Panthers Offense: How Much Room for Improvement Is There?

Jun 7, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (88) catches a pass during organized training activities at the team's practice facility at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-US PRESSWIRE

I was perusing some fantasy prediction posts and noticed for the Panther offensive players most predictions were very conservative based on 2011 stats. In other words, they were predicting about the same level of performance from the key players or even a slight drop in performance. Now this is not intended to be fantasy football post so I'm not going to get into the specifics on that.

On the surface it may seem plausible for the Panthers to simply duplicate their 2011 performance. After all they did finish #7 overall in yards per game (389) and 4th in scoring (25.4). We should be happy for a duplicate effort in 2012 right? Actually when you dig a little deeper into the numbers you can see that there is plenty of room for improvement, even from a top 7 offense.

Please know this is not a bash the offense post. Quite the opposite. For those that think the offfense has arrived the stats I present in this post show that actually we have a good bit of room for improvement

Let's start with that #7 ranking. That number is still 80 yards less per game than the #1 Saints offense. That's a good many yards for a single game. That #4 scoring average looks pretty good too until you realize its still 10 points per game less than the #1 scoring team the Packers. Now I will say the Packer defense and special teams had to put up many more points than ours. But it would still say there is a whole touchdown room for improvement.

So is it unrealistic to expect the Panther offense to perform like the Saints or Packers in 2012? I will argue 'No' basing that answer on what I will call predictive metrics...after the jump...

See yards per game and points scored per game is simply the result of other metrics, which can also be called lagging metrics. Lagging metrics are the outcome of other indicators that are driver by other factors. Predictive metrics on the other hand are those metrics that can predict yards and scoring outcomes.

For example, one stat I would call a predictive stat is 3rd down conversion percentage. The Panthers were 10th in 3rd down conversations (40%) a full 17% lower than the #1 Saints. Two other predictive stats is penalties and turnovers, a measure of how much the Panthers stop themselves on drives due to mistakes. For those two predictive metrics the Panthers were #26 (113) in penalties and #16 in turnover differential (+1). You can see there is plenty of room for improvement for both of those metrics.

Now you must be saying to yourself, "Jaxon how can they be predictors of performance when the Panthers had such middling performance in 2011 with those metrics but had much better lagging metric results?"

Good question. The answer is the difference was OC Rob Chudzinski. Chud's #4 vertical passing game (6.2 yds per play) and the Panthers #7 performance in red zone TD scoring (57%) made up the difference. The offense was able to move the ball and when they did get in the red zone they scored a TD over half the time. You can attribute that to Cam Newton's ability to score once inside the five yard line, something the Panthers were downright pathetic at in 2010 (30%). Newton's 14 rushing TD's from the QB spot was unprecedented and made the Panthers offense much more potent that many of the predictive metrics would suggest.

Another factor Newton brings that skews the numbers is the rushing performance. Though the Panthers finished #3 overall in rushing yards per game (151) if you take away 500 of Newton's 700 yards to put him on par for the average starting QB the Panthers would have been middle of the pack, around #15 or 16 overall. I don't think its a stretch to say most of those yards did not come on designed runs for Newton and instead were the result of his incredible ability to scramble out of the pocket. I'm sure the Panthers hope to reduce that number in 2012 in order to preserve their young QB's health. Regardless those numbers show plenty of room for rushing game improvement by those paid to run the rock, not throw it.

Now let's move to the more traditional lagging stats for the offense, passing yards and pass plays over 40 yards. The Panthers finished 13th in passing yards per game (240), a full 90 yards per game less than the leading Saints. If you thought that maybe the Panthers performed well in the area of big passing plays they were actually 15th with 9 passing plays over 40 yards. That was lower than I was expecting. It kind of shows the Panthers do have room for a WR that can stretch the field to compliment Smitty.

So the good news is this. The factors that made the Panther offense overcome the average performance in the predictive metrics are still intact: Chud & Newton. If the Panthers should actually improve on the predictive metrics such as 3rd down completion percentage, turnover differential and penalties imagine what the increase in the lagging (Yards & scoring) metrics would be? An offensive performance like that of the 2011 Packers or Saints is not so out of the realm after all is it?

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