Red Zone Efficiency
One of the most important areas the Carolina Panthers are going to have to improve on in 2015 is their effectiveness in the red zone. According to TeamRankings.com, the Carolina Panthers had a red zone touchdown percentage of 48.15%, which ranked 26th in the NFL. This percentage dropped from 52.08% in 2013, which isn’t a huge drop but was still better than last year.
The Panthers have made some changes that should help them this upcoming season. The biggest addition that should help this percentage is wide receiver Devin Funchess. The second round pick stands 6’4” and should present matchup problems for opposing cornerbacks. By adding a player like Funchess, the offense now has three players who stand over 6’4” with Funchess, alongside Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen. Their height in a smaller area will give quarterback Cam Newton a bigger window to make throws.
Speaking of the Panthers quarterback, another aspect that should help this statistic will be him entering the season healthy. There isn’t many quarterbacks in the NFL who has the scrambling ability and the physical stature of Newton.
Towards the end of the season, before the car accident, Newton looked like he was starting to get back to being healthy. One of his big plays came against the New Orleans Saints in Week 14, when he dove over the pile into the endzone, in vintage Superman style. A healthy Newton should really help the team inside the 20 yard line.
Big Plays on Offense
One way the Carolina Panthers can help their red zone efficiency, is by not having to play inside there at all and score on big plays. The Panthers offense really struggled in this area, particularly throwing the ball deep.
According to SportingCharts.com, the Panthers finished second to last in the NFL in passing plays over 25 yards with only 21. This averages out to only 1.31 big plays per game. The offense has steadily declined in this category from 35 in 2012.
This is the season they could turn this category around as they now have the necessary speed at the wide receiver position. The team has brought back Ted Ginn Jr. who will be paired up with second year player Corey Brown.
Both of these players have incredibly speed that allows them to get over the top of opposing defenses. At that point it would fall on Newton to get the ball to them and he certainly has the arm strength to make that happen.
The Carolina Panthers are expected to have one of the top defensive units in 2015 but if that is to happen they are going to need to improve against the run. In 2013, when they finished in the Top 5 in total defense they were led by their run defense. That season they finished second against the run, allowing only 86.9 yards per game.
The number jumped over 25 yards per game to 112 yards and the Panthers dropped to 16th in the NFL in this category. This is certainly concerning because this defense was built to stop team’s run game with their strength coming from right up the middle.
The duo of defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short anchor this defensive line and require opposing offensive lines to dedicate double teams to these players. This allows the linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly to run free of blockers and get to the ball carrier quickly.
If the Panthers can improve in this category, this defense is going to jump right back into the Top 5 and be considered one of the top defenses in the NFL.
The Panthers are lucky to have one of the best kicker/punter duos in Graham Gano and Brad Nortman. However, aside from those two players the special teams was a disaster. Football Outsiders ranked the Panthers 30th in the NFL in special teams, which was a drop from 13th in 2013.
The return game was one of the areas they really struggled, averaging only 21.8 yards per kick return and 8.0 yards per punt return. Both of these stats ranked in the bottom half of the league.
The front office knew this was an issue and were aggressive in addressing this again with the addition of Ted Ginn Jr. They also went out and signed free agent Jordan Todman, who finished third in the NFL in kick return yards with 972. Todman averaged almost four yards more per return than the Panthers.
These weren’t the only changes the team made as they brought in a veteran coach to try and turn this group around with coach Bruce DeHaven. He has over 30 years of coaching experience and is considered one of the better special teams coaches in the NFL. This should be a tremendous boost for this group.
The Panthers have made a conscious effort this offseason to try and address each one of these areas. They made some serious additions and changes in three of them with the run defense being the only one that wasn’t really addressed. This is one area that a strong case could be made didn’t need to have any changes.
The defense last year was always changing and had some challenges early that could not be planned for. The team still has the pieces to be a dominant defense and as long as they stay healthy, they should have no problem improving.
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