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Aug 11, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA Carolina Panthers guard Amini Silatolu (61) blocks against the Houston Texans during the second half at Bank of America Stadium. The Texans defeated the Panthers 26-13. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

Panthers' Problem Offense Dead Last in Time of Possession; Newton's Just Fine

26:05 a game…not even as long as the feared Titans or Jaguars juggernauts. It means their opponent has the ball 8 minutes a game longer than the Panthers do. Of the few teams that have played exactly 5 ball games, the Panthers have the Jaguars beaten in number of offensive plays run, 281 to 278. The Panthers are 23rd in offense in the league and the team above them, the Miami Dolphins at 22nd, have played 6 games and run over a hundred more plays.

The puzzling part of this is the Panthers are even worse in scoring offense, 25th at 18.4 points per game, while being one of the best teams in the NFL when it comes to yards per play. They average 6.0, good for 5th in the NFL.

What does this tell us?

When you throw in the fact the Panthers have fumbled 11 times, losing 6 of those, and the overall turnover ratio is -5, it’s the equivalent of giving your opponent an extra possession every game. 5 games played, 5 more giveaways than takeaways.

If you just hand the ball to the Bad Guys, uh…they’re gonna try and hang on to it. Duh.

Safety Charles Godfrey and several others have stepped up to the plate in the secondary, occasionally making a play or two, but Cam’s thrown 5 – there’s that number again – interceptions so far or one per game. He could improve here, but he’s been hurried by inconsistent play in his offensive line, which just lost All-Pro center Ryan Kalil for the season to injury.

Sep 20, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) is tackled by New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) during the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

There’s always an inherent danger in a “read-option” attack of fumblitis, tossing the ball around like some circus juggler while faking to the fullback and then clutching nothing to your chest and tiptoe off like you’re fooling anyone.

I’ve seen too many read-option plays this year that have left not one but two unblocked players, not including the end whom is unblocked by design, and read, the goal being to force him to commit to a particular threat. The QB “reads” the end’s intentions, and acts accordingly.

For example: if the “end stays home” – Newton’s “read” is to pitch the ball to the trailing running back and let him speed to the outside. If the end covers the back, Newton keeps the ball and heads north.

The problem with this semi-Auburn University-”spread”-hybrid vertical passing game offense (hey Gruden, there’s some “verbiage” for ya, Mr. Smarty Pants) is that NFL defenses are just so much faster than their college counterparts.

Seattle has a rookie of their own named Bruce Irvin; he’s faster than Cam by 4.58 (Cam) to 4.45 (Irvin) in the 40-yard dash. Just about every team has a physical freak (Charles Johnson) that can be very disruptive. Mix those with having 2 unblocked defenders, and it’s hard to get a big play when you’ve got 2 people to beat.

The defense isn’t helping the situation, either. 23rd seems to be a recurring number as well. I’ll get into that in another column.

Still, the best overall strength statistically is they’re 13th in rushing offense, but have $80 million dollars tied up in Williams, Stewart, and now Tolbert. There’s a great core of talent with pieces like David Gettis, the emergence of Brandon LaFell as a clutch possession guy, and streaky but still dangerous Steve Smith…not to mention an elusive TE in Greg Olson. So, they get some deep passes as well.

They’re still built as a primary running team with that backfield talent and the linemen drafted reflect it. Amini Silatolu, the team’s second-round pick, was chosen for his mauling style in run-blocking and motor in college.

The problem in time of possession suggests lots of incomplete passes and runs out of bounds as well as stalled drives, and they do have a poor 3rd down percentage as well.

So, when you want to blame some “sophomore slump,” don’t blame Cam. He could have a few more TD passes and a few less interceptions of course, but I think the key is overall taking care of the ball and that comes with discipline and consistency in practice. Something’s not right in the coaching staff, whether it be communication, organization, or whatever but something needs looking at.

Start ditching the “read-option” and insert more screens, designed and disguised scramble/runs, and mix things up with that talent is what I say. There are any number of interchangeable packages they can use, and the Panthers are 6-1 when Cam doesn’t turn the ball over.

Yes, the passing game needs improvement. But do the Panthers need more deep passes? Newton’s completion percentage and yards/attempt are still up there. Since they’re not scoring the “big plays,” it suggests a lot of intermediate passes in between the 20′s and poor red zone performance. With backs like they have, there’s simply no excuse for the inability to punch the ball in. Nor, of throwing it into the turf on 4th and goal.

The Panthers are averaging 4.5 yards/rushing play as it is. They’re built to be a hybrid running/vertical passing offense. The old-school talk of this type of offense is “hit ‘em in the mouth, throw the ball over their heads.”

They just can’t hang on to the ball well enough to get in synch. Everything seems to point to the turnovers. Newton’s fumble in Atlanta. Williams’ fumble against Seattle. The -5 turnover margin. Clean those up, and they’ve got a competitive top-ten offense once again if the offensive line can pick things up.

It’s a collection of issues, and the Panthers desperately needed the bye week when it came. We’ll see how much it helps against that Cowboys’ pass rush and corners on Sunday.

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