2011 Carolina Panthers: Reviewing the Film

January 1, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith (89) catches a touchdown over New Orleans Saints cornerback Jabari Greer (33) during the first quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Over the past two days, I have been looking over tape from the Panthers’ season. ITunes of all places has a “follow your team” show in which they recount entire games of a particular team by only the big plays (mind you, I hate ITunes with all of my heart so this is not product placement). For example, they will not show a play in which Deangelo Williams is stuffed at the line of scrimmage and only gains two yards. If Jonathan Stewart, however, runs for eight, the footage will make the tape. It’s a somewhat incomplete, but highly effective, method of reviewing a season. Each game is about 20-25 minutes long and includes topical segments from post-game interviews.

The initial goal of my recap was to evaluate Cam Newton from start to finish. I wanted to see development in all forms of his game, from expanding the playbook to his decision making. But I found myself pouring over the tape and taking incredibly detailed notes about certain players who I found myself wondering about in the same light. As such, I have decided to share with you some seemingly obvious, and yet incredibly important observations about our team…

Cam’s Development

WOW….It’s hard to believe just how different Cam’s playing style has changed from Arizona Week 1 to New Orleans Week 17. The first thing I noticed was that it reflected the “pocket-passer-first” mentality the coaches were trying to ingrain in Cam’s mind. In Arizona, for example, Cam ran very few times and, with the exception of his goal line leap, there were very few QB run plays included in the game plan. This is also true of the game against Green Bay. Cam is deliberately restraining his desire to run in an attempt to navigate the pocket and find receivers downfield. In some plays he even takes sacks despite his obvious ability to break from the line at the start of the play, something that you would often see later on in the season.

Some of you may also remember the staggering numbers pointing to Cam’s inability to get the ball to receivers. At first, this was interpreted as there being a lack of targets beyond Steve Smith at the position and that Olsen and Shockey were better targets than Lafell and Nannee. But as the season progressed, Cam targeted our tight ends far less than his receivers. This may suggest that Lafell hadn’t blossomed, but I think it has much more to do with our coaching staff’s progressive development of Cam by slowly expanding the playbook. They certainly started with a slim game plan and then gradually opened up the playbook as Cam grew more comfortable. Excellent idea as Cam threw more to his receivers every game.

But as Cam’s confidence grew, his playing style seemed to become looser and more aggressive. This is certainly good in some respects, but there are countless incidents where this became a frustration. As the pressure on Cam to be a perfect pocket passer decreased, his mistakes became more frequent. As the season progressed, you often saw his accuracy become erratic as a result of poor footwork. You could tell that he wanted to do something fantastic on EVERY play. Just look at his increased number of interceptions and erratic medium-length throws. I would like to see more discipline from him that would allow him to remain an excellent pocket passer.

BUT, to negate what I have just said, the play-calling certainly became more intense and breathtaking. To see the Nannee throwback, the fumblerooskie, etc… was incredible. It seemed like the coaching staff was able to accommodate Cam’s incredible athleticism in an NFL environment. But a balance between week 1 and week 17 must be found. I’m sure it will be.

The Running Back

Another noticeable characteristic that I discovered was Jonathan Stewart’s apparent superiority over Deangelo Williams at the beginning of the season. But the gap between the two really seemed to close as the season progressed. But the fact remains that they are different players. Deangelo is clearly a “big play” back. If the hole is there, it seemed like he had a 1/10 chance of taking it to the house. But without good blocking, Deangelo was constantly brought down after a -2 or 2 yard gain. You may remember how agonizing this was throughout the season. Cam hands off to Williams who is STUFFED at the line of scrimmage!

Obviously this changed as the season progressed. Deangelo proved that he was a great big-play guy and had a few game changing moments. But as an every down back, you have to wonder if he’s truly worth the $48 million dollar contract that we gave him last offseason. Losing him would be a huge blow to the franchise, but would it really affect us as a football team? I think the idea of breaking up our fan-favorite “double trouble” would hurt more emotionally than it would on the field. Granted, I can’t express to you just how much I adore when we have Cam, Deangelo, and Stewart in on the same play.

Before people freak out at me, think about three things:

1.Jonathan Stewart has the tools and desire to be a top running back in this league. The guy is an absolute stud who can weave through tackles and has remarkable speed to get to the outside. He breaks through people and, when tackled, seems to fall down for 5-10 yards every time. Seriously, does no one else notice that when the play seems to be over he always gets more yards than the laws of gravity should allow??? I also write this with the understanding that Stewart can be injury prone.

2.The value of running backs in this league has decreased faster than that of travel agents and stock brokers. Should ANY running back be paid $48 million dollars? People have only just started to realize the invaluable role that blocking has to the value of running backs. Look at Mike Goodson last year, was he not a more “bang-for-your-buck” player for us than Deangelo?

3.THIS TEAM NEEDS BIG, EXPENSIVE, FREE AGENT WEAPONS!!!! Deangelo’s contract is a direct impediment to our signing a player that could ultimately be more valuable. Not to sound like every other idiot on the fan sites, but would you not substitute Dwayne Bowe for Deangelo?

The Defense
HOLY **** we suck. Just look at the film. We were beyond awful and arguably watching us play was comparable to shooting a nail gun into your foot 15 times.
A few quick bullet points here as I don’t want to continue beating the rotting corpse of this putrid horse:

1.A solution to Munnerlyn must be found. He gets picked on every game and I think opposing coordinators have a rule that if they throw at Munnerlyn as often as humanly possible, they will win the game. He has to be a situational player and I PRAY that Hogan is suitable enough to get on the field next year in his stead.

2.What is going on with Sherrod Martin? The guy is perennially out of position and always misses tackles. Solution? …anything.

3.Our linebackers were not so bad as much as they were always out of position.

4.Chris Gamble is a beast, but can get beaten by good receivers on big plays. But isn’t that true of even the best cornerbacks?

5.This is by far the most important point…something is terribly wrong with our defensive line. Watching the D-lines of other teams play is so markedly better than ours that it makes you wonder how we ever stopped a running back. We get penetration, but that’s only because the opposing team is planning to run right by the now-open gap. It’s ridiculous how easily spread out our defensive tackles ended up on every play. DRAFT DEFENSIVE TALENT PLEASE!

Topics: Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, Dan Conner, DeAngelo Williams, Jon Beason, Jonathan Stewart, Legedu Naanee, Ron Edwards, Ron Rivera, Steve Smith

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