Carolina Panthers: The Good, Bad and Ugly of the First 4 Games of the NFL Season
Considering that the Panthers faced off against each team in their division in the season's first quarter, the teams' poor record is certainly cause for concern. More troubling than their record has been the performance of the team in their first four performances.
Cam Newton has been great in two games and lackluster in the other two. Franchise quarterbacks don't play well half the time; they play well in the vast majority of their starts. Prior to the season, the goal for the Panthers was to make a push for the playoffs in Ron Rivera's second season as head coach.
After a slow start, it will take a strong effort from the Panthers over the remainder of the season in order to qualify for the postseason.
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Greg Olsen has been targeted 31 times through four games, which is the currently the team high. After a decent first year with the Panthers that saw him post the following numbers—45 receptions, 540 yards and five touchdowns—Olsen is performing even better in his second season in Carolina.
While the Panthers offense struggled in Weeks 1 and 3, Olsen compiled 13 catches for 154 yards.
Olsen also leads all Panthers receivers with 14 first downs, which proves that Cam Newton feels comfortable looking for his big tight end at pivotal moments.
Through the first four weeks, Olsen is averaging 64 yards per game, but that doesn't tell the whole story.
In Week 2 against the New Orleans Saints, Olsen only hauled in one pass for 13 yards which has drastically hampered his yards-per-game average. It should be noted that the Panthers offense had little trouble moving the ball on offense, and Olsen did an admirable job run-blocking in the contest.
Olsen has been Newton's most reliable target, and there is no reason to think that will change considering how often Cam has looked for Olsen, thus far.
Frank Alexander led the Big 12 in sacks during the 2011 season and has had little problem transiting to the NFL game, thus far.
Through the first four games of his NFL career, Alexander has compiled 3.5 sacks and appears ready to maintain that strong effort.
Over the course of the last two games, Alexander has managed 2.5 sacks, including his impressive 1.5 sack performance in Week 4 against the Atlanta Falcons.
The Panthers have been looking for another legitimate pass-rusher to pair with Charles Johnson, and they might have finally found the right guy in Alexander.
Alexander may have fallen into the fourth round, but that doesn't mean that he hasn't been the most productive member of the team's 2012 draft class in the first four weeks.
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Cam Newton put together one of the most prolific rookie seasons in NFL history during the 2011 season, and that performance led to increased expectations for his sophomore campaign.
Through four games this season, Newton has completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 1,013 yards to go along with his four touchdowns and five interceptions. Those numbers don't compare to the first quarter of his rookie season, which saw him throw for almost 1,400 yards and five touchdown passes.
In 2012, it has been apparent that Newton is focused on becoming more of a threat from inside the pocket. At points, his desire to be a pocket-passer has hurt the efficiency of the offense as Newton is most dangerous with the ball in his hand in the open field.
For the Panthers to win a Super Bowl with Newton, the young quarterback will have to become a dominant force from inside the pocket. He must do so while not sacrificing the gains the offense is accustomed to getting from Newton's ground attack.
The future success of the Panthers is directly tied to Newton, who has a lot of room to improve in the season's next quarter.
Jon Beason was forced to sit out the 2011 season due to a torn Achilles and hasn't been able to regain his former level of excellence.
Through the season's first four games, Beason has compiled 27 tackles and two pass deflections.
At this rate, Beason will finish the season with just 108 tackles. If he doesn't increase his level of production and keeps down this path, it would mark Beason's least productive full season of his career.
It might be asking too much of Beason to reclaim his past form, but the Panthers desperately need him to at the very least stay on the field and lead the disappointing defensive unit.
Beason's speed and agility were the key to his success as an elite NFL linebacker, but he appears to have lost a step.
Beason has missed quite a few tackles this season, which is unlike his past self.
While it is too soon to write the ex-Miami Hurricane off, Panthers fans may have to accept the fact that Beason may never be as dominant as he was prior to tearing his Achilles at the beginning of the 2011 season.
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Joe Adams was drafted to make a difference for the Carolina Panthers in the return game, but he has been unable to help his new team through the season's first four games.
Through the first two weeks, Adams hadn't contributed in a positive or negative matter to the team. As the team's chief punt returner, Adams was more or less tasked with taking care of the ball while trying to make game changing returns in the completive NFC South.
In the Panthers' Week 3 matchup against the New York Giants, Adams fumbled the opening kickoff in the second half and then muffed a punt returner in the fourth quarter. When it was all said and done, the blunders that were made by Adams led to 10 points for the Giants.
For his mistakes, Adams was made inactive for the teams' Week 4 trip to the Georgia Dome against the Atlanta Falcons.
The Panthers snagged Adams with one of their fourth-round picks in the 2012 draft to be one of the league's best returners. The problem with their plan is that Adams is among the NFL's worst returners and is nowhere near the cream of the crop at the position.
Adams will have the chance to redeem his poor play, but he is one or two big mistakes away from looking for a new team.
Haruki Nakamura beat out last year's starter Sherrod Martin to start at safety opposite Charles Godfrey. Through four games, Panthers fans are begging to see Martin reinserted in the starting lineup over Nakamura.
Nakamura was flying under the radar prior to the Panthers trip to the Georgia Dome in Week 4. In that game, the ex-Baltimore Raven was burned by Roddy White on numerous occasions. Those plays included a touchdown and the play in which Matt Ryan hurled the ball down field from his own end zone inside the last minute of the game.
Nakamura just doesn't have the athleticism to cover the NFL's most gifted athletes, which is something all safeties have to deal with on a weekly basis.
While Nakamura doesn't deserve the starting spot at free safety, Ron Rivera obviously thinks that he is a better option than Martin.
Nakamura has been a train wreck, but that doesn't mean Rivera is ready to look in another direction.