Plenty Of Blame To Go Around In Carolina
By Blake Baxter
What a difference a couple of weeks can make. Two weeks ago, the Carolina Panthers were coming off an uplifting, dominant victory over the New York Giants. The 38-0 rout seemed to be a sign that the Panthers were victims of bad luck in their first two weeks of play. After losing their first two contests by a combined total of six points, they actually looked to be coming into their own. Not only was their defense as daunting as ever, but their offense finally started clicking. Even more encouraging was that over the next five weeks, the Panthers had a bye week and four winnable games. A 1-2 record definitely did not sound all that impressive, but it was certainly not inconceivable that the Panthers could go undefeated in the month of October and have a 5-2 record after Week 8.
But it was not to be.
Instead, the Panthers failed to capitalize on any of the momentum from the Giants win and fell to 1-3. What went wrong for the Panthers? What didn’t go wrong? Carolina struggled to get anything going offensively. Rejuvenated RB DeAngelo Williams was neutralized by the Arizona Cardinals defense. There were more injuries. And that is not even the half of it. There is plenty of blame to go around for the Panthers ugly 22-6 loss to the Cardinals this past Sunday – and the state of their season in general.
For the past three seasons, Cam Newton has been known as one of the most talented and perplexing quarterbacks in the NFL. He put up dazzling numbers his rookie season and showed flashes of brilliance in his second year. But along the way, questions were raised about his maturity level. Some have speculated that Newton does not have what it takes to win games in this unforgiving league. It might be a little overblown, but with a career record of 14-22, it is still worth mentioning. Through four games this season, Newton’s performance has been a mixed bag. In the first couple weeks, he was average to subpar and appeared to be in a little bit of a funk. Against the Giants, Newton elevated his game and threw for 223 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 45 yards and one touchdown.
It appeared that he had turned it all around – or at least that was the case until Sunday. Against the Cardinals, Newton captained an abysmal Carolina offense. He managed to throw for a respectable 308 yards, but struggled to make crucial plays and worse yet, turned the ball over when it mattered the most. He finished the day with zero touchdowns, three interceptions and a critical fumble in the fourth quarter. His most telling stat of the day was that he had not one but two tackles. When your quarterback is recording multiple tackles in a game, your team is just not going to win.
To Newton’s credit, Carolina’s struggles were not all his fault. Carolina’s receivers recorded four drops on Sunday, the most significant of which was dropped by Steve Smith in the end zone in the first quarter. Following the game, Smith contradicted himself by taking the blame as the team’s “scapegoat,” but he also placed blame on the officials. His complaints should be taken with a grain of salt. Bad calls are unavoidable and are always going to be a part of the game – you can only worry about the things you can control. Smith simply did not get the job done.
For three years, Newton has been saddled with what has mostly been a second rate receiving corps. Management attempted to bring in a few journeymen in the offseason to add depth, but they still lack the weapons that other teams have. TE Greg Olsen is his most reliable target. Smith was once one of the top receivers in the league, but he is 34 years old and is consistently hampered by double coverage. It is interesting to imagine how it would be if Newton was in another quarterback’s shoes. Just imagine how different it would be if he had a Demaryius Thomas in addition to a Wes Welker. The closest thing Newton has had to that this season has been a resurgent Ted Ginn Jr., who was relegated primarily to kick returns last season in San Francisco. He has been a pleasant surprise for the Panthers this season, but it is still a stretch to compare him to someone like Thomas or San Francisco’s Anquan Boldin. Carolina needs the rest of its receivers – particularly Brandon LaFell, who had a crucial drop as well – to be more consistent and to, you know, catch the ball.
This one is pretty straightforward. Yes, the offensive line has been banged up and has lost starting LG Amini Silatolu to a torn ACL, but they inexcusably gave up seven sacks. If the Panthers line can't protect their quarterback better, then it is not going to matter who they are playing – it is going to be an uphill battle.
This weekend, the Panthers face the Minnesota Vikings, a team that has had a similarly disappointing start to the season. Both teams stand at 1-3 but Minnesota, sitting alone in the cellar of the NFC North, is even more desperate for a win. The Vikings are not going to go down easy. The Panthers have a lot of issues to address if they are going to get their second win of the season, and they will have to do it on the road.