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July 31, 2013

Panthers linebacker Chase Blackburn at training camp

New Carolina Panthers linebacker Chase Blackburn met with the local media during player availability to discuss his new team and having been to two Super Bowls with the New York Giants.

Posted by Observer staff on July 31, 2013 at 02:05 PM | Permalink


Are any of you guys ESPN Insiders? I'd love to know what the rest of this article has to say.


Posted by: Ray | Aug 1, 2013 1:21:02 AM

Do you remember the last time the Carolina Panthers made the playoffs? It was the 2008 season, and the Panthers went 12-4 and won the NFC South. Then they went out and lost at home to the Cardinals, 33-13, in Jake Delhomme's notorious five-interception performance. That game seemed to cast a hex on the franchise, which hasn't had a winning record since.

Football Outsiders Almanac 2013
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We know the Panthers will have their strengths in 2013. In Cam Newton, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and short-yardage specialist Mike Tolbert, the Panthers have a quartet of players capable of moving the ball on the ground against any defense. First-round draft pick Star Lotulelei will join Luke Kuechly, Charles Johnson & Co. to form what should be the best front seven in the division. But that's not enough to make a playoff team. Here's what needs to happen if the Panthers are going to get back into the postseason and wipe Delhomme-ageddon from their memory:

Cam Newton's passing must improve. Newton's fantasy numbers and completion rate fell in his second season, leading to a common perception that he regressed, but in some ways he showed significant improvement. His yards per play actually rose slightly, and his interception rate declined significantly. His DVOA -- our advanced play-by-play metric, explained here -- was slightly higher in 2012 than in 2011. But there's still plenty of room for improvement.

For starters, there's the red zone, where Newton's completion rate (34.9 percent) and touchdown rate (12.7 percent) were about two-thirds and half of the league average figures (52.7 percent, 23.2 percent). Newton remains a dangerous red zone rusher, but it's easier for defenses to limit his scrambling opportunities near the goal line -- he had only 26 red zone rushes in 2012, but 63 red zone passes. If Newton can just be average inside the 20, that'll add about a half-dozen touchdowns for the Panthers' offense this fall.

Newton also must learn to read defenses and decide where to go with the ball more quickly. Newton was sacked 36 times last season, and 43 percent of those plays were "long" sacks when Newton held the ball for at least three seconds, the highest rate in the league.

Finally, Newton needs to get over his case of fumble-itis. He had just five fumbles as a rookie but had 10 last season. Only five players fumbled more often in 2012.

[+] EnlargeSteve Smith
Jeremy Brevard/US Presswire
For the majority of his career, Steve Smith has been Carolina's lone receiving threat.
Someone, anyone, has to help Steve Smith. For most of Smith's career, he has had to go it alone as Carolina's only receiving threat. He led the league in percentage of his team's receiving yards last year, the third time since 2003 he has led the league in that category and the eighth time he has made the top 10. Brandon LaFell, the current No.-2-receiver-by-default, has only one 100-yard game in the NFL. It came against Tampa Bay in 2011, and 91 of those yards came on one play when the Bucs ran a safety blitz and LaFell got behind his man in the middle of the field with no defender in front of him.

Even if LaFell can break out in his fourth season, the Panthers still need to find a good third option. Even a running team such as Carolina used three or more wideouts on more than half their offensive snaps last season. The candidates this year include veteran acquisitions Ted Ginn and Domenik Hixon, plus holdovers such as David Gettis, Armanti Edwards and Kealoha Pilares. It's not a promising group.

The secondary has to stay afloat. The Panthers have one very good cornerback in Captain Munnerlyn, who has ranked 11th or better in adjusted yards allowed per pass three times in his four seasons (according to Football Outsiders' game charting). After that, though, there's not much to get excited about. Josh Norman had a disastrous rookie campaign last year, and there is a good reason Drayton Florence is on his fifth team in seven seasons. Charles Godfrey is just average at free safety, and the strong safety looks to be veteran Oakland backup Mike Mitchell. It's not realistic to expect this unit to dominate this season, but if these players can limit big plays and give the front seven a chance to wreak havoc, that could be all Carolina needs.

Ron Rivera needs to learn to coach. Specifically, he must learn to be a game-day coach. Rivera deserves credit for developing the Panthers' front seven, but his numerous play-calling and time-management gaffes have led Carolina to a 6-13 record in games decided by eight or fewer points in his first two seasons. Most notorious last season was the fourth-and-1 punt against Atlanta, but equally damning were his decisions to pass instead of run needing 1 yard for a go-ahead touchdown against Seattle and to turn down a long field goal attempt at the end of the first half against Chicago. If Rivera's decision-making hasn't improved, the Panthers will miss the playoffs and he'll be out of a job.

The Panthers play in the league's deepest division. They must also face the dominant defenses of the NFC West, plus a Monday night game against New England. It shapes up as one of the most difficult schedules in the league. If Carolina can solve its problems and return to the postseason, it will be an achievement well-earned.

Posted by: Dave | Aug 1, 2013 8:53:30 AM

thank you Dave, that was awesome of you!

Posted by: mitch | Aug 1, 2013 11:52:18 AM

i think everything in the article was spot on except the secondary part. I don't think it's anywhere near as bad as everyone puts it. we didn't get torched last year and we have the same group coming back, more experienced and improved subtly depth-wise.

We lost more games last year on bone head coaching errors and not being able to stop the run than anything. and horrible special teams at times as well.

statistically, neither defense nor offense were bad. they were both above average. but we were horrible at all of the critical details of games.

that's coaching. hopefully he gets it, but I highly doubt he does. and worst of all, we had the perfect coach who DOES get the details and we ran him out of town.

Posted by: charlottean | Aug 1, 2013 1:15:03 PM

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