By Justin of The Sportmeisters
The Carolina Panthers improved dramatically in the 2008 season with a 12-4 record, five more wins than the 2007 campaign. Carolina won the NFC South and tied for the second best record in the NFL, but their momentum was halted by a terrible playoff performance against the Arizona Cardinals.
The Panthers took a chance in the 2008 draft, trading their first round pick in 2009 to get two picks in 2008.
Clearly, it was a smart gamble, as by grabbing RT Jeff Otah and RB Jonathon Stewart, the Panthers ran roughshod against opposing defenses last year.
Carolina used the two headed back philosophy ingeniously ranking third in the league in rushing offense by almost having two 1,000 yard rushers (DeAngelo Williams 1,515 yards; Stewart 836 yards).
The tandem also accounted for 28 of the teams touchdowns last year. With the running game hitting on all cylinders the Panthers had to make defenses respect their passing game to prevent the overcrowding of the box at the line of scrimmage. The passing game literally rested in the hands of Steve Smith.
Even after missing the first two games of the season due to a suspension Smith still had 1,421 yards receiving making him third in the league. As a team the offense ranked nineteenth in the league in passing yards and ended up tenth overall in total yardage.
It’s easily known that the Panthers have the necessary tools to succeed offensively. However, as the old saying goes, defense wins championships. Therefore, look for some of the early focus to be on a John Fox specialty (defense), with possibly a shot at a receiver or two late.
Carolina Panthers Draft Picks
Round One: pick given to Philadelphia
Round Two: pick 27
Round Three: pick 29
Round Four: pick 28
Round Five: pick 27
Round Six: pick 29
Round Seven: pick given to Miami
Team Need One: DE
While the Carolina defense was not horrible last year it does need some improvement. The Panthers pass defense was average by ranking sixteenth in the league (211.7 ypg). One way to improve that is by giving Julius Peppers some help, provided they don’t trade him, by adding another edge rusher to the roster.
Peppers was tied for fifth in the league last year in sacks with 14.5. The next highest sack total for the Panthers was six by Charles Johnson who is currently second on the depth chart.
Ahead of him is Tyler Brayton who recorded only forty total tackles and 4.5 sacks last year. Adding another DE can disrupt the timing of the passing game and would help to improve the mediocre pass defense of 2008.
Team Need Two: DT
Keeping with the theme of improving the defensive front the next need for the Panthers is a dominant DT. Carolina’s rush defense was even worse than the pass defense, ranking a measly 20th.
The key to improving a franchise’s rush defense is by strengthening the middle. Games are won and lost by how effective a team can control the line of scrimmage. If the Panthers’ defense can reestablish the line of scrimmage by moving it into opposing offense’s back field they will see an increase in tackles for loss on rushing plays.
By forcing a team into second in long and third in medium the defensive play calling becomes easier because these are passing downs. Anytime you can limit the options of an offense you have effectively set your team up for success.
Team Need Three: WR
This need is pretty obvious in my eyes. If there has been one problem with the offensive side of the ball it is the fact that at times it seems like Steve Smith is the only receiver on the field for the Panthers’ offense.
Mushin Muhammad did add talent to a one man receiving core last season, but he is no longer on the depth chart. D.J. Hackett is the listed as the number two man right now and only had 13 receptions for 181 yards in 2008.
If the Panthers do not acquire another receiver someone in the receiver meeting room will need to step up and make plays, but I expect Carolina to take a mid-round gamble somewhere.
The Carolina Panthers are one or two players from making a deep playoff run in 2009. As long as Carolina improves its edge rushing ability the Panthers have a chance win the NFC South again.
The Panthers’ ultimate success depends on how effectively they can run the ball on offense, but with a stouter defense the 2009 season seems bright. If the Panthers address these needs it is very possible for them to reach the NFC Championship game and maybe even the Super Bowl.