What's Your Potential? A Message to the Carolina Panthers' Defense

David ScercyCorrespondent IJune 4, 2009

SAN DIEGO - SEPTEMBER 07:  The Carolina Panthers defense huddles during the game with the San Diego Chargers on September 7, 2008 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. The Panthers won 26-24.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The Carolina Panthers are fresh off an outstanding season, and the sky is the limit for a team that returns all but one starter on either side of the ball.

Their 12-4 record in 2008 sent a message to the rest of the league, and they will not be able to creep up on anyone in 2009.

The Panthers rushing offense should be one of the best in the NFL, with one of the most dominating offensive lines back in full force, with DeAngelo Williams carrying the load, and with Jonathan Stewart in the backfield as well.

In 2008 the rushing attack was one of the top three in the NFL, and that shouldn’t change in 2009.

Also on the offensive side of the ball is one of the games best receivers, Steve Smith, who will make plays when the opposing defense sends eight in the box to stop Carolina’s rushing attack.

The offense seems like it is on the verge of being one of the best in the NFC. So when breaking down the Panthers, it isn’t hard to figure out that they’re main weaknesses are on the defensive side of the ball.

In 2008, Ken Lucas struggled to cover anybody. He was torched so many times late in the season, it was a wonder he never lost his starting position at DB to Richard Marshall.

Lucas is the only starter from 2008 that didn’t remain with the team. In return, the Panthers used their second pick in the second round on Sherrod Martin, a DB from Troy University.

So the bad apple that ruined the bunch is gone, and the Panthers defense should be pretty good, right? Well, I’m not so sure.

The defensive line—and yes that’s including Julius Peppers—was man-handled during the last four weeks of the season, and again in the divisional round playoff loss to Arizona.

Who could ever forget the “Battle for Home-Field” game against the New York Giants—the Panthers offense rolled up and down the field all night long, but the defense was completely humiliated by New York’s rushing attack.

Then came the Arizona game. The Cardinals came into the Divisional Round game with one receiving weapon on offense, Larry Fitzgerald. Anquan Boldin was sidelined with an injury and it didn’t seem to matter, Fitzgerald was wide open the entire night.

He torched the Panthers single-handedly to the tune of 8 receptions and 166 yards.

Fitzgerald converted on third down five times. It was hard for Panther fans to watch. They knew the ball was going to Fitzgerald—they knew the Panthers knew it, but still no one could stop him.

Going into the 2009 season, there is little doubt what coach Fox’s strategy should be on offense: Run the ball on first and second down and make the opposing defense stop the run.

That wasn’t the case with the Arizona game. DeAngelo Williams, a 1,500 yard 20 TD back, touched the ball six times in seven possessions in the first half against Arizona, allowing Delhomme to throw the ball all over the field like he was Drew Brees. Big mistake.

You can afford to venture away from your offensive game plan, if your defense can stop the opposing team. But I question all Panther fans: Is Carolina’s defense good enough to allow the offense to gamble and take risks?

The hiring of new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks will provide a little spark to the defense. But if the players on defense don’t play up to their potential, then what good does it do to add new schemes to your defensive playbook?

At the end of the day, the players have to play, and play well enough to win.

So here’s a message to all the players who make up the defense of the Carolina Panthers:

Not to put any more pressure on you or anything, but it would really help Carolina’s chances if you make a play or two during a game, especially in December and January. The disappearing act gets old after a while.