Where Do the Panthers Go from Here?

I just posted regarding the issues the Carolina Panthers had last Sunday got my thinking more to the offensive side of the ball, and I think that's the side that gave us the most trouble. The Vikings had a lot to do with it, but I think a lot was self-inflicted in Week 3 as well.

Since I mentioned in my last post that WR Kelvin Benjamin went without a single reception the entire day & was targeted only once, that should be as nice a summation of things from that side, on that day. What were they thinking?

Which got me thinking, too. I was thinking the defense played pretty well, considering the dominant first half then the mistakes & turnovers from Cam. The special teams played poorly again, giving up a punt return TD while the defense allowed only one TD. Given the opportunities, things could have been a lot worse and perhaps should have been.

The one area that has been concerning this year from the defense has been a lack of QB sacks. Ron & Co. insist that while that's true, the pressure and penetration the unit gets as a whole is having the desired effect. It also doesn't hurt at all that both rookie cornerbacks that were picked up in the draft are playing at least as well as could reasonably have been expected if not better. James Bradberry and Daryl Worley haven't given up many big plays at all while making some nice plays of their own. 

The issues with the sacks not appearing so far have largely been made up for by not giving up huge plays. At least it seems that way so far. After all, Cam threw three picks last week and we kept giving up FGs. One TD to a Vikings offense that is injury-riddled already? Sure. It was a pass, and one negative Shaq Thompson does have is a lack of height at 6 feet tall. 

Sacks do need to start coming, despite what RONCO says. And yes, I was around for the RONCO infomercials of...seemingly forever back in the 80's & 90's, if not even before.

The concerning thing isn't the lack of sacks themselves, but the turnovers getting them helps to generate. When rushed/hurried, a given QB is likely to make more mistakes than not, thus, throwing more bad passes that get intercepted.

Carolina had about two turnovers per game advantage last season. This season, that has completely vanished. Memory's telling me the turnover differential last year was in the +34 range, while it's nearly 0 through three games this year. 

Why is that?

While I don't know if there are any differences in play calling from a similar time-frame from September of last year, it sure seems like the defense is at least as solid overall. I do know Josh Norman had 2 picks in each of 2 games early...I think within the first month of play, when enemy offensive coordinators saw Josh Norman had risen. We don't have him this year and I'm sure OCs would want to exploit that & the fact we have rookies to begin with. 

Not being able to generate sacks so far is concerning because the usual way to fix that is to resort to more blitzing. Rookie corners remind you not to call a lot of blitzes simply by being rookies. A mistake means six points there and everybody knows it.

Usually, sacks come from the edges, or defensive end positions in the 4-3 style defense that Carolina (and most other NFL teams) deploy. So far in 2016, nobody starting on the line has a sack yet and nobody has multiple sacks for the season. Not a strong push any way you cut it.

Charles Johnson got old right when I had thought (before last year), and hasn't been displaced yet. Kony Ealy is still someone who can play brilliantly once in a while but then vanishes seemingly for stretches of games. It's time for him to start being destructive a lot more regularly than he has shown so far, despite his bright Super Bowl performance. If he doesn't show something more concrete and sustained and SOON, he won't be here when his rookie deal expires. 

The team has, in reality, two DE spots to consider drafting for this year. One if they sign a high-dollar free agent, which would be very un-Gettlemanly. I'm also on record for having wanted to take RB Derrick Henry in the past draft, but can't blame Gettleman for drafting such an enticingly raw & potentially very destructive force in Vernon Butler, but there are only so many top picks to go around in any organization...despite the way Cleveland is trading back for more picks, they aren't getting anything done having passed up on a chance at a Carson Wentz.

Then it dawned on me...perhaps I'm thinking Dave's getting a little too finicky about the books and needs to swing the pendulum back the other way a tad and get us a player or two. The same argument can be made for one or two bigger-named free agent acquisitions. People say "Would HE ALONE have made the difference?" 

Gettleman has a very real and obvious example of that in his own short amount of time in Charlotte: if it were a top-talent LT, then perhaps yes, it may well have made the difference. We'll never know, but can go about it with the best compass heading we have. This almost seems to me to be equivalent to Mr. Spock "reasoning" that it was time for an emotional outburst in a shuttlecraft to get attention 50 years ago, when he jettisoned shuttlecraft fuel and ignited it so the U.S.S. Enterprise could see him on their monitors, but turn hours of time to live into minutes if they don't act. Therefore, what's the point in the endeavor in the first place?  

The same "logic" could well be applied to the current situation.

With now two consecutive losses to the Denver Broncos and now just having taken 8 sacks in a single game for The Franchise in Cam Newton, what the Hell is the man waiting for?

If he wants to fix this now, he's close to doing something because he has no other choice. Not acting will clearly mean no ring. Acting will mean, at this point, trading for a top-ten LT, and nothing else will be worth the help. Oher can be put back on the right side, and Remmers can be great for depth & goal line. Or just start 6 linemen when we get to the Super Bowl, throw in what Cam is capable of & dare Bill Belichik to figure it out in the next 3 hours. Without a breakthrough soon, the DE position is in a precariously similar place.

Anchor the line with a LT from a non-contender whose contract is running out with another team. Shouldn't take a very big draft pick to pry one away that the other team knows will cost them northward of what they can pay. Take Norman's money, give it to him plus a few million more. Let Cam & the coaches figure out the rest. Draft that pair of bookend DEs a la Star & Kawann, double-dipping in the top two rounds, since he's shown already that he will do that if necessary. 

A top, established LT would allow Ron Rivera to put that shiny new toy on an island against any edge-rusher and largely neutralize 'em...not with one-on-one every down, but the option would be there on a given play, unlike it realistically is now. An athletic presence is needed to stop an athletic presence, and it's still necessary to be a pretty decent "technician" (mainly, proper footwork) to be a big success at it. Edge-rushers that produce need edge-protectors that shut people down. That's why both get paid top dollar, and why they're not easily available. It would also be why we currently have neither and need both.

Gettleman's proven he can save money in not spending $15 million on someone we didn't absolutely have to have. Now, it's time to spend $20 million on someone we do. 

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