Usually I avoid speaking for any given person, but I feel confident by saying the fan base of the Carolina Panthers, which stretches all across this great country, was severely disappointed by the results of how this 2016 season went. In 2015, it had seemed Head Coach Ron Rivera and company had finally progressed over the hump of consistently finishing with a ballpark .500 record, something which had plagued his career in Charlotte. Cam Newton was the NFL’s MVP and the Panthers were dominating every game, missing a perfect undefeated season by only one loss, all without star wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.. They were closing out games likes real winners do, dominating physically on both sides of the ball almost every week, and the usual anxiety that had real estate in the chest of Carolina fans had slowly began to dissolve when the Panthers were losing late.
All of this seemed to disappear during the first few weeks of the season. As I wrote about earlier in the year, Carolina’s anatomical make up consists of large amounts of energy from momentum, and starting the season 1-5 plus losing to every single divisional opponent within the first half of the year put the Panthers in another world mentally than what they were used to, or probably had expected frankly. Now that 2017 is finally here, these are the three things Carolina must work on in the offseason.
1) The resurrection of the Offensive Line
Last year, excluding the Super Bowl, we marveled at the efficiency of Carolina’s offensive line at giving Cam enough time in the pocket to find open receivers and gave up hardly any sacks all season. This was not the case in 2016, and although a bit of blame surely can fall on the fact Ryan Kalil and Michael Oher were injured, but the lack of depth at such an important unit was obvious and hopefully can return to form.
2) Improvement in the secondary
As long as Ron Rivera coaches a team with Luke Keuchly as his linebacker, that team will automatically be decent at stopping the run on defense, as Carolina was this season. But youth in positions such as Cornerback and safety along with the loss of Peanut Tillman and Josh Norman too start the season resulted in the Panthers giving up 268.2 receiving yards per game, coming in at 29th in the league rankings.
3) Rediscover consistency in the run game.
From 2015-2017, Jonathan Stewart averages 13 games per the two seasons that took place during those years, and after this season saw a decrease in: rushing attempts per game (-1.8), his yards total (-165), yards per carry (-.3), and yards per game (-13). Perhaps the only positive, is that he was able to score a few more times compared to last season, and that he did finish the season strong scoring 4 touchdowns in the last 5 games. Mike Tolbert, the Panthers secondary running back, was only able to find the end zone one time this season, and Cam Newton, who has thrived off his rushing game especially when he won the MVP award, cut in half from 10 to 5.
Hopefully if the Panthers can fix these three things, we will see them in the Super Bowl again in 2018.