Last season, frankly, was a disappointment. With the collection of talent the Panthers have assembled over the last eight years, there is an expectation in the Carolinas that they should be competitive in every game, no matter the opponent.
Much of the reason for the Panthers’ shortcomings last season was a slow start, particularly on offense. Cast as a run-first, power offense, the Panthers began the 2009 campaign in an identity crisis.
In the seven losses while Jake Delhomme was quarterbacking the Panthers, he attempted to pass 241 times (34 attempts per game). During these same seven losses, The Panthers attempted only 187 rushes (26 attempts per game). This is clearly not the Panther formula. To be a playoff contender in 2010, the Panthers must lean on the run game, and lean on it early and often.
Some of the reason for for this lopsided play-calling might be the fact that you are going to pass more when you are behind. But the Philadelphia game aside, the Panthers were never that far behind where running the football was out of the question. Jake Delhomme attempted pass after pass, many falling incomplete (or worse), and the run game often sputtered, and was never allowed to be the featured staple of the offense.
The Panthers did manage a surprising 120 yards per game during the seven losses in question, but there were games like the one in Dallas, (16 attempt for 73 yards) where the running game was virtually ignored.
Now that the Panthers are working in a shiny new starting quarterback, expect the offensive play-calling to be run-heavy. Look for the isos, the leads, your counters, your traps, and the power-sweeps. If the Panthers can get the chains moving with the run game, the young defense, sporting six new starters, will be put in favorable situations where they can succeed.
The defense will need some time to come together into a cohesive unit. With six new faces holding down important roles on defense, the offense cannot afford many three-and-outs, or worse yet many turnovers that give the opposing offense a short field. For a young defense that might get pushed around a little early on, having to trot back onto the field after a turnover and guard a short field is demoralizing, if nothing else.
If John Fox and Offensive Coordinator Jeff Davidson want to pass the ball at a 56% clip again this season, the defense will be called upon to play more downs, play more substitutes, and to defend more short fields. If the offense can reverse that ratio, and run the ball 56-60% of the time, look for the defense to stay fresh, to be able to play their starters for more plays, and to be on the winning side of the battle for field position.
In short, the Panther offense will have to carry a young, inexperienced defense early in the season. This is the NFL, so you cannot hide a weaker unit, but you can give them every chance to succeed by holding up your end of the bargain on offense. The best way to do this is to get Double Trouble going in a big way from Week 1.
If DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart can each run for 1,100 yards while playing in a pass happy offense for half of the season, imagine what they can do with a whole season of smash-mouth football. The Panthers’ backfield is just that good. Let’s hope they are used accordingly. A successful season depends on it.