In the fable that many know called “The Fox and the Cat.” a cat looks onto a fox in favor. The cat asks him how he is doing and how he is during the hard times. Filled with arrogance, the fox rambles about how he is a master of many arts and possesses a sackful of cunning. The fox then says to the cat, “You make me sorry for you. Come with me, I will teach you how people get away from the hounds.”
As he finishes saying this, a hunter appears with multiple hounds. The cat leaps into a tree to safety and the fox is left caught by the dogs listening to the cat yell out, “Open your sack Mr. Fox, open your sack!” The cat relied on the one “art” he knew which was climbing/leaping. Being good at several things in some cases may not be as great as mastering one.
I bring up this fable in comparison with the Carolina Panthers defense. They were seen as being elite, worthy of being looked upon with the likes of the Seahawks, Jets, and Chiefs but in reality they have a ways to go. In the 2014 regular season, the Panthers started with the twenty-second easiest schedule (120-134-2, .473) in what was also considered to be a relatively light-weight division.
Before the 2015 season begins, let’s not forget how the 2014 season started. Week 1 ended with the headline, “Derek Anderson, Panthers, hang on for win over Bucs.” The Panthers came out strong but gave away two touchdowns late in the fourth quarter to a weak Bucs offense led by Josh McCown. The Panthers’ defense contributed two interceptions which went a long way in deciding the outcome. This was against the Bucs, a team that ended 2-14 overall and walked away with the number one overall pick in Jameis Winston.
The Panthers “sackful of arts” works on the NFC South, but not necessarily the rest of the NFL. The “hounds” of Seattle, Philadelphia (Week 2 Loss on the road 21-45), Indianapolis, and Green Bay (Week 7 loss on the road 17-38) will be back in 2015 with only one major difference outside of their personnel. These four games will all be played at home in Charlotte outside of the game against Seattle. The other and most glaring “hound” the Panthers’ defense faces are elite WR’s (or number one WR options coupled with a top 10 QB) or TE.
Take into account, Week 3 vs. Pittsburgh (Antonio Brown), Week 6 @ Cincinnati (Mohamed Sanu), Week 7 @ Green Bay (Jordy Nelson/Randall Cobb), Week 9 vs. New Orleans (Jimmy Graham), Week 10 @ Philadelphia (Jordan Matthews), Week 11 vs. Atlanta (Roddy White, eh, I’m not comfortable putting this one here but I will anyway) and Week 16 vs. Cleveland (Jordan Cameron). Each of these teams have a few things in common, top level play out of their QB’s and at least one if not two receiving options that can be counted on to make a catch when it counts.
The Panthers are great when a team they face has only one of these, either a great QB and no options or options on offense but no QB. The next level for the Panthers to get to is shoring up their secondary to help combat this. The Seahawks acquired TE Jimmy Graham from New Orleans, so the low scoring games we’re used to seeing could very well see a rise in scoring. The Colts and Eagles have also made a plethora of moves so their offenses will be daunting to compete against to say the least. Green Bay is still Green Bay as they return the highest percent of their starters back and still have Aaron Rodgers. Every team uses the offseason to get better as the plan is to exceed what you were able to do last year. Currently, the Panthers have thirteen defensive backs, five of which have five or more years of experience in the NFL. Of the rest, five have two or less years of experience compounded by their relatively small stature (none are taller than 6’ 2”).
The receivers that they will have to line up against this year are clearly proven in their abilities. They might have a group of young receivers and in some cases young QBs throwing to them but the Panthers need to stay the course. They should take each game separately and avoid getting lost in themselves after wins or losses. The trouble with having a young team is their lack of experience in overcoming adversity. The line backing core led by Luke Keuchly and Thomas Davis needs to provide more support than they did last year in running the defense. Whether it’s big plays or decisive stops when it’s needed, these two can provide an everlasting heartbeat to keep the Panthers pounding in the fourth quarter and Cam on the field scoring. Just beware of the “hounds” and be ready to climb when it’s time.
By Daniel Wesson