Making Sense of the Carolina Panthers' Slow Start
It has been three days since the Carolina Panthers were embarrassed on national television at the hands of the New York Giants and in the aftermath, fans, experts and analysts have been trying to make sense of the lack of success thus far in Carolina.
Let's be realistic for a moment. The Panthers' shortcomings are not a product of one loss. It's not due to being blown out in a lopsided game early in the season. No, the issues facing the Panthers stem from a multitude of places.
For a team that was supposed to be a contender this year, they haven't looked the part. Yes, they did defeat the New Orleans Saints, but that was just one game and in their two losses the Panthers looked lost.
While it is pointless to review and regurgitate all the things that have gone wrong so far, it seems as though another angle should be explored as to the slow start experienced by Carolina.
These theories go beyond the team, its players and their on-field performance. While some will touch on a few players specifically, there will be no mention of a regression on the part of Cam Newton. That idea has been tossed around and floated enough already, so fresh ideas are welcome.
While there may not be a general consensus on the the items listed here, they are being presented to merely put things in perspective.
Theory 1: Tampa Bay and New York Are Really Good
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This idea may seem farfetched. It may come across as ridiculous. The fact remains that Carolina lost to both teams. Further boosting this argument is the fact these two teams squared off a week ago with the Giants outlasting the Buccaneers in a shootout, 41-34.
The Giants deserve credit where credit is due; they are the defending champions and seem to build off momentum and carry it for long periods at a time. This is why they were able to win the Super Bowl last season; they caught a hot streak at the right time.
Tampa Bay was supposed to be that division rival who was rebuilding and not ready to compete for another year or two. However, they didn't seem to have any problems handing the Panthers' complex offense.
The team is different than it was a year ago and with a new head coach guiding the way, it is hard to tell where this team is headed. Remember the 49ers from last year?
Carolina's schedule is brutal and unforgiving. The losses they suffered to these teams so far may be a fluke or it could be that the Giants and Buccaneers are for real. While it's too early to tell, both of these teams made their case by defeating the Panthers.
Theory 2: New Orleans Lost Due to Offeseason Distractions
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On the surface, this seems to be a bit of a cop-out. The one thing that legitimizes this theory, though, is that many credible experts and analysts entertained a regression from the team after all the bad press in wake of the bounty hunting scandal that rocked the league during the offseason.
The Saints lost their opener but many felt they would recover against the Panthers. After scoring in convincing fashion on their first series, that looked to be the case. Carolina would rebound after a momentum-shifting interception and the Saints were never the same the rest of the way.
Distractions hurt any team. The Saints are without their head coach, Jonathan Vilma is on the PUP list and there are still lingering issues facing the team in regards to punishment that may be assessed against the team and it's alleged offenders.
Was Carolina able to take advantage of a vulnerable team that was on the road? Perhaps.
New Orleans is still a dangerous team and despite an 0-2 hole, they are not ready to count themselves out just yet. The next few weeks should tell the tale about where this team is headed and how they will finish.
It may be in Carolina's best interest to beat them again in the Superdome with playoff implications on the line just to dismiss the allegations of beating a distracted team.
So far, that idea sounds like a long shot.
Theory 3: Injuries and Health Are Leading to Mediocre Play
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This is probably the one slide that touches on the players themselves, but in this case, only a select few. The most notable of those names are Jon Beason and Thomas Davis. Both were lost for much, if not all of the 2011 season, and their recovery has been monitored closely.
With the exception of Davis, Beason was held out during the preseason in order to further rest his body and be ready for Week 1. While both have been on the field, it seems as though their production isn't what it use to be.
Beason has not really looked the same, and that is to be expected after coming back from an Achilles injury. Davis has made plays reminiscent of the old days, but he only appears in a rotational capacity. While these are the most noteworthy on defense, the offense has had it's share of problems too.
Jonathan Stewart has missed two of the first three games and its uncertain if he will make it through the season at 100 percent. There is no denying how important his presence is on the field. If he is suited up and ready to play, the offense has a new dimension to it. After all, he was instrumental in the Panthers' win over the Saints in Week 2.
Other injuries to Steve Smith and Byron Bell have played a small role in the fortunes of the offense but not to the degree that Stewart's ailments have caused.
Carolina is a talented team and a dangerous one when they are firing on all cylinders. They just need to stay healthy. Maybe this is an early season inconvenience and everyone will bounce back and stay on the field the rest of the way, playing at a high level. Maybe it's a sign of things to come.
Either way, in order to be successful, they need to maintain a quality degree of health and production on the field.
Theory 4: Carolina Is Suffering from Poor Decision-Making
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Poor decision-making is a problem that goes beyond the football field. While a poor decision can lead to a pick-six or a costly fumble, poor decisions from the front office can lead to the downfall of a team.
The Panthers haven't made a lavish splash in free agency in a while and some face-palming choices on draft day have left many wondering about the team's future.
Carolina released John Kasay and signed veteran Olindo Mare to replace him. The four-year deal was worth $12M and it did not sit well with many fans after he missed a couple of key field goals in 2011. As everyone knows, Mare was cut in the preseason and replaced with Justin Medlock.
There was some ridicule about the Panthers resigning a couple of their players to lavish deals and seeing those players not live up to the money they are being paid.
Charles Johnson and DeAngelo Williams are two of those players. Both players are talented but it seems in the eyes of some they were grossly overvalued.
It doesn't end there, as a few draft day decisions have been met with criticism and scrutiny.
Marty Hurney has a knack for hitting the home run in the first round of the draft but after that, his decision-making has been called into question.
Carolina traded away a 2010 first round pick to the San Francisco 49ers in order to move up in the second round of the 2009 draft to draft Everette Brown. That move backfired as Brown did not last two seasons in Carolina.
It seemed as though the snowball effect was in full force from that decision as the Panthers drafted Jimmy Clausen with their first pick (48th overall) of the 2010 draft. Clausen wouldn't help the Panthers cause that season and they would end the year 2-14, thus ringing in the Cam Newton era.
This is interesting because ESPN's Grantland published a story about the decisions made by Hurney and it is really worth the read.
Speaking of the front office and the men behind the scenes....
Theory 5: The Panthers Are Victims of Front Office Circumstance
The way the roster is set up now and the product presented on the field by Carolina is a reflection of the moves and decision-making of the front office. From February to September, the Panthers front office has been tasked with putting together a winning team.
Despite the draft day decisions of 2010 or the flux of player releases that year which sparked the youth movement, Carolina seems to have found itself with a raw deal. It sounds crazy to say that because the front office should be making moves to better the team, not put it further behind the competition.
Former coach John Fox was put in a no-win situation in 2010, and while he was probably better off being let go, owner Jerry Richardson kept him at his post to finish out his contract. There are several things that Fox could have done without in his final year in Carolina, but his coaching philosophy was not in tune with the movement of the front office brass.
There has been speculation about why Hurney is still holding his position as mentioned in the same Grantland article referenced on the previous slide. Sometimes coaches and general managers wear out their welcome and change is needed. The Indianapolis Colts realized this and gave long time GM Bill Polian his walking papers.
Carolina looks to be in better shape than it was two years ago, but it can be argued that more needs to be done to get this team on track.
The coaching staff seems to be the right fit but it is up to the guys upstairs to put together a roster that enhances the strengths of the Panthers key playermakers.
Otherwise, a free agent with aspirations of starting may find himself cut (Reggie Smith) or a highly drafted player may not be a part of the team or find himself in a severely diminished role (Terrell McClain and Jimmy Clausen respectively).
The Panthers have the right tools in place. The only things missing are a few of those instrumental pieces to bring it all together. Making the right decisions during the offseason will help this team in the long run.