You can criticize the defense for being out of position early in the season, the offense for failing to generate a downfield passing game and the coaching staff for dubious play calls. But the primary reason for the Panthers' slow start (2-4 against a slate including Washington, Buffalo and Tampa Bay) is turnovers.
Carolina has committed an NFL-high 21 turnovers and forced only seven, tied for the fewest in the league. The Panthers naturally lead the NFL in worst turnover margin, minus-14.
Turnover differential is often a strong indicator of how a team is doing. This explains why the Panthers defense is No. 4 in the NFL in yards allowed and the offense is in the middle of the pack (No. 20) in total yards per game, but the team is 25th in point differential (minus-51) and below .500.
The Panthers have been so careless with the ball and so inept at forcing turnovers, in fact, that they are on pace to challenge modern NFL records for turnover futility...
Heres how awful the Panthers have been with turnovers: You cannot blame this trend only on quarterback Jake Delhomme. It's true Delhomme has tossed an NFL-high 13 interceptions, and has lost two fumbles. But teammates have been responsible for six other turnovers -- more than both the entire Packers and Broncos teams. The Patriots, Vikings and Colts have also turned it over six times altogether, including their quarterback.
Carolina's league-leading turnover total is three more than the second-worst figure in the NFL (18, by the Browns, Raiders and Titans).
Defensively, Dallas and Washington are the only other teams to have forced just seven turnovers (To be fair, Washington has played one more game than both Dallas and Carolina). The Panthers have intercepted only three passes this season; Delhomme has thrown at least that many picks in a single game twice already.
You may notice a pattern here: The aforementioned teams that are taking care of the ball have winnings records, including two of the NFL's three unbeaten teams. Meanwhile the four teams who have turned it over the most all have losing records; they have combined for five wins.
If the Panthers continue this horrid pace, not only are they doomed to finish with a losing record, they could break modern NFL turnover records. To wit:
--The 1978 49ers own the all-time mark for turnovers in a season with 63, according to NFL.com. The Panthers are on pace to commit 56, which would be the most since the 1983 Giants (Wait. Bill Parcells coached a team that turned it over 58 times? Where I can get the NFL Films video of his sideline reactions?) After six games, those 49ers had committed 22 turnovers and the Giants only 19.
Those 49ers finished 2-14; the Giants 3-12-1.
--Over the last 18 full seasons the 2000 Chargers posted the worst turnover differential in a season, minus-28 (Figures from 1990 and earlier were not available). The 1997 Saints, 1998 Chargers, 2000 Cardinals, 2004 Rams and 2005 Packers each had minus-24 differentials. The Panthers are on pace to be minus-37.
Through six games, the 2000 Chargers had a minus-9 differential. The 1997 Saints were minus-14, the 1998 Chargers minus-13, the 2000 Cardinals minus-10, the 2004 Rams minus-5 and the 2005 Packers minus-3.
So there you go. Through six games the 2009 Panthers are comparable to the worst teams in modern NFL history in turnovers committed and turnover differential.
There are silver linings here: The Panthers have plenty of time to turn this around. Those 1978 49ers drafted a franchise quarterback the next year (Joe Montana) and the 1983 Giants made the playoffs the following season...
An update on Delhomme's historic start:
Last week we noted that Delhomme was one of only 19 NFL quarterbacks since 1981 to throw at least 10 interceptions in the first five games of a season. Of those 19, he had the fourth-worst interception percentage (7.5).
After tossing three more picks while throwing 44 passes in Sunday's loss to Buffalo, Delhomme's interception percentage actually improved -- to 7.3. But his historic standing did not. Delhomme is now one of only seven quarterbacks to throw at least 13 picks over the first six games of the season since 1981. Only a dozen have tossed as many as 12 picks in the first six games since 1981.
Of those dozen, Delhomme has the fourth-worst interception rate. Steve Grogan of the 1988 Patriots leads that motley crew. He tossed 12 picks in 118 attempts, giving him a 10.2 interception percentage. Ryan Leaf of the 1998 Chargers (8.3) and Jake Plummer of the 1999 Cardinals (7.7) also posted worse six-game interception rates than Delhomme.