Roman Harper has spent the last two years of his career in Carolina. In 2014, the Panthers went 7-8-1 and won a woeful NFC South. This year, they’re 9-0 and one of two remaining unbeatens in the NFL.
What’s been the difference?
“Well, I think talent is one thing (and) a better understanding of who we are as a team as well,” Harper told Jody McDonald, who was filling in as host of CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “We got a great mix of veteran guys with great leadership and talented guys that are coming up into their own. When you got that good mix – just the right chemistry and everything is kind of going right – (it’s a good combination). All of our coaches are back, all of these things are pointed in the direction of us just getting better, continuing to get better, and I think we understand who we are and what team we’re trying to be every Sunday.”
The Panthers rank tenth in the league in total defense (338.0 yards per game allowed) and sixth in scoring defense (19.4 points allowed). They’re also second in the NFL with 20 forced turnovers – a direct byproduct of Josh Norman, who has four interceptions, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on the season.
“Josh is playing light-out right now,” Harper said. “It’s all kudos to Josh. Josh has always been a great zone corner; now he’s putting together his great man-to-man techniques that he’s learned over the last couple of years. Coming from a small school (Coastal Carolina), he was able to get away with some things. Now he’s really honing his skills. Not only that, but he’s confident. That’s a great thing to have. When you’re out there on that island and it’s me versus you, (you got to think), ‘I’m going to win every time.’ He goes out there and competes every day. It’s no surprise at all.”
The Panthers will go for 10-0 this Sunday when they host the Redskins (4-5). Washington has won two of three to climb back into contention in the NFC East.
“The Redskins are a very good team, a very confident team,” Harper said. “And why wouldn’t they be? They just really came off a big win (47-14 against the Saints). At the end of the day, we got to focus on ourselves. We need to do what we do well and we got to play very good complementary football from offense, defense to special teams and we got to try and win in all three different phases of the football game. If we do that, we give ourselves a chance. We got to try and take away this run game early, we definitely need to score on offense, create some turnovers defensively. We got to continue to go. We cannot settle. We cannot slow down. We got to continue to push forward. Our main goal was not to go undefeated, but we’re going to continue to win as long as we play the way we wanted to. We know what our vision is, our goals, our destination at the end of the year, where we’re trying to be. We’re just trying to continue to stack up these wins and continue to go from here.”