Know Thine Enemy: Panthers feeling the pain
Record: 2-1 (Last week: 34-13 home loss to New Orleans)
2016 Record: 6-10
Head Coach: Ron Rivera
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Shula
Defensive Coordinator: Steve Wilks
Even though they’re 2-1, the Panthers’ performances so far have been tepid. The loss to the Saints -- a team we all saw as fairly inept on defense -- coupled with punchless wins over San Fran (23-3) and Buffalo (9-3) have them trying to figure out who they’ve become. Carolina has three touchdowns in its first three games. The Panthers have lost tight end Greg Olsen to a foot injury and wideout Kelvin Benjamin left Sunday’s game with a knee injury and didn’t return. Cam Newton threw two passes in preseason as he came back from shoulder surgery and he’s thrown two touchdowns and four picks in the first three games this year. People are muttering that the former MVP is already in decline. For his part, Newton said, "Moving forward, there is no need to panic. There is no need to rush. There is no need to be up in arms about the situation. Should you be frustrated as a fan? Absolutely. I am frustrated with my lackluster performance, knowing that we are better than the performances we've been putting on the past couple of weeks.”
Personnel-wise, they have one of the more talented linebackers in the league in Luke Kuechly. They have two dynamic rookies they’ve added to their offense, Christian McCaffrey (left) and Curtis Samuel. McCaffrey -- who looks very slight at 205 -- has been the Panthers leading pass catcher so far. If he holds up, he’ll be an interesting player. And, from the silver-lining department: Graham Gano is killing it on field goals -- 8-for-8 so far. They’ve been very good so far on third down defensively allowing just 33.3 percent conversions.
They just can’t finish drives. They’ve scored touchdowns on two of their eight trips inside the 20 (tied for worst percentage in the league along with Miami and Cincinnati). The absences of Olsen and Benjamin are a major part of this. The Panthers have a massive time of possession advantage, but they can’t keep settling for field goals. The issue is, their offense is trying to establish itself and its young weapons while led by a quarterback that’s trying to gut it out with a repaired shoulder that’s preventing him from practicing fully during the week. As for their running game, they are averaging just 3.3 yards per carry if you take out the 31-yard reverse that Samuel got loose on.
In 2013, a far different Cam Newton destroyed the Patriots with his arm and his legs, scrambling for 62 yards and throwing for 299 with three touchdowns. The Patriots had a turnover-marred loss that night on Monday Night Football, falling 24-20 when a penalty flag for defensive pass interference in the end zone against Rob Gronkowski was picked up. Very controversial. Very. The Patriots beat the Panthers in 2009 at Gillette Stadium, 20-10 and the memorable Super Bowl 38 win for the Pats in Houston (left) also is part of Panthers-Patriots lore. For those of us who go back a way, that 20-17 overtime loss to the expansion Panthers back in 1995 with Bill Parcells as head coach . . . that was bad. Dwoooo went 22-for-44 that day for 228 yards. Do you have any idea how unimaginable a scenario it was in which -- 22 years later -- the Patriots would have played in seven Super Bowls and won five? Those were “hoping to sneak into the playoffs” days.