Panthers Thoughts – Hoping For Improvement (12-13 Season Preview)
My thoughts on the Carolina Panthers and what I expect from them this season.
Last season the Carolina Panthers may have finished 6-10, but they were fun to watch again. The season prior they went 2-14 and had some of the worst quarterback play in franchise history. A hodgepodge of Matt Moore, Jimmy Clausen, and even Brian St. Pierre combined to throw 9 TD passes in 16 games to go along with 21 interceptions. The rest of the offense wasn’t much better, but in today’s NFL, it all starts with the QB and the Panthers didn’t have one in 2010.
Along came Cam.
With a 2-14 record came the #1 overall pick in the draft. Not everyone was sold on Cam Newton as the #1 pick. People cited character issues and wondered about his consistency given that he only had one big season in college. Despite the concerns, the fact remained that the Panthers needed a QB and Newton was the consensus top passer in the draft. Of course no one could foresee just how big of an impact Newton would have on the Panthers and their offense.
Despite a short preseason and the usual “pro adjustment” for a quarterback, Newton set the rookie record book on fire. Even though his numbers didn’t translate to a winning record, it was actually exciting to watch a Panthers game again since they were competitive in most games and the offense wasn’t always reduced to draw plays.
A new season comes new expectations, but mine are actually lower for Cam and the offense this year. Rob Chudzinki’s system, which is built around Cam and his ability to run, is still in place but I expect things to be tweaked this year. The Panthers have two outstanding running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart who I expect to get a lot more carries this year. Not only that but they brought in Mike Tolbert to block for those guys and take the goal line carries. The only thing I want to see from Cam this season is better decision making. Believe it or not, he’s not a run first quarterback like most people assume. He looks to pass first and when he does run, he knows to slide before taking any unnecessary hits. Cam’s problem last season was his decision making in the passing game. Some of this can be blamed on the short camp, some of it can be blamed on being a rookie, some of it can be blamed on him trusting his arm too much, some of it can be blamed on the sun being in his eyes, etc…. Whatever the case may be, Cam needs to cut back on the turnovers this year, especially untimely turnovers like in the redzone or during the two minute drill.
It would have been nice if the Panthers added another weapon for Cam, but due to cap constraints that was never going to be very feasible. Steve Smith and Greg Olden remain viable options, but besides those two, there isn’t another trustworthy pass catcher on the team. I’m hoping Brandon LaFell establishes himself, but I’m not holding my breath. LaFell will definitely have his chances though because Smith will once again draw the bulk of the coverage, possibly seeing even more double teams than last year after his monster season. People have talked about Smith’s last season being “his swan song” as he’s 33 years old and still has a size disadvantage against every corner he goes up against, but I don’t see it. Smith competes way too hard and has way too many athletic and intangible skills to just drop off. As long as Cam can get the ball to him, Smith will do the rest.
The Panthers biggest problem last year though was defense. It didn’t help that, as usual, Jon Beason and Thomas Davis were injured, but a lot of other defensive starters were banged up as well. The team drafted linebacker Luke Kuechly, who is a tackling machine, and who will fill the void when Beason or Davis likely go down again. The other good thing about Kuechly is that he’ll take snaps away from Beason and Davis, limiting their chances of going down again. The return of Ron Edwards, who didn’t play a single snap last year, will also help. Edwards is a run stopper up the middle and the defensive line was absolutely garbage last year. Charles Johnson is a big key on the line as he can do it and the Panthers really need him to step up even more this year. The secondary is a tad questionable still. Chris Gamble’s best days seem to be behind him and Captain Munnerlyn, while having a great name, still needs to take that next step. The addition of Haruki Nakamura, who played behind Ed Reed in Baltimore, at safety should help things.
The biggest key to the defense though is head coach Ron Rivera. He was brought in because of his defensive prowess and it didn’t show one bit last year. Now I’ll give him a small pass because of all the injuries and the fact that, due to the lockout, he didn’t have a full camp to implement all of his schemes. Now he has a full season under his belt and guys are healthy. The defense should be better if Rivera is this defensive mastermind that he was made out to be when he was hired as the head coach.
Special teams was another problem last year, namely the return game. The team drafted Joe Adams to fix that problem, and even if he’s average, that’s still better than the nothing Armanti Edwards contributed last season.
A lot of people think there’s a ton of pressure on the Panthers because starting center Matt Kalil took out an ad in the paper guaranteeing the Super Bowl. Those people are dumb. First off, no one cares what an offensive lineman has to say. Second, every player on every team should have Super Bowl expectations. Maybe they don’t take an ad out in the local paper, but many players are asked on radio shows if their team is Super Bowl bound, and they all say yes. Third, Panthers fans aren’t going to buy into these Super Bowl expectations due to the final reason I’m about to give you. And finally, no one cares what an offensive lineman has to say.
I’m a pessimistic sports fan by nature, so my expectations for the 2012 Carolina Panthers are rather low. They went 6-10 last season, but were in a lot of those games. They’re in a tough division with the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints still having very talented teams, especially on offense. I’m thinking the Panthers will go 8-8 this year. The team still feels one more year away to me so this year I’m just looking for improvements this year to show that they’re going in the right direction.