Ron Rivera: Panthers Smart to Give Head Coach Another Season

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Ron Rivera: Panthers Smart to Give Head Coach Another Season
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Ron Rivera deserves one more season to try and turn the Panthers around.

The Carolina Panthers made a good move to keep head coach Ron Rivera.

According to Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer:

The Panthers are still in the market for a general manager, but they won’t be looking for a new coach.

Ron Rivera has been retained following a long-anticipated meeting with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson on Saturday, a team spokesman said.

Although the Panthers missed the postseason for a second consecutive season under Rivera, strides were once again made as the games progressed.

The defense finished 2011 ranked No. 28 overall and No. 27 in points allowed per game.

After 2012, Carolina ranked No. 10 in overall defense and gave up 22.7 points per contest (ranked No. 18 and 4.1 fewer points on average than 2011).

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly made an immediate impact throughout 2012.

Now, it's simply a matter of finishing consistently when the season kicks off.

Without question was the 2-8 start an abysmal beginning, especially after closing the 2011 season with a 4-2 record. This season, however, Carolina lined up against four eventual playoff teams in the Falcons, Seahawks, Redskins and Broncos.

Include other postseason contenders during December such as the Giants, Bears and Cowboys and the Cats saw a strong early schedule. Fortunately the stretch became a solid way of building momentum.

The Panthers finished 5-1 from late November onward, which also included a four-game win streak. There was a season sweep of the New Orleans Saints and getting that upset victory of the Falcons at home displayed Carolina's ultimate potential.

Also, in an article by the Associated Press via ESPN.com, the players were joyed to have their head coach back:

"I'm very happy he's back," tight end Greg Olsen told The Associated Press. "Obviously the season wasn't what we were looking for, but I think the way we finished showed that we're heading in the right direction."

"That's awesome news," [Geoff] Hangartner said. "I'm excited about it. I think Ron has done a great job and I think he will be the first to admit he's learned a lot since he was hired. He definitely has the respect of the guys in the locker room because he's played the game and he treats guys the right way."

Consistently winning and learning in pro football takes time. Carolina remains in the midst of that learning curve, because Rivera has gotten his team to improve despite the record not completely showing it.

Obviously the downside comes from losing seven games by six points or less. A similar problem occurred throughout 2011 as well, because the Panthers lost six games by eight points or less.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Cam Newton falls just shy of the end zone against Seattle. A metaphor of Carolina's close calls in 2012.

So, Rivera has had the Cats right on the brink of the playoffs should a few close games turn out in their favor.

Looking ahead, the NFL released its full slate of opponents for the 2013 season. Outside the NFC South, Carolina faces the entire AFC East and NFC West, as well as the Giants and Vikings.

How does Carolina finish the 2013 regular season?

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Given the Panthers' ability to avoid bad losses to inferior teams—aside from the Chiefs in 2012—logging wins over the Bills, Dolphins, Jets and Cardinals will occur. From there, it's a matter of Cam Newton and the offense keeping pace with Drew Brees and Matt Ryan to collect some key divisional wins.

Count other favorable matchups against the Rams and entire NFC East, Rivera can get the Panthers to a 10-6 or 11-5 record best-case scenario. The defense will continue to improve and we've seen the offense's explosive capabilities.

Provided the Cats just flip some close losses to wins, and we'll see Rivera and Newton next January.

 

Follow John Rozum on Twitter.

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