end Greg Olsen said when reminded the Panthers (3-3-1) remain in first place in the NFC South after second-place New Orleans (2-4) and Atlanta (2-5) also lost. Last-place Tampa Bay (1-5) was the only division team that didn't lose. The Buccaneers had a bye.
  • Right guard Trai Turner was sitting at his locker with his left foot in a boot. Turner sprained his ankle in the first quarter and did not return. He's not sure how serious the injury is.
  • There was no sign of left tackle Byron Bell, who left in the second half with an elbow injury and did not return.

Rapid Reaction: Carolina Panthers

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A few thoughts on the Carolina Panthers' 38-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field:

What it means: This may have been one of those season-on-the-brink moments for the Panthers (3-3-1). Between penalties, mental errors and bad decisions, they were terrible offensively and defensively. Their only saving grace at the moment is that the rest of the NFC South is a mess. This one got away from Carolina before the cheese curds got cold. The Panthers were outgained 172-5 and outscored 21-0 in a disaster of a first quarter. They gave up 37 or more points for the fourth time in the last five games. They committed eight penalties for 55 yards in the first half. It was such a foregone conclusion early that Cam Newton never was a factor. There was nothing positive to take from this one.

Stock watch: The entire defense, big arrow down. Just when you thought this group couldn’t play any worse, it did. The first quarter was one of the worst in team history. The Panthers gave up 172 yards and three touchdowns to trail 21-0 just 13 minutes into the game. They also had four penalties for 30 yards. This sums it up: The defense could have gotten out of the first series unscathed but had consecutive offside penalties after it was second-and-20, one of which negated an interception. On Green Bay’s second drive, the Panthers had too many men on the field on third-and-3. I haven’t even mentioned all the missed tackles. To say this unit is a shell of the one that finished second in the league a season ago is an understatement. It was so bad that reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly was ejected in the third quarter after making contact with an official trying to separate him from a pile.

Wild card: Not to be lost in the wreckage, tight end Greg Olsen had another strong showing. He caught eight passes for 105 yards as he continues on a pace for career numbers. Even if the Panthers don’t turn things around, Olsen is playing at a Pro Bowl level.

Game ball: Not that anybody really deserves one, but I’ll give it to punter Brad Nortman. He kicked more times in the first half (five) than many punters do for a game. He finished with seven punts for an average of 53.9 yards, including a 67-yarder.

What’s next: The Panthers return home from two road games to face the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Seattle (3-3) has won the last three games in the series, including a 12-7 victory at Bank of America Stadium in last year's opener.

Panthers LB Luke Kuechly ejected

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly could face a fine after being ejected for making contact with an official late in the third quarter of Sunday's 38-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

The reigning NFL defensive player of the year swung his arm as he was being restrained by back judge Steve Freeman with 1:39 left in the third quarter.

Kuechly said he wasn't aware it was Freeman who had grabbed him from behind and that he was just trying to free himself from the situation.

"It's one of those situations where you don't know what it is,'' Kuechly said. "You just felt somebody grab you on the back. ... It's an emotional game, but you've got to walk away from the situation and you can't let that happen.''

Kuechly said he never got a chance to apologize because officials forced him to leave the field immediately.

"I didn't mean to do it,'' he said. "To tell you the truth, I didn't know who was grabbing me. I was trying to get out of there a little bit. You've just got to stay calm in those situations and just walk away and let it take care of itself.''

Kuechly said it wasn't out of frustration because the Panthers were trailing 35-3 at the time.

"Not frustration,'' he said. "Just somebody is grabbing you and you're trying to get away.''

Kuechly, who entered the game as the NFL leader in tackles, was caught in a pile trying to recover a fumble that was recovered by Green Bay. As he was getting up, Kuechly appeared to push back tackle David Bakhtiari.

(Read full post)

W2W4: Panthers vs. Packers

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
The Carolina Panthers are 2-0 versus the NFC North this season and have won three straight against the division. The Green Bay Packers have won six straight against NFC South opponents.

Something will have to give when the defending NFC South champion Panthers (3-2-1) face the defending NFC North champion Packers (4-2) on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Here are three things to keep an eye on in the 1 p.m. game:
  • Aaron Rodgers. No quarterback in the league is playing at a higher level. He has 15 touchdowns to only one interception and a passer rating of 111.4 that ranks second in the NFL. He’ll be facing a defense ranked 26th overall and 20th against the pass. According to Pro Football Focus, he’ll be facing two cornerbacks -- Antoine Cason and Melvin White -- against whom quarterbacks have racked up passer ratings of 113.1 and 126.1. Pressure doesn’t bother Rodgers much, either. As Carolina coach Ron Rivera said, Rodgers is as efficient outside the pocket as he is in it.
  • The read-option. The Packers rank last in the NFL at stopping the run, and in particular have struggled against the read-option. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is one of the best at running the read-option when healthy. He finally was considered healthy enough to run it last week and rushed 17 times for 107 yards. The best way to stop Rodgers (see above) is to keep the ball out of his hands. Carolina’s best chance is for Newton and the offense to run off time with long drives. Ending with touchdowns would help.
  • Get off the field. The defense has struggled to do that, one reason it ranks 23rd or worse in four major categories. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Panthers have given up first downs on third down at a higher rate (50 percent) than every team in the league not named the Raiders (51.4 percent). Last week, Cincinnati was 6-for-7 on third down in the first half and 10-for-16 for the game. If that happens against Aaron Rodgers it will be a long day.
Carolina Panthers rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin made the trip to Wisconsin on Saturday, a sign he is on target to play in Sunday’s 1 p.m. ET game against the Green Bay Packers.

Benjamin has been under the league's concussion protocol since Monday. He did not participate in practice on Wednesday or Thursday, but was back on the field on Friday.

The 28th pick of the draft suffered the concussion this past Sunday on a second-quarter hit from Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict. He passed a sideline concussion test and finished the game, but complained of a headache when he arrived at the stadium on Monday.

Coach Ron Rivera said Benjamin took all of his repetitions on Friday and looked good.

Several players expressed throughout the week optimism that Benjamin, whose 31 receptions leads all Carolina wide receivers, would play. If not, Brenton Bersin and Philly Brown would replace him in the rotation.

The Panthers ruled cornerback Bené Benwikere (ankle), linebacker Chase Blackburn (knee), guard Amini Silatolu (calf), running back Fozzy Whittaker (quad) and running back DeAngelo Williams (ankle) out on Saturday.

They also signed linebacker Adarius Glanton from the practice squad and released safety Robert Lester, who was signed from the practice squad earlier in the week.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- If you want to know history surrounding the Green Bay Packers, defensive tackle Colin Cole is the best place to go for answers in the Carolina Panthers locker room.

Cole played for the Packers from 2004-2008. He played four years with future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre and one year with current quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

He won’t tell you Rodgers is better than Favre, but he will say Rodgers is better at protecting the football and making plays on the run.

He heard so much about the history of Lambeau Field that he sounds like a tour guide when the topic comes up.

“Go back to historic Lambeau Field,’’ Cole said as he prepared for Sunday’s game between the Packer and Panthers. “And they’ll make sure they let you know it’s historic Lambeau Field. It’s something you hear every single commercial, during the game, when the voice-over guy is talking.

“Historic Lambeau Field.’’

Cole hasn’t been offered brats or beer after a game as Carolina coach Ron Rivera once was as a player with the Chicago Bears, but he wouldn’t turn either down if offered on Sunday.

“It’s one of the best places in football as far as fans go,’’ Cole said. “Midwest America. It’s the only thing going on in Wisconsin on a Sunday. The people really get behind their team.

“I can’t wait.’

Now for questions on the Panthers, you’re at the best place. Let’s get to my Saturday mailbag:

@DNewtonESPN: I wouldn't say permanently. There are several factors behind Carolina being more pass heavy this season. Teams are stacking their defense to stop the run for one. That creates more opportunities in the passing game. That Newton wasn't turned loose to run until last week also is a factor. Not having starting running back DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart for much of the season has to be taken into consideration as well. The goal remains to be balanced. and I believe you'll see more of that as the season progresses. @DNewtonESPN: Without a doubt. I saw one publication said he's playing at a top five quarterback level. You haven't heard that often. Statistically, Newton is off to the best start of his career (See my Thursday post). Now that he's been turned loose to run, he's even more dangerous. @DNewtonESPN: Not at this point. They still believe Antoine Cason and Melvin White are better than average even though the statistics don't say so. And they really like Josh Norman's potential once he's cleared from the concussion protocol, which should come this week. Once they get the issues with the front seven figured out the secondary should look better. It all works hand in hand. @DNewtonESPN: Go back and ready my story on Wednesday. The short answer is yes. Nine seems like a reasonable number to reach looking at the schedule. I don't see New Orleans or Atlanta getting past that number. If one or both of those teams are at nine wins with Carolina, the Panthers win the division by half a game. @DNewtonESPN: Perhaps a little of both. Coach Ron Rivera did issue a challenge to that group to be more physical last week, and they seemed to respond. That Newton ran well helped immensely. When he's a threat, opposing front sevens can't tee off on the quarterback out of respect for being beaten on the run. @DNewtonESPN: The only constant I can think of is defensive end Greg Hardy isn't there. Rivera keeps saying players are trying to do too much. They are trying to do too much to compensate for losing a player that had 15 sacks, 38 quarterback pressures and was solid against the run and against the pass when he had to drop into coverage. If I had more than that I'd be hired to be on staff. @DNewtonESPN: Darrin Reaves and Fozzy Whittaker did a solid job of pass blocking, and were OK running. Honestly, when Cam Newton took over the running game I kind of lost focus on the backs. @DNewtonESPN: Pretty sure he can, but the team still would owe him $13.1 million in salary and then be assured it gets nothing in return. @DNewtonESPN: If I were a betting man, I'd say yes. He returned to the game at Cincinnati and finished it. He looked good at practice on Friday. But as Rivera noted on Friday. he has had only one player cleared to play the same week he went into concussion protocol since he arrived at Carolina in 2011. In other words, there are no guarantees.