Yes, the news came quickly. At his post-game interview Cam Newton, who wears his heart on his sleeve as much as any starting NFL QB does, said in part, “Something’s gotta change…and fast.”
Well, owner Jerry Richardson was listening. Gone is GM Marty Hurney, who oversaw the Panthers’ Super Bowl run in losing to the Patriots by 3 points.
The Panthers have not had back-to-back winning seasons under his tenure.
It’s strange, because after the game my colleagues and I here at catcrave.com were discussing the problems the Panthers are facing. We think it’s coaching. Why?
Nobody is playing well. NOBODY. Sure, rookie Luke Kuechly is a monster in the middle, but overall on the defensive side of late, the team has actually played fairly well, especially considering key injuries. Our best cornerback, Chris Gamble, is out. So is former All-Pro LB Jon Beason. The defense seems to be actually improving with the loss of a couple of key players, which tells me they’re beginning to gel as a unit.
The defense still needs 2 or 3 new defensive starters – all in the secondary – and possibly an upgrade at DT to go alongside Ron Edwards, but otherwise has generally played at or above their talent level. Rivera’s a defensive-minded coach, so that’s to be expected. They’re still losing (some) games – AKA Atlanta – but had Newton not fumbled, they otherwise played pretty well then and since as far as scoring is concerned.
The problem lies in the fact that Ron Rivera is the HEAD Coach, and the offense has been out of synch all season long. Some of it is the play-calling if you’ll look at what happened week one vs week two. Week one was 2:1 passes:runs. The Panthers lost. The next week, it was 2:1 runs:passes. The Panthers won.
When you’re paying THREE backs – Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, and now Mike Tolbert all that money, you expect to use them. Tolbert’s a fine player with many gifts, but did Hurney really think a 260-lb fullback was going to make the team more explosive?
In the 19-14 loss to the Cowboys, Williams had 2 rushing attempts for 4 yards. I wish I could get paid $50,000 per carry. I’d go in, carry about 5 times for 2 total yards, and retire with my $250,000!!!
The offense is making rookie mistakes all over the place. Speaking of rookies, LG Amini Silatolu had 3 false start penalties that I can remember…there may have been others…all in the second half. That’s simply a lack of focus and something the coaching staff should have corrected in the preseason. Sure, everyone does it once in a WHILE, but 3 in a half? Poor discipline, and that points right at coaching.
Steve Smith, by far the most seasoned, talented receiver on the squad, continues to drop passes. That’s something we should only be hearing about from the likes of Dez Bryant or Brandon Marshall, “diva” – type receivers that put self over team, and Steve Smith isn’t like that. As a veteran, he should know you focus on the ball until it’s in your hot little hands, THEN focus upfield.
I’ve seen too many plays in slow motion where it’s obvious the receiver – and Steve Smith isn’t the only one guilty of this – is watching the ball come in, sets up to catch it, and turns his head to look upfield while the ball is still in the air. I realize with the speed of the game, you try to shave every mini-second of advantage you can get, but first things first.
To paraphrase Pete Rose: “See the ball;
hit catch the ball.”
The roster has not improved since their 6-10 season last year. Yes, we added a future All-Pro MLB in Luke Kuechly, but the team is already deep in good linebackers. I still love the pick for the long-term future of the defense, but the defensive backfield got little help (Josh Norman) and no depth added in the draft, and the offense has no big playmakers aside from Steve Smith and he’s 33 years old. Greg Olson is a GOOD TE, but he’s a second-tier guy behind people like Jermichael Finley, Jermaine Gresham, Gronk/Hernandez, and Vernon Davis. Olsen is good underneath and pretty shifty for a TE when he gets the ball in the open field but he’s not a red-zone threat…and the Panthers struggle mightily in the red zone on offense.
The Panthers needed to add another playmaker on the offense in the offseason. What did they do?
They drafted a small, slot-type WR/KR in Joe Adams. While that looked like a decent move at the time, he’s been benched for fumbling and awkward-looking play otherwise on especially punt returns. He has been a non-factor as a WR so far.
They drafted OT Amini Silatolu from an FCS school with the plan being converting the mauling run-blocker into a guard. He’s had mixed results as the running game has been largely dormant overall, he needs seasoning as a pass-protector, and is still being flagged for being unfocused and pre-snap penalties. Yep, the false starts.
Brad Nortman has been mediocre as a punter especially when you consider few teams actually draft punters outside of Cleveland and if you do so, he better be pretty darned special. Nortman is not. Yesterday, for example, he kicked from his own red zone area and the result was a very high, very short kick…that the coverage team astoundingly couldn’t force a fair catch on that Dez Bryant managed to return for 12 yards to the plus-40, placing them nearly in field goal range immediately.
Considering the poor positions the offense and the special teams coverage has put the defense in, I can’t really complain about their play too much. They are showing signs of improving, especially with Kuechly in the MLB spot, but that’s the only area I see growing so far and the pace is indeed slow.
Now that Hurney is gone, Ron Rivera knows he himself has just been put on notice: start winning, or they’ll find someone who can.