Slip Sliding Away
October 20, 2016
The calendar still reads October and the Carolina Panthers 2016 season is slipping away.
A season ago at this time, the Panthers were undefeated and preparing, as it turns out, to win another 10 straight games before suffering their only loss of the regular season on their way to the Super Bowl.
This year, the Panthers are 1-5 and it looks like the Super Bowl hangover has claimed another victim. It might be a bit hasty to declare Carolina dead following their 41-38 loss at New Orleans. After all, just a year ago we saw this very team win 14 straight games, while another, the Kansas City Chiefs, make the playoffs after starting 1-5.
But it is safe to say that this year’s Panthers are on life support. Here is what I think has gone wrong with the defending NFC champions.
I have to start with the defensive secondary. Carolina knew that they’d have to rely on younger defensive backs after parting ways with Josh Norman, Charles Tillman and Roman Harper.
They’d drafted James Bradberry in the second round, Daryl Worley in the third and Zack Sanchez in the fifth. What they didn’t know is that they’d have to rely on those rookies all at once. It has not worked and teams are now looking forward to facing the Panthers defense. It’s easy to say now say that the Panthers should have kept Norman. Great players cost money. And Norman is a great player. The Saints recorded 465 passing yards last week, just a few weeks after the Atlanta Falcons surpassed 500 passing yards. They are now the only team in the Super Bowl era to allow over 450 passing yards twice in one season.
The defensive line has also been disappointing. Last season, this group was credited for making the secondary look good because they pressured the opposing quarterback. Not this year. Kawann Short was supposed to rise to All-Pro status. He only has one sack thus far. Charles Johnson was not supposed to decline so fast.
Cam Newton & Luke Kuechly at the Super Bowl
What made the defense so good a year ago was having an All-Pro standout at each level working back from the line of scrimmage. On the line, Short was one of the best interior defenders in football, Luke Kuechly at middle linebacker was enjoying a Defensive Player of the Year-level season, and Norman was a legitimate shutdown corner on the back end. That is not the case this season.
The stars. Cam Newton, Kuechly and Thomas Davis are not making plays. Newton seems to be regressing a bit. And then there was the concussion at Atlanta that sidelined him for the end of that game and the Week 5 loss against Tampa Bay. Newton chose to be cute and cool while coasting across the goal-line and paid a price when Deion Jones did what defenders would do in that scenario, try to make the stop. Newton’s foolishness cost him and his team. As for Kuechly and Davis, their reputations have taken a hit as they are part of a defense that is getting lit up.
What to do? It all starts with Cam. It really is amazing just how much Newton carried that offense a season ago with a makeshift group of receivers and TE Greg Olsen. He is fully capable of turning things around. Even with Newton’s struggles of late, the Panthers still have one of the better offenses in the league over the first six weeks.
Another problem facing Carolina is the play of the Atlanta Falcons, who are suddenly a legitimate force in the NFC, already three games clear at the top of the NFC South, and four ahead of the Panthers. Carolina can almost forget about winning the division already, and needs to focus on the prospect of a wildcard spot if they have any hope of defending their NFC championship.
Perhaps we need to remember that this Panthers’ team was a significant surprise a year ago. They were not considered contenders heading into the campaign. This season may be less of an anomaly than 2015 was, and this Carolina roster may be closer to the 7-8-1 team of 2014.
More NFL Thoughts
I have to believe Dak Prescott cemented his grip on the starting quarterback gig in Dallas with his fifth straight win, and even if the broken bone in Tony Romo’s back is healed by Oct. 30 off the Dallas bye, I’d be shocked if Prescott gets yanked.
Cowboy Dak Prescott
Last week’s win at Green Bay was special. Prescott, NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas defense dominated. As I said last week, only owner Jerry Jones could screw this up. For the second straight week Dallas beat a consistent playoff team by two touchdowns. You’d have to be crazy to make a quarterback change now.
Many are comparing Prescott’s story to Tom Brady back in 2001. Brady stepped in for Drew Bledsoe in New England after Bledsoe suffered an injury. Brady has had the job ever since.
Brady and Prescott’s first six games in the NFL are quite similar statistically.
Colin Kaepernick started his first game in 50 weeks in Buffalo. As expected, he knelt again during the anthem, got booed a lot while completing just 45 percent of his passes while losing to the Bills by 29 points.
The Cleveland Browns have won just one of their last 17 games. Guess who the winning quarterback was in the game. It was Johnny Manziel who led the Browns to a 24-10 win over the San Francisco 49ers. Wonder how Johnny Football is doing these days?