What is going on with the Panthers?
Is it Cam Newton? Is it the coaching? How about the officials? No, we took care of that last week. What could it be that’s got the Panthers stumped on how to win a football game?
First of all, I don’t know. I watch and I get confused and I think about it and it gets worse. It’s really one of the more baffling things that I’ve seen in sports. I honestly thought 8-8 would be an awesome record this season. The defense would be back on track with Beason and Thomas Davis back. Put Luke Kuechly in the mix, an improved secondary and hopefully better play against the run, with Cam Newton? Whoooo. I thought it’d be easy to get to 8-8 and the only reason it wouldn’t have been better is they’d lose some close ones.
That’s not the case, early in this season. You notice I didn’t call out the offense like I did the defense in that previous little dream sequence. The reason I only mentioned Cam is that he’s the key to the whole system. It’s crazy how much spins off of his orbit. Obviously he handles the ball on 99.99% of all plays on offense, like any quarterback, he’s the center of that universe. We all get that, but it’s bothersome and confounding in a way that he is the single cog that makes the offense go and it’s not working out for him.
I thought the Panthers did well with mid-level quarterbacks. The Kerry Collins, Jake Delhomme types played very well for the Panthers. The defense and run game were what defined those very successful teams. Now, it’s a transformitive quarterback at the center of everything, and he’s pouty and tempermental and his play isn’t living up to what he showed and shocked everyone with as a rookie.
So now the questions of talk radio and monday morning quarterbacks at the watercooler are: is Cam Newton just not that good? What the hell is wrong with them? I thought Ryan Kalil promised a Super Bowl?! All the answers are yes and no at the same time.
Cam is as good as he wants to be. He isn’t reading defenses and picking them apart like you’ll see the elite qb’s do on a regular basis. He’s not relying on scrambling and running like Michael Vick or Dante’ Culpepper or just throwing it up to an elite receiver, as Culpepper did with Randy Moss. It’s not that he’s bad, it’s that he’s sort of figuring out what he wants to be when he grows up in this league, and he’s doing it with a lot on his shoulders. It’d be like a kid out of college becoming CEO of a company. He’ not Mark Zuckerburg, but he’s not Joe Blow trying to figure it out and bumbling everything. He’s middling, with a tremendous amount of upside. He had a bad game yesterday, the worst of his career, and you know what? The Panthers still had a shot late in the game.
In my very humble opinion (Ron Jaworski, the analyst, I am not), the Panthers as a team aren’t playing cohesive football. They’re inconsistent. The coverage on pass plays will be there, then it won’t. They’ll give up a few runs, then Kuechly will bust one up in the backfield or some lineman will keep a good run to a 2-3 yard gainer. It’s better than last year’s defense, but by no means is it all together. They don’t have any one phase of it together in my mind. Did they even register a sack against a rookie, small, quarterback yesterday? The offense cannot get in a rhythm. There aren’t piles of turnovers or they can’t get first downs, it’s that they can’t finish drives and when they need a score or a big play or both, there are none to be found.
The expectations and promise of having a winning season might be far flung. Playoffs are possible still, it’s very early. It’s not likely though, that this Panthers team will make a deep run and somehow win a Super Bowl this year. That’s not Kalil was saying. He was saying if the fans show up and rally behind the team, they will perform much better. Possibly better than what they’re capable of. That’s a major issue. Fans are very quick to throw their hands up and get negative about the team and Cam Newton. Some of it is warranted, a lot of it is not. There are people that make their lives about their team. There’s a guy who comes into where I work about twice a week and each time he’s decked out in Steelers gear. Panthers fans aren’t like that, it’s still too soon. The people who do identify themselves as Panthers fans, love to play the loveable losers on Mondays at work. It’s just the way things are today. There’s no passion among the fanbase in my estimation, just trying to seem like there is.
I am solidly convince that there are nice parts and pieces, but so many draft picks going bad (Edwards, Clausen, Jarrett, etc) and losing seasons where people leave the team have put things in perspective. It’s not going to be innaugural season, NFC Championship, down years, Super Bowl, down, NFC Championship, down and down and suddenly back on that mountain top. It’s not a cycle in the NFL. Teams have to work at it an the Panthers, right now are a work in progress. Fans need to be patient but passionate. Use intelligence instead of incredulity. Understand how it is to be a fan of a team that has parts but doesn’t know how to use them, because that is where the Carolina Panthers are right now.