For the rebuilding Panthers team, everyone expected tough losses by margins too large to be considered close games all in the hopes of establishing a working offensive regime by season’s end. However, nobody could have predicted that the losses would come as a result of a team beating itself more than other teams outplaying them. In fact, the Panthers have outplayed their opponents in nearly every facet of the game only to fall short by one play that could have easily been prevented. The weak points from each week have been consistent and the corrections need to made now before the Panthers get ready for New Orleans.
In four games Naanee has 8 receptions for 75 yards and a 9.4 yard average. These numbers could easily be achieved per game with the amount of passes that have come his way. If it were up to me, I would drop him completely and find players off waivers to fill some much needed holes in the defense. In the last game alone the ball was thrown to him 11 times and he only caught 4 for 27 yards, his highest in four games. Cam has targeted him twice in final drives where he either failed to make the catch or couldn’t pick up yards after the catch to make a big play. Against Chicago he was targeted for a 3rd down conversion that he missed and was intercepted for a TD. Yes the ball was thrown high and into double coverage, but his hands touched the ball first and he was hit only after he had blown the reception. He is no longer an open man that can make an easy play. He is now a liability that teams will target to make a bad play. The Panthers should sit him or dump him before Sunday.
The Run Defense
This one is a bit trickier. The man who would have added a strong foundation at tackle on the D-line was injured on the first day of practice. Ron Edwards was the experienced run stuffer that rookie Sione Fua and Terrell McClain were supposed to learn the game from. Instead they were thrown into the mix as starters. Even worse, the two most dominant defensive players for the Panthers are out with season-ending injuries. Jon Beason and Thomas Davis would have made getting through the second line of defense on the ground more trouble than what it’s worth. Although their stand-ins are more than capable of filling the void, they don’t have the abilities collectively that Beason and Davis had individually. The only real thing they can do is work harder and keep at it. Maybe Ron Meeks can develop defensive strategies so they can be more effective at what they do and hope the two young tackles can pick it up sooner rather than later. The run defense may not be very solid, but it shouldn’t fail completely and not every team has a running back like Matt Forte.
The Panthers coaches made two moves today that may answer some big questions in the special teams unit. The biggest problem is with Beason and Davis out, some defensive starters have to play on both teams and they wear themselves out faster. Sean Considine was one of the guys that was dropped which could have been a result of a big missed tackle on Devin Hester’s huge punt return for a TD. The bigger problem here is tackling. They aren’t running into blocks. They are simply not hitting the guy with the ball or trying to wrap him up. The special teams coach could be suspect in this one. This week they should probably spend more time on mechanics than following the play.
On punt and kick returns, neither of these guys are producing much of a return. It may be poor blocking that doesn’t allow for a bigger gain, but I think the strengths of Mike Goodsen and Armante Edwards are not being utilized properly. Although Edwards muffed a punt close to the end zone in the preseason, I believe he could be more effective on kick off returns. He’s more agile and is able to move quickly around the field. At the very least he might get them maybe 5-10 more yards than Goodsen is right now. On the other side is Mike Goodsen. He is fast and more of a power running back. With less time to make a move, he could gain more yards just by running through a tackle or two than Edwards because of his size. Just a thought. Whatever is to be done on these special teams needs to be done fast or the Panthers will continue to allow average playing gain more undeserved touchdowns.
After three games of poor running from two of the league’s best, Double Trouble finally reared its head some against Chicago’s not too terrible run defense. Everyone is talking about how the league is changing and now teams are pass first and run later. I’m not buying it. Jay Cutler is a decent QB when his O-line keeps him protected. Yet they only passed the ball 17 times. Why? Because the run game was working. Chud gave some hint that he is beginning to believe in the running backs, but they can’t quit the run just because they have a QB who throws 400 yards a game. For that reason the Panthers should continue to run until teams force them to throw. It will take more pressure off of Cam, keep the ball out of Naanee’s hands and further confuse defenses about what Carolina’s offense is doing. In each game, Cam connected on a deep pass with Steve Smith for a gain of at least 50 yards or more. This should be the game plan: 65% run, 30% pass, and 5% Cam-only runs. If Chud gets Double Trouble more action like last Sunday, 543 yards total offense would become a slow day.
The time for moral victories is over. The time for Carolina to become a respected threat is now and they have enough tools to still finish the season with a winning record. If this organization is planning to build around Cam Newton, they have to play at the level he is playing. Otherwise, when his contract is up, he’ll moving out. Count on that. They can get to a Super Bowl in the next three years, but this year they have to get the ball rolling and rolling fast.