Carolina's Offense Will Need to Get Better

Carolina’s offense will have to get better if they want their playoff chances to improve. Why you may ask does a team that has averaged 32.5 points in its four game win streak need to improve offensively?  Simply put, the defense cannot sustain their current domination forever.  
With the 49ers, Patriots, and two matches with the Saints still ahead, Panther fans are praying for  a more poised offense.  

Yes, final scores have been impressive, but they may also mask some Panther offensive weaknesses.  Wins against the Buccaneers and Falcons were not blowouts early on. Carolina’s offense coolly ended the half against the Bucs with 3 consecutive punts and only up 8 points. Cam ended the first half against the Falcons, up only 4 points, with an interception that was then endlessly replayed for fans while confirmed by official review.

These games have been close--uncomfortably close at the half.  Carolina’s offense has yet to display the maturity that will be needed to keep up with the high-powered offenses helmed by by Kaepernick, Brady, and Brees.  

There are three offensive areas that remain troubling for the Carolina Panthers.

  1. ∅ True #2-- Carolina lacks a compliment to the aging Steve Smith.  Brandon LaFumble remains an enigma, showing glimpses of potential #2 chops. Despite a statistically strong performance against the Falcons, LaFell sometimes sleeps on his blocks and shrinks in the pass game.  He has yet to demonstrate the consistency and presence of an intimidating #2.   

Ted “Stone Hands” Ginn, Jr has also flashed at moments, but still is not the receiving deep threat that Panther fans had hoped.  Ginn certainly gives the Panthers’ return game much needed pop.  Nevertheless, both he and LaFell leave Panther fans uneasy and looking forward to receiver core improvements in the 2014 draft.

  1. Cam’s Consistency-- Cam Newton has improved immensely throughout his short career.  In 3 out of 4 of the last Panther wins, he has been “Cam the consistent.”  We haven’t seen explosive Cam that stunned the NFL in his rookie season, but we have seen good decision making and impressive accuracy.  

“Cam the inconsistent” showed up against the Falcons, however.  Both Cam Newton and Mike Shula seemed a little nervous in the first half.  Shula called for Newton to establish the Panthers passing game, and Cam tossed two careless INTs.  Cam finished the game strong, despite a 62% completion average, 2 INTs, and 70.4 QBR.  

Newton continues to show that  he is a momentum player, who needs the Panthers to find an early offensive rhythm based on a strong rushing game.  Against the Vikings and the Rams, Carolina’s two most complete performances, Cam attempted less than 30 pass attempts (27 and 17) and averaged 9.5 carries per game. He also rushed the ball early in all of these games.  Against Tampa Bay and Atlanta, Newton passed on over 30 plays ( 32 and 37), while only getting 5 carries against the Falcons.  He did not flash in the run game until the second half as well.

The Cam Newton equation is easier than Shula made it out against Atlanta.  Newton Success=Establishing him as a rushing threat early, which then allows him to more successfully stretch the field.  

  1. Offensive Line--Carolina’s success has been despite its offensive line, rather than because of it.  No offense….of line, but for two years Newton and the RBs  have been running for their lives.  Losing starting guard Chris Scott, and then his backup Jeff Byers, doesn’t lend towards a sudden improvement.  Pass blocking has been problematic to this point. This will make for tough games on the road as the Panthers get into December.

The Bright Side:

The Panthers may not be able to magically fix these weaknesses overnight, but they can work to marginalize them.

  1. Sticking with the run-- Carolina is at its best when they rush the ball effectively.  Doubling down on the run game will maximize offensive production in the long run. Run-blocking is much easier for weak offensive lines.  Newton flourishes when he is highlighted early in the run attack.  Establishing the running game early will create the momentum that Cam Newton needs.

  1. Cycle RBs--Carolina has a stable of effective RBs with D. Williams, M. Tolbert, and the newly returned J. Stewart can wear down the best of defenses if used properly.  Pound Williams and Tolbert relentlessly, and then attack a weakened middle of the field with screen passes to Stewart.  This group of backs, led by a mobile QB, can chew up time and tire down defenses.

  1. Elite Defense--Carolina’s defense is stout, allowing a mere 13 points per game.  This week, Carolina picked off Matty Ice three times, taking one to the house.  The Panther’s piecemeal secondary continues to get it done, greatly because of monster front seven.  Ranked #2 overall against the run, Carolina has made up its starless secondary with consistent pressure up front and athletic linebacker play.  

Carolina may just be getting used to winning at the best time of the season.  Sunday’s victory against Atlanta advances Carolina to just one game back in the division and a strong wild card contender.  Panther fans have been exuberant, and rightfully so about this streak.  It has been a long time since we have felt this feeling.
The Panthers will, however, need to keep pounding and the offense will need to to continue to mature if we want to prolong this high into the postseason.

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