Nov 11, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith (89) is introduced before the game at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

A view from the stands

I was fortunate enough to be at the Panthers game this past Sunday. In hindsight, I was fortunate that my father-in-law got the tickets and I didn’t have to fork out the $ for them. My brother-in-law Jaime went to the game with me. He is a Broncos fan. Thankfully not the obnoxious type. We left town at 6am and made it there by 930 and found a great spot to park at, only 2 blocks from BoA stadium. Met some friends of mine there, all of whom are crazy, fanatical Panther fans. We all had one thing in common, well except for Jaime. We thought the Panthers would play well and with some luck and turnovers could pull off the upset. But at the very least we just knew the team would play well. When I saw the all black uniforms this just emboldened me and I knew the Panthers would win. Boy was that stupid!

The Panthers looked great on their 1st scoring drive. Cam looked sharp and Chud was calling some great plays. Cam kept finding Olsen and marched it down the field. The team scored on a smartly designed misdirection play action pass play. The fake worked very well and Olsen was wide open. He made the catch and sauntered into the endzone. At that point I thought the route was on. Even my brother in law was impressed by the ease with which Carolina scored. It was all downhill from there.

Nov 11, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (88) catches a pass during the third quarter against the Denver Broncos at Bank of America Stadium. The Broncos defeated the Panthers 36-14. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

After the touchdown drive the Panthers had four consecutive 3 and outs. The offense went 0 for 12 on 3rd down. The offensive line was paltry. They could not pass block and Cam was sacked a career high 7 times. I believe this to be the result of having too easy of a training camp. Our training camp is more country club than boot camp. So we have a soft training camp and in turn have a soft team. It should surprise no one that our line has been getting their butts kicked when facing good defensive lines. Like the Broncos, Bucs, and Giants those teams with good defensive fronts just make our offensive line look innocuous.

Now I have to admit I completely underestimated the Denver Broncos. This team is very, very good. I had seen Peyton Manning decimate the Panthers some years ago in Charlotte, but I thought his better days were behind him. Not so, he is just as good and at one point even displayed some really surprising mobility. The defense is tremendously talented. I had heard how good Von Miller was, and he is even better than advertised. As I sat around Monday morning listening to Charlotte sports radio, I heard a guest host say he had taken out a few Broncos players to dinner in Charlotte Saturday night. Von Miller being among them. The dining establishment they chose had a few Carolina Panther players dining there as well, with Cam Newton being among them. The two groups noticed each other and some light hearted teasing and taunting began, however things escalated to the point  the Denver players left and went to dine elsewhere. I found that story to be funny, because to me it looked like Miller was playing like Cam had done something to him that really pissed him off. Von Miller and company made the Panther offense look impotent.

One of several aspects missing from this team that last year’s team had is the threat of Cam dropping back to pass, not seeing anyone open, and then him taking off and gaining 7,10,15,or 20 yards. Let’s remember in addition to passing for 4,000 yards last season he ran for more than 700 yards. This season he has only run for about 350 yards. His scrambling ability kept many a defensive coordinators up at night worrying about how to stop him. Now it’s like Cam has been handcuffed to the line of scrimmage. With the added concern of Cam taking off on pass plays the defense is forced to play looser coverage on the receivers therefore, allowing a window for Cam to fit the ball into. With no threat of Cam running, the defense is able to lock down on the receivers and give the defensive front more time to get to Cam, and with the way the offensive line has played they are getting to him with regularity. Cam needs to be to use his legs when there is no where to go with the ball. We were a top 5 offense last season and now we are 23rd in offense. That is really a sad statistic because this is an uber talented offense. The poor line play and even worse play calling has demoralized the offense and being at the game it was crystal clear that this is the case. When the offense got to the sideline you could see the defeat in their demeanor and body language.

Nov 11, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers punter Brad Nortman (8) punts the ball in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

Special teams are a joke in Carolina. Going back to last year, this group was ineffectual at best. As I watched punt after punt one could get the sense the Broncos were only a block or two from breaking one and taking it to the house. Well sure enough it did happen. It’s unfortunate too, because Nortman, the punter for the Panthers, had a really good game. After consecutive weeks where Nortman averaged punts of 25 yards and 32 yards, he averaged 50 yards per punt. Thats great considering he had to punt 9 times. Wow it’s really sad when one of the highlights of a game you attended is how well the punter did. But that is typical for how this season as gone. The special teams coach Brian Murphy was let go on Monday because how poor a job the special teams had been doing. In actuality that should have happened at the end of last year because of how poorly they performed.

Another reason Cam was sacked so often was how quickly Chud gave up on the run. Now I will admit the run was not being very productive but by not running it the offense became very predictable. It in no way helps a struggling offense to take away the threat of a run. Once we got behind, the game plan changed to screens and passes. The screens were effective but penalties seemed to negate several first downs. Some of which were suspect offensive pass interference calls that hurt us and there was a long screen pass that was brought back by a holding call. This again, is typical for how this season has gone.

We are down to the last few weeks of the season. At this point I feel as if it is too late for Rivera and he is a lame duck coach. If I could have it my way I would bring in Tony Dungy as head coach. I think Cam Newton needs someone who can come in as coach and be a mentor to him. Dungy also has a good defensive mind and I believe he is a good evaluator of talent. If we are unable to bring Dungy out of retirement, then we should try Bill Cowher. We have the core nucleus of a Cowher style team. He is highly respected and has a commanding presence in the locker room. He is able to get the players to really give it their all for him and their teammates. If we are unable to get either of those 2 I would like to give Rivera another season, but I would like to do that without Rob Chudzinski. At the very least we need to acquire a new offensive coordinator. Someone who runs a more traditional style offense. Whether that is a west coast style or an “I” formation backfield. This pass happy, read option based offense has been figured out. Let’s get back to the basics, running the football and making tackles on defense. Ron will be a good coach, just not sure where that will be. In the past I have called for his termination, now I want to give him another shot if we fail to entice a big name in coming to Charlotte. The one thing I am looking forward to more than anything is who we will select with our 1st pick in the 2013 draft.

I did enjoy seeing friends and the atmosphere of excitement being at the game. I hoped the Panthers would at the very least play competitively. The defense played very well and they should be commended for their effort. They were responsible for keeping us in the game. They even caused a few turnovers. That was one of the keys for the Panthers pulling off the upset. It was all for not, the offense could do nothing with the ball and Denver won the game. I think the will and spirit of this team has been broken. They have a responsibility to the fans to finish the season strong but don’t be surprised if this teams limps its way to the finish line.

God Bless!
Follow me on Twitter @JoeRiollano


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