Ineffective Panthers season involves major contemplation

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 17: The New Orleans Saints line up against the Carolina Panthers defense in the second quarter during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 17, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 17: The New Orleans Saints line up against the Carolina Panthers defense in the second quarter during their game at Bank of America Stadium on December 17, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /

This will be a long offseason for the Carolina Panthers.

There was a time when mid-season’s 6-2 record didn’t seem quite good enough, held up to the light of a porous secondary and ineffective pass rush, plus 2017’s 11-5 mark that most felt needed to be improved on to prove divisional strength. After last loss to Atlanta meant a seven game loss streak going into this Sunday’s game, a definite sub-.500 finish in the SuperDome has only a few mitigating factors.

Many fans recognized that ineffective front seven a while ago– a paltry 33 that ties with Cincinatti overall, well behind Minnesota’s 50 (and the Panthers usual production level last seven years) but still a significant bunch more than pitiful Oakland with 13. At the other end of things is the season by C-Mac, the wonderous Christian McCaffrey, who has cranked out some numbers that will take a while to enumerate, much longer to consider surpassing: Like 106 catches for 845 yards/6 TDs and 1080 yards/7 TDs rushing with a game to go. The catch total is already an NFL record for running backs, and C-Mac is only 54 yards from getting 3rd place on the Panthers all-time seasonal rushing mark, the #1 spot held by DeAngelo Williams’ 1,515 yards, with 18 TDs.

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In between those extremes is a sore-shouldered Cam Newton, with a 24 TD/13 INT mark and a much improved completion percentage  of 67.94 earning him a 94.22 QB rating, just 5 points off his MVP year during the Panthers 2015 Super Bowl run. His 488 yards rushing (101 carries/4 TDs) is well below his career average of 617 yards, and its doubtful many will consider that completion mark very highly (see C-Mac above), because obviously many were check downs, although that still counts.

Can anyone foretell the future of many players?

While the development of young studs like  D.J. Moore,  Curtis Samuel, and tight end Ian Thomas  are bright spots, Devin Funchess, Thomas Davis, Mike Adams at safety and Mr. Peppers are more finite.  Adams had arguably a fine year with tackles and three INTs, but longevity (15 years) is not usually a strong card at that position. Although there might continue to be questions off the field, Eric Reid was a solid pickup as a player when the secondary was light because of injuries,  and if Da’Norris Searcy can’t stay on the field because of concussions, he might be expendable. In both cases the axiom that NFL stands for ‘Not For Long’ is in play.

Funchess started the season as ‘The Big Receiver’, and I wasn’t the only one feeling he was in for a strong season.  Even when he seemed to be turned into a possession receiver working the sidelines, it still looked like he was a necessary cog in the offense, but fact that Norv Turner’s offense NEVER went long or took advantage of Funchess’ size in the red zone (like almost any offense you’ve seen at HS level and beyond) was a disappointing failure. There’s almost no consideration for him getting the sort of contract a 70 catch-1,100 yard season would have made reasonable. That Cam was ineffective, or even unable to throw over 25 yards– or a reliance on check downs and 20 yard hook patterns didn’t call for it– made him a forgotten man, and if he winds up going elsewhere, its probably because other teams are truly desperate; the Panthers checkbook won’t be opening wide for him.

While coaches said they felt Julius Peppers did his job, the ineffective numbers show he’s played out the string, and Thomas Davis is essentially a coin flip on stay-go. He planned to retire, and if still  capable of being the linebacker who can cover receivers well, and he’s linked with Kuechly as a terrific duo, whether any of the younger (ie. Shaq Thompson, David Mayo) LBs get better without getting his minutes is a factor to consider. The Shaq who looked so good in preseason never got better during the season.

Given the ineffective pass rush, many will question whether elevating Eric Washington to defensive coordinator worked as necessary as a ‘system’. Dontari Poe  might be the poster child for ineffective, nine tackles is not a huge payoff for a $9 million run-stuffer, and whether the lighter-than-most-defensive ends Mario Addison (8 sacks) has started declining or is a victim of the statistics is an reasonable question. Marquis Haynes is still a lightweight at 235, and while he was tagged for a possible JOKER role because of his Davis-like speed, the Panthers were consistently ripped when they blitzed. Kuechly is widely given credit for knowing where and what opposing offenses will do, but he can’t be the only one that does.

Cam Newton won’t be going anywhere based on economics and any viable options. If there is talk of him NOT needing surgery, that rehab will make the difference, that wouldn’t be what fans will want to hear. Those who feel playoffs every other year means Rivera is doing a great job are few and far between as well. As well as the team management responded to the challenges of an ownership change, David Tepper will hold the keys to discussions beginning almost immediately after this weeks game in New Orleans.

The Saints have locked up top seeding in the playoffs, so the Swiss Army knife-like talent Taysom Hill will probably replace Drew Brees at QB late in the first half (much love Drew, you Dah Man), and whether Kyle Allen can get the ball to McCaffrey enough (155 yards worth) to make him a 1,000 rusher and receiver is the only real challenge for the Panthers in this game.