The Panthers, standing at 2-12, are at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to the NFL this season. Struggling offensively and defensively, the Panthers have been outmatched and outperformed. Like most struggling teams, the Panthers need to fix multiple areas before they can become a contender in the NFL, much less the NFC South.
Although the Panthers have won a league-low two games, they have had shots to win in most of their 14 games.
The near-upset of the defending champion Saints in Week Four was a compelling loss and one can look at that game as the turning point to their 2010 season. Down 16-14, rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen drove his team down field. With less than two minutes remaining on fourth-and-four, Clausen completed a 16-yard strike to fellow rookie David Gettis.
Standing at the 38-yard line, the Panthers were near field goal range for aging kicker John Kasay. On first down, DeAngelo Williams got a minimal two yards to make it to the 36-yard line. However, Williams would be tackled for a four-yard loss on second down to push them back even farther.
With no timeouts remaining, Clausen was sacked by cornerback Malcolm Jenkins for another four-yard loss on third down. At the 44-yard line, Clausen failed to connect with now ex-Panther receiver Dwayne Jarrett on fourth down to seal their fate.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees would kneel down on the following play to successfully end the Panthers' attempt at a comeback.
The loss would drop the Panthers to a lowly 0-4 and almost out of playoff contention just four games into the season.
The Panthers would get their first win in Week Seven against the then-struggling 49ers with their 23-20 win. Most can say they got lucky as they barely squeezed out the victory.
With a little under two minutes remaining, 49ers quarterback David Carr threw an interception to cornerback Richard Marshall at Carolina's 43-yard line.
Panthers quarterback Matt Moore would march his team down field and kicker John Kasay would blast a 37-yard field goal with 39 seconds left to give them the three-point lead. The 49ers would fail to score in the waning seconds, as Carolina notched their first victory of the season.
However, in their next seven games, the Panthers would lose every single game and be out-scored by their opponents, 208-89.
Although they did play games against resident powerhouses Falcons, Saints, and Ravens, they did also lose to under-achieving teams such as the Browns and Seahawks.
The Panthers would narrowly beat the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15, 19-12, to get their second victory of the year.
Now with a league-worst two wins, the Panthers need to find ways to get back to the top.
So, with that being said, what do the Panthers need to do to become contenders again?
1. Use their first selection on a quarterback in this year's draft
The front office needs to learn that Jimmy Clausen is not the long-term solution at quarterback. The younger Clausen has played in eleven games this season, but has just thrown two touchdowns, compared to seven interceptions. Completing a lowly 52.7% of his passes, Clausen has put up a Joey Harrington-esque 59.1 quarterback rating.
He has also only finished two games with a quarterback rating above 76, while having seven games with a rating below 60.
Matt Moore hasn't fared much better, while throwing five touchdowns and ten interceptions in six games this season.
Likely holding the first overall selection, the Panthers will look to re-vamp their quarterback position. Most people, including myself, believe that they will use that selection on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
A decorated collegiate player, Luck will be their long-term solution, although it may take some time.
The Cardinal quarterback has led Stanford from the bottom of the Pac-10 to a BCS Bowl berth over his two-year collegiate career.
Luck currently ranks fifth in the NCAA in completion percentage (70.2%) and is tied for tenth in passing touchdowns (28). He has also passed for 3,051 yards, eclipsing the 3,000-yard mark for the first time in his career.
I believe that Luck could be a great NFL quarterback and it's up to the Panthers to give him the weapons he needs to succeed at the professional level.
2. Get rid of John Fox and hire an experienced head coach
Although he has been with the Panthers through thick and thin, it may be time for Fox to part ways with the organization.
Hired prior to the 2002 season, Fox has only had three seasons with more than eight wins, which all have coincidentally led to his only three division crowns.
His best season came in 2003, as he led the Panthers to an 11-5 record and the franchise's only Super Bowl appearance - the Panthers would go on to lose the big game to the Patriots, 32-29.
Fox can also been considered as one of the most inconsistent head coaches in the league—since their Super Bowl season, the Panthers have won seven, eleven, eight, seven, twelve, eight, and two games, respectively.
While placing first in the division three times, there have also been four seasons where they have finished third or fourth in the NFC South.
It's time for the Panthers to bring in some "fresh meat" as far as the head coaching reins go.
The Panthers, in order to rebuild, should duplicate what the Redskins did prior to this season and hire an experienced head coach - someone like Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden.
If the Panthers want to succeed sometime in the near future, an experienced head coach hiring may be in order. And that's what they need to do.
3. Revamp the receiving corps; add veterans
This is perhaps the most drastic reason as to why they need help. A Panthers quarterback can't thrive unless he has quality receivers. And that's what they currently do not have.
On their current roster, the Panthers have seven wide receivers, six of which have four or less years of NFL experience (three rookies).
David Gettis, a rookie, is currently their second receiver and although he has performed well, he is not a true second option. As of now, the Panthers really have no valid third option with David Clowney, Armanti Edwards, Brandon LaFell, Charly Martin, and Wallace Wright filling out the rest of the slots.
Steve Smith, a ten-year veteran, has spent his entire career with the Panthers, but it may be time for the Panthers to part ways with the under-sized receiver. Smith still has some left in the tank and I really can't see the team actually releasing or trading the receiver - if they did trade him, they would likely not receive equal value in return because Smith is getting older.
Smith had not struggled that much with Jake Delhomme as his quarterback, but with two inexperienced quarterbacks this season, he has not put up the Pro Bowl numbers he has been used to.
If the Panthers intend to keep Smith, they need to add at least one or two veterans to the roster. It may not be because of they think they're in dire need of a receiver, but it may be that they need veterans in there to teach the younger receivers.
They would need to add a player or two in free agency to help fill their troubles.
The Panthers believed Dwayne Jarrett was their long-time second receiver, as they drafted him with the 45th overall selection in 2007. After a few lackluster seasons and a couple of arrests, Jarrett was released this season after catching just 35 passes for 428 yards and one touchdown over his four-year career.
4. Bolster the Offensive Line
The Panthers offensive line has allowed 42 sacks this season, ranking second in the league in that category.
No quarterback would be able to thrive with a line that continually allows sacks.
Although Ryan Kalil, Jeff Otah, and Jordan Gross can be considered "good" offensive linemen, they will need to add more pieces to the line if they want to get back to the top. The Panthers may have to get rid of one or two of those players in order for the shake-up to take effect.
Their offensive line may have played badly because they are also inexperienced, just like the receivers. Of the eleven linemen on the roster, nine have five or less years of experience.
Veterans may have to be added to the mix to get them to play up to the organization's standards.
I would not be surprised to see the Panthers use one of their first day selections on an offensive lineman, either.
5. Bolster the Defensive Line; most likely using draft picks
The Panthers have not played that bad on defense, but their line has been suspect at best.
Outside of Charles Johnson, the line has been shady at best, with Johnson having 9.5 of the team's 27 sacks. The rest of the defensive line has a combined 9.5 sacks, the exact same as Johnson's 2010 total. Rookie Greg Hardy has three of those sacks, with two-year veteran Everette Brown posting 3.5 sacks.
Johnson really has been the only defensive lineman to play decently and actually make an impact up front.
Among defensive linemen, Johnson is currently leading them in tackles (47 tackles, 10 assists) and sacks (9.5).
One player can't do it all and the Panthers will have to add more pieces if they want to be able to stop the opponent's run game.
The defensive tackle position has been a hassle for the Panthers and they are lacking that one run-stopper to solidify their defense. Since Kris Jenkins left, there has been a humongous gaping hole in the middle. Jenkins was one of the league's best when he left Carolina and with him gone, the Panthers have struggled against the run. Carolina needs to do plenty of work on the defensive tackle position, to say the least.
They will need a defensive tackle to help them along the way and with that piece missing, their defensive line could be considered among the league's worst.
Just like the offensive line, we may see the Panthers using an early selection on a defensive lineman.
They will perhaps need more help at those lone positions than any other position on the field.
If the Panthers can somehow fix these problems in the near future, we may see them lead the team out of obscurity. But until then, the Panthers will continue to struggle.