Examining the Panthers: Five Points

The Panthers have been in a free-fall over the past several weeks, with a weakening defense, and no running game to speak of.


There hasn't been much cause for celebration in the case of Cam Newton these last few weeks. It's been all downhill since tying the Bengals on October 12. In the three losses since that stalemate, Newton's tossed one touchdown pass to three interceptions, and has completed only 48.15% of his passes (39 of 81). The 'Super-Cam' that led four fourth-quarter comebacks and a 12-4 campaign one season ago has slowly faded away, struggling his way to a 3-5-1 start to the season (Derek Anderson won the opener against the Buccaneers, so Newton has just two wins).

The offensive line hasn't done Newton too many favors; his 21 sacks are on pace for 42 for the year, one short of the 43 he endured a year ago. Even his running capabilities have diminished; his average yards-per-run has dropped from 5.27 last year to 4.51 so far this season.


The win over the Bears and the tie with the Bengals look like veritable anomalies now, scoring 31 and 37 points in each respectively. Since their 2-0 start, Carolina is averaging just 19 points a game over their last seven outings. That number dips to 12 points a game over their last three losses (17, 9, and 10 points respectively).

A lack of a consistent running game is hurting Carolina's offense. With injuries, the team has had 11 different players run the ball, with seven of them running for at least nine carries. Jonathan Stewart has missed three games, while DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert were each out for six. The result has been a deep running team averaging only 3.66 yards a run.


One of the few exciting stories to come out of Carolina has been the emergence of rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin. The first-round pick out of Florida State racked up 589 yards in his first nine games to compliment five touchdowns. Benjamin is capable of making tremendous circus catches, as well as grabs in traffic, and has done everything possible to fill Steve Smith's shoes.

With such dynamic talent comes a downside. Benjamin's 40 catches come on 78 targets, which is partially a function of Newton's erraticness and the state of the offense as a whole. The blame that falls on Benjamin are six drops of catchable balls, as well as six penalties, the most of any offensive player on the Panthers.


You can't blame the defense's rot on the absence of Greg Hardy, who sits on the exemption list as a result of a domestic abuse conviction. The defense has pooled together to rack up 20 sacks in nine games, behind a leading four apiece from Dwan Edwards, Charles Johnson, and Mario Addison. The rush is still strong minus 'The Kraken', but the pass defense has been bad outside of it.

Ignoring that the Panthers have picked off nine passes, opponents have completed nearly 70 percent of their throws (217 of 313), with 17 touchdowns and about 11 yards a completion. On critical third downs, Carolina allows 47.06 percent of attempts to convert. That's way bloated from their 35.85 percent allowance from last year's irresistible force defense.


Actually, it may be worse. The Panthers give up 4.84 yards per run to opponents, among the absolute worst in the entire league. Reliable linebackers like Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis have each missed eight tackles, while veteran safety Roman Harper's whiffed on seven. Both Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei are capable stuffers at the line, but if the run goes outside, Keuchly and Davis are overworking themselves to compensate.

Four running backs have compiled 100-yard days this season on the Panthers, two in the same game: Le'Veon Bell (147) and LeGarrette Blout (118) helped crunch Carolina back in Week 3. Giovani Bernard (137) and Mark Ingram (100) have hit the century mark since then. Bell and Blount averaged 7.00 and 11.80 yards per run respectively in the Steelers win, while Bernard ran for 7.61.

Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used to write this story.

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