Oct 2, 2011; Chicago, IL, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) looks to pass during the second half against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. The Bears beat the Panthers 34-29. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE

Is "Air Rivera" the Panthers Future?


Now that the rookies are all signed and the larger picture gets a little clearer, I see some real entertaining football ahead.

If Beason’s Achilles has healed well, it looks like coach Rivera is going to use the team’s top draft pick, linebacker Luke Kuechly, at two spots.

For now at least, he’s starting at the weakside linebacker and will be the middle linebacker when Beason is off the field. Looking back, I can see how it’s a great situation from all points of view – Beason indeed gets his “preferred” position (where he’s been stellar up until the week 1 injury last year), Kuechly gets to contribute on the field where he’s needed while learning two places as a positional middle linebacker, and Rivera gets a rotation of 2 ILBs that ANY team in the NFL would envy.

LK/Clark Kent and Beason solidify the middle of the Panthers’ defense against the run. LB Thomas Davis’s health can’t be counted on. The pass rush aside from Charles Johnson is not accomplished. The pass defense on the back end can only very graciously be described as unspectacular. On offense, Cam Newton should be even more dangerous with a full NFL season and a camp under his belt.

Watch him smile that GQ smile of his while he welcomes rookie WR Joe Adams. Adams would also appear to be a “great fit” in that he can instantly give explosion to the special teams and another target along with Steve Smith and Greg Olson for Cam and you can see why he’s smiling.

Fast forward – What if it all WORKS?!?

What will things be like?

Shootouts.

A bit ironic with a running game loaded with a talented backfield and yet another rookie contributor on the inside in the line, no?

No, not really.

When the offense has the ball, with weapons everywhere and Cam’s cannon with DeAngelo Williams’ breakaway skill, the Panthers have the potential to threaten every square inch of the field on any given play. It was a top-5 offense last season and could be even better than that this year. It forces the other team’s defense to “play honest” at all times, in turn, making blitzing Cam even more of a gamble.

I just wanted to take this space to say that “completing a hot-read pass to a fullback flaring in the flat” sounds horribly obscene. The preceding message brought to you by: The confused company that thinks some stray thoughts should stay astray, which is why they bring them to you. They are horribly confused people.

Sorry, I had to get that out. Go astray again!

Seriously, if the 2011 defensive weakness is going to be improved upon, it looks like it’s against the run. The Panthers become actually sturdy in the middle enough that the other team just blatantly starts going after the raw meat in the secondary, daring anyone to touch their own possibly-immobile quarterback unless he’s got the ball stuffed under his jersey.

In recent years, NFL rules have become more and more favorable for the passing game. The stats last year shined a big light when not one but 2 teams broke the records for worst pass defense and they both made the playoffs. One nearly won the Super Bowl.

I’ll say! New England and Green Bay.

What we have now is a recipe for that shootout I mentioned. If the Panthers can cause teams enough uncertainty in their own sustained ability to run the ball, they’ll be forced into the air.

The problem lies in that there doesn’t seem to be any conclusion to this “evil plan” yet.

There just aren’t enough draftees to fill all the holes in the secondary unless all the inexperienced players contribute. A LOT. Without being able to put pressure on the other QB, they will score points. There has yet to be any NFL franchise that has drafted a boatload of All-Stars with their entire draft.

Any improvement in the secondary for Carolina will have to come from rookies and second-year players that were injured as rookies. That’s too tall an order in this day and age, and it’s no big secret to anyone.

The Panthers have a very solid and capable guy at one corner – Chris Gamble. Talk about irony, how’s that last name for a corner? Always have loved it.

And he’s the SOLID guy.

Chris Godfrey’s probably the best the Panthers have at safety with a roster deep in backups and Captain Munnerlyn anchors the other corner spot with a metaphorical peg-leg instead of using a big pointy piece of metal and heavy chain. They are going to burned in the passing game “at times” at BEST.

As for generating blind side protection, they’re looking for still more rookie help.

History says it can’t all happen at once. That’s also no secret.

Rarely does any franchise start to peak with the offensive and defensive units at the exact same time. One is usually one to two years ahead of the other. The area where the peak age/performance happens within each unit overlap would be the “Super Bowl runs” that cover the historical landscape.

The Cowboys won 4 Super Bowls in the early 90′s. The Steelers won 4 Super Bowls in 6 seasons. The Dolphins went to 3 straight Super Bowls in the early 70′s. There was the 49′ers dynasty of the early 80′s. The Packers won the first two Super Bowls. The list goes on, and having two talented units on one team is what gives teams the ability to win a championship.

It’s not JUST defense that wins championships, but it sure a shootin’ does help! In today’s NFL, a potent offense can help cover for a porous pass defense, unlike in the past.

The Panthers’ offense hit bottom in 2010, roared back last year, and looks to keep surging for the near future. Essentially, Cam and co. went from bottom to top in one season. The sunshiny smile and talent from the top kid drafted awoke the beast.

The defense is not a morning person.

It hit bottom last year and looks to stand up this year but lacks experience in key spots.

In 2011, the defense just couldn’t stop anybody, period. Cam had a couple of games where he looked almost like a rookie, but hey, he was one.

Young teams will often play unsteadily with each individual player’s ups and downs showing in their tight coverage or huge lapses. Any starting NFL QB (except Blaine Gabbert) should be able to take advantage of it when it happens and he’s given the time to throw it.

2013 will be where the serious contending for Carolina can really begin. First, they have to learn how to win in the NFL. That learning comes this season.

But as for what 2012 brings, that’s how I see it. What it points to ultimately is even more pressure on…Cam Newton.

I’ll have to start keeping a record of how well “Superman” performs against teams in green jerseys.

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Tags: Cam Newton Joe Adams Jon Beason Luke Kuechly Thomas Davis

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  • mcfugit

    I agree with the majority of what you have said, Butler for the pass defense should have been mentioned, this is a year in my opinion where he could breakout, and become the player the Patriots drafted him to be a few years ago. Time will tell but i think he is one to watch on defense.

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  • Catman

     @mcfugit Butler’s been an underachiever and it doesn’t speak well for him that a coach like Belichick didn’t want him around more than 2 years after using I think it was a 2nd round pick on him. I hope you’re right, though. I just don’t see Butler blanketing anyone for 5 seconds. Improving the pass rush is going to be the key. I’d think the Panthers will look heavily into the secondary for the 2013 draft – early and often – depending upon free agency next offseason and assuming they don’t have someone come out of nowhere to be a star. Butler and Brandon Hogan will compete for time and I’d like to see what Hogan can do after being hurt last year.

  • mcfugit

    Yeah, I hope Hogan does well, I think he will. I agree with you that Butler has a downside, I’m curious to see if the Patriots drafted him because they thought he fit a need in their system, and that didnt work out, or for talent…either way, i hope we found some value in Josh Norman, the 5th rd pick this year. Has and wil get stronger ie bigger coming into the season, and i wonder if he will be able to match that with getting faster. he has great acceleration and closing speed on the ball and great ball skills, but will that translate from Coastal Carolina to the Pro level? I hope so. At a minimum he looks to be a solid special teams player.

  • mcfugit

     @Catman
     
    Yeah, I hope Hogan does well, I think he will. I agree with you that Butler has a downside, I’m curious to see if the Patriots drafted him because they thought he fit a need in their system, and that didnt work out, or for talent…either way, i hope we found some value in Josh Norman, the 5th rd pick this year. Has and wil get stronger ie bigger coming into the season, and i wonder if he will be able to match that with getting faster. he has great acceleration and closing speed on the ball and great ball skills, but will that translate from Coastal Carolina to the Pro level? I hope so. At a minimum he looks to be a solid special teams player.