Behind Enemy Lines: Panthers Edition

Panthers publisher Brandon Croce weighs in on the recent struggles of the Panthers, from Super-Cam, to the running game, to defensive difficulties.

Do you believe Cam Newton is regressing, or is his offensive line just that awful?

The blame falls squarely on the offensive line for the Panthers offensive struggles. The team has suffered so many injuries on the offensive line to the point where they had to start two undrafted rookie offensive linemen at left tackle and left guard against the Saints. Newton hasn’t had time in the pocket and this has caused his mechanics to suffer. He has had a tendency of throwing off his back foot and not able to step into his throws. This has caused a lot of his balls to sail on him and end up being overthrown. The offensive line should be one of the top priorities for the Panthers front office this offseason.

Given the injuries to all of the running backs in the last couple seasons, why do you suppose the front office didn't upgrade the position any?

The biggest reason they didn’t upgrade was because of how much is currently invested in this position. According to Spotrac, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are the fifth and sixth highest paid players on the Panthers in 2014 with a combined cap hit of over 10 million dollars. The front office will have to make some tough decisions at this position at season end.

In Philadelphia, Jason Avant was lauded for his third-down clutch catches, and general sure-handedness in the slot. How would you assess his performance so far in Carolina?

Underwhelming. Through the first nine games of the season, he has two or less receptions in seven of those games. However, I don’t know if the lack of production falls solely on him considering all the issues surrounding the offensive line and Newton’s struggles as of late.

Which defensive player has picked up the pass-rushing slack the most in Greg Hardy's absence?

The simple answer is no one. Last year, the Panthers averaged 3.75 sacks per game, which was best in the league. This year that number has dropped to 2.22, almost a sack and half per game. If I had to pick one player though it would be Charles Johnson, who has played better as we have gotten deeper in the season. Johnson did not record a single sack through the first four games but now has four sacks in his last five games.

Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis appear to be shouldering heavy burdens on the defense, but it hasn't been enough. What is the weakest aspect of the entire defensive unit?

Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are doing all they can but they haven’t gotten much help. The weakest aspect of the defense has to be their secondary. They have been hit hard by injury losing Josh Norman (starting cornerback), Bene Benwikere (nickelback), and Thomas Decoud (starting safety) at different points in the season. Even when they are healthy though, they are not very good. The last five games, the Panthers are giving up an average of 272.6 passing yards per game and this is the one part of the defense they need to fix quickly.

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