Brandon LaFell: 32 receptions, 563 yards, 4 TDs, a lot of first downs.
Greg Olsen: 49 catches, 589 yards, 3 TDs, a lot of first downs.
Those guys have very good numbers. And with 5 games to go and the play somewhat improved of late, they will add to them still, reaching about 850-900 yards and a half dozen TDs apiece. But what does that mean?
The good news is that LaFell and Olsen are good, quality starters. The bad news: they aren't more than that. They aren't difference makers. They don't make the players around them better or open up things for anybody else. And the Panthers need someone capable of doing precisely that. When have you ever heard any opposing coach or player say "we really need to keep LaFell from torching us down the field" or "we need to put one of our guys that can cover on Olsen or he'll eat us alive" like you hear Panthers fans saying that about the top offensive players on other teams?That is why so much of the talk about how the Panthers need defensive players and offensive linemen need to be reconsidered. Olsen and LaFell are good players but the Panthers need weapons, and Olsen and LaFell aren't weapons.
Yes, the Panthers need defense, but check the stats: they aren't getting torched like they were last year. 24.1 points per game isn't horrible, and a lot of that is due to the problems with turnovers and staying on the field produced by the offense. If the Panthers' defense plays as well last year as they did this year, they make the playoffs. Instead, the problem is an offense that has gone from scoring 25 points a game to 19 points a game. (The defense meanwhile has improved from giving up 26.8 ppg last year.) Getting a DT, DE or CB in the draft won't turn the Panthers into the Texans, Ravens, 49ers and Steelers ... teams that give up 17 ppg or less. But getting a difference-maker for the offense can get the Panthers into the upper half, perhaps even upper quarter, of the NFL in scoring again.
Yes, Cam Newton has to get better, but let's not put all the offensive shortcomings on him. Newton's QB rating last year? 84.5. His QB rating this year? 82.9! His completion percentage last year? 60.0. This year? 57.6. Yards per game last year? 253.2. This year? 245.5. Yards per attempt? 8.2 vs. 7.8. Ints? He had 17 last year, but is on pace for 15 this year. Put Newton's numbers in the context of no Jeremy Shockey and getting much less from Steve Smith, and how much worse is Newton playing than last year?
Then there is the OL. Yes, the Panthers badly need a starting RT, plus Jordan Gross isn't the player that he was at LT. The guards also aren't great either. But the Packers, Giants, Steelers, Patriots, Falcons, Bears ... look at their offensive lines. The Panthers need good players on their OL, but not great ones. What those teams have is very good and great players at WR and TE. Those players create lanes for the running game by taking defenders out of the box and forcing them to play on their heels. They reduce the pressure on their OLs by getting open quickly down the field so the QB can get the ball out.
Olsen is a good TE, but how much of his numbers are due to no one being open down field? At the very least, the Panthers need a very strong #2 TE. At WR LaFell is a good #2, but wouldn't he make a better #3? To put it another way ... look at the Cincinnati Bengals. A.J. Green at WR, and yes Jermaine Gresham is better than Olsen at TE. Now of course, I am leaving out Steve Smith. But what if Smith is no better next year than he was this year? What if he is even worse? The guy is 33, and even before this preseason was no stranger to nagging injuries. So if he goes the next year, the next 2 years, with 1 TD catch after 11 games, is everyone still going to blame Newton, the OL etc. instead of the average players catching the ball?
That is why though LaFell and Olsen are good, the Panthers need to get better. And no, the better players aren't currently on the roster. If they were, the Panthers would be using them.