Panthers need to upgrade offense
Posted January 13
Updated January 27
Aside from hiring an assistant coach in charge of anger management, the Carolina Panthers’ front office folks need to spend a lot of offseason time addressing offensive needs.
Sunday’s 23-10 playoff loss to San Francisco was eerily similar to the way the Panthers opened the season on Sept. 8 – a 12-7 loss to Seattle in Charlotte.
In both cases, the Panther defense played well enough to win headline games against NFL powers, although there was a costly communication pass coverage breakdown involving defensive backs Captain Munnerlyn and Robert Lester Sunday. It resulted in a long completion to set up a 49ers touchdown.
But generally, the Panther defense was solid throughout the season, and that was after several early-season injuries forced the defensive backfield to be remodeled on the run.
Those defensive backs – along with receiver Steve Smith (as usual) – had a complete emotional meltdown that significantly undermined execution and field position against the 49ers. But that problem almost certainly will be resolved pronto, even if it means parting ways with team fixture Smith. There is no way whatsoever that owner Jerry Richardson will put up with players who fancy themselves as the Oakland Raiders of the East Coast.
Caveman offenses high-risk, low reward
Improving the offense will be a lot more complicated than implementing a no-thugs disciplinary mandate.
That offensive process has to start with General Manager Dave Gettleman, head Coach Ron Rivera and Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula.
Those three men need to revise their basic thinking at the very least, but more likely need to bring in at least two or three personnel weapons to boot.
The theory that top-line opponents can be defeated if the offense simply eats clock long enough to give the defense time to create easy scoring opportunities simply doesn’t work regularly.
Against the 49ers, quarterback Cam Newton obviously was Shula’s Plan A, B and C in short-yardage situations, and the 49ers learned as much immediately.
Newton’s legs allowed him to convert on a few third downs between the 20 yard lines. But in the scoring zone, the 49er defense knew what was coming and repeatedly stopped it, particularly inside the 5-yard-line.
It was a caveman offensive strategy that (A) didn’t work and (B) eventually will get Newton hurt to the extent that games will hinge on the play of a backup quarterback.
Aside from Newton, the Panthers’ most reliable playmakers are a tight end (Greg Olsen), a versatile kick-return specialist (Ted Ginn), a fullback/tailback (Mike Tolbert) and the 34-year-old Smith, who is nearing the end of his career.
Running backs DeAngleo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are past their prime, too.
And among the most promising younger players, only wide-out Brandon LaFell actually has delivered much pop. Rookie running back Kenjon Barner rarely got a game rep.
With the 30th pick in the draft, the Panthers aren’t likely to come up with one of the top-rated running backs or wide outs, but it might still be a smart move to draft one even it means skipping over promising defenders.
The Panthers need to remind themselves that several of the league’s best running backs – Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy, Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles, Green Bay’s Ed Lacy and Chicago’s Matt Forte – were not first-round picks. The Chiefs actually got Charles out of Texas in the third round of the 2008 draft.
Compared to expectations, the Panthers’ 12-5 final record was remarkable, and Rivera did more than enough to keep his job.
But the Panthers haven’t established themselves as a title contender enough to stand pat. They need to proactive, if for no other reason than the possibility that the NFC South will be much tougher next season.
Remember Atlanta went 4-12 after having gone 14-4 in 2012. New Tampa Bay coach Lovie Smith has averaged 9.3 wins per season in nine previous seasons as an NFL head coach. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is showing no signs of losing his talent.
The Panthers likely will need to be a better team just to match this season’s results.