After last Sunday's impressive road victory over the San Francisco 49ers propelled them to a 6-3 record, the Carolina Panthers have garnered kudos from the national media, especially on the defensive side of the football. While most of the talk coming into Monday night's matchup versus the 7-2 Patriots has been about Carolina's stout front seven, the dependable play in the secondary has managed to go largely unnoticed. The leader of the defensive backfield, free-safety playmaker Mike Mitchell wasn't shy when asked whether the secondary gets enough respect.
"If we keep winning games, and put on the performance we're putting on, you have no notice at some point" said Mitchell. "If we don't have your respect before the game, we're going to get it from you afterwards," a clearly confident Mitchell told reporters while fielding questions about the visiting Patriots.
The five-year veteran and former second-round draft choice certainly has a case. Carolina's back end has managed to fly under the radar to this point, despite ranking fourth in the league against the pass, allowing just over 201 passing yards per game. Coming off of a game in which Carolina allowed just 46 net passing yards to Colin Kaepernick, this group certainly isn't lacking in confidence.
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was quick to echo his teammate's thoughts, and even took it a step further by saying "They're never going to give us credit for what we're doing. I feel like we're the best secondary in the NFL. We're number 4 right now in pass defense, but they're never going to give us credit because we don't have those top name guys other [teams] have.
Critics point to Carolina's soft schedule to this point as a reason for reserving judgment on the secondary play. Through six wins, this Panthers defense has preyed on the likes of rookie quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Mike Glennon, career back-up Matt Cassel and flame-out Carson Palmer. Two more victories have come against Matt Ryan and Eli Manning- -quarterbacks who are more than accomplished in their own right- -but currently lead passing attacks that have struggled mightily at times this year.
Shane Vereen's return from a week 1 wrist injury gives Tom Brady a full cast of skill position players to work with for the first time all season. If this young secondary can play up to the level that it expects from itself on Monday night, they will go a long way toward silencing any remaining critics who see them as a weak link in Carolina's defense.
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