What can I write about the Carolina Panthers that hasn’t been written this season? The team is a mess, and on Christmas Eve, they laid a lump of coal. Following a 33-16 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, I just have to wonder; what the hell happened this season?
I think most of the problems come on the offensive side of the football. The defense has struggled, especially the pass defense. But I think every Panthers fan knew that the defense would struggle given the fact that they entered the year with two rookie corners and Tre Boston in the secondary. Dave Gettleman believed in the scheme, and thought that a dominant pass rush would mask the holes in the secondary. But when you enter the season with Charles Johnson and Kony Ealy as your top two defensive ends, the pass rush is going to struggle. The defensive issues were more of a Gettleman mistake than a coaching or player mistake.
It seems obvious that something is wrong with Cam Newton. Following a MVP season despite missing his best receiver, everyone though that Newton would take his game to an even higher level this year. Unfortunately, he’s hit rock bottom. This is the worst Cam has ever looked. He’s missing easy throws, he’s holding onto the ball too long, his footwork is all over the place, and he looks generally concerned in the pocket. The protection wasn’t good to start the season, and I’m not sure Cam has ever recovered from that. He looks like he expects the pocket to collapse in a second, and then he starts to panic. And when he has time, he’s simply missing. He hasn’t been on the same page with his receivers, especially Kelvin Benjamin, for most of the season.
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Furthermore, he’s not running. Unless he has a monster final game against Tampa Bay, he’ll finish with below 500 yards rushing for the first time in his career. The read option hasn’t worked this year and he’s failed to pick up big yards on broken plays.
It’s tough to pinpoint the exact issue Cam has. Maybe it’s him. Maybe it’s his line. Prehaps it’s his receivers. Maybe it’s the play calling. Chances, all it’s a combination of all of those things. But something is wrong, and we can only hope that things are fixed in the offseason.
Then there’s Kelvin. We all had high hopes for him this year. The league’s best offense gains a 1,000 yard receiver? We thought they would be unstoppable. It hasn’t happened. I’m sure Kelvin isn’t 100% following his ACL tear, but he’s on the field, so he’s expected to perform. Even he admitted after the Falcons game that he hasn’t played with much energy this year. His demeanor reminds me a lot of Kevin Duran’t demeanor last season. Following a lost season that saw the Oklahoma City Thunder miss the playoffs, Durant returned and, by midseason, admitted that it was tough coming to practice and playing basketball every day.
Kelvin, like Durant, should be thankful that they are getting a chance to play again. They should be excited and happy that they get to return to the job that pays them millions and that they are so good at. I get it. It’s a long season. People are going to have good weeks and bad weeks. But when you miss an entire year and you watch your team ultimately fail without you, shouldn’t you be excited to get back at it and help them achieve their goal? Can’t wait for Kelvin to join the Broncos in the offseason.
Finally, the play calling. Cam was so good last year that he masked the issues with the play calling. I’m not sure there’s a single quick passing play in the Mike Shula playbook. There’s certainly no screen play, at least a screen play that they work on regularly. The Panthers rarely line up with Cam under center and then hand the ball off with Mike Tolbert leading the way. They are the only team with a fullback (which should tell you all you need to know about the value of the fullback in today’s NFL) and they don’t know how to use the fullback. Their whole playbook is based on the read option, and when that’s not working, there is no second plan.
Shula had all season to combat aggressive defenses like the Broncos had in the Super Bowl, and failed to change a single thing.
So, what the hell happened this season? A lot of bad stuff that hopefully gets rectified during the summer.