The Carolina Panthers' 22-6 loss against the Arizona Cardinals was a breaking point for a lot of fans. It feels like the season is over, even if Carolina is still alive mathematically. Player grades have been released for Sunday's game and now we see where the issues lay.
Players continue to say that the teams woes are due to a 'lack of execution', but the numbers don't bear this out. We tend to look at the Panthers in isolation, without a clear understanding that every team drops passes, coughs up the football, or throws interceptions.
According to 2013 grading the Panthers are 7th in overall offensive grade, 11th in overall defensive grade and 10th on special teams. Player grading is an imprecise science, but when the sums of its parts is better than most other teams it's hard to justify the season away as 'lack of execution'.
Carolina has an even turnover margin, are 15th in dropped passes and converting 32-percent of third downs while allowing 27-percent. If this is lack of execution it has a funny way of showing it.
Luke Kuechly (+3.9)
The Panthers' defensive leader was the best player on the field against the Cardinals. He finished with seven tackles and five defensive stops, while grading positively in pass coverage.
It's important not to lose sight of the little things in an abysmal season. Kuechly is on pace for a statistical regression, which will cause flapping jaws to call him 'overrated', but he is making more of an impact for Carolina than he did in 2012.
Kuechly's stop rate is currently 74-percent, which is obscenely high. He finished 2012 with a 56-percent stop rate. This means that Luke is getting less opportunities, but making more of them.
Kawann Short (+3.4)
Kawann Short has made the most of his opportunities with Dwan Edwards out, making a strong case why it would be foolish to switch back now.
Short finished with a sack, two quarterback hits and two pressures. Only Charles Johnson did more to make Carson Palmer's life uncomfortable on Sunday.
For the first time he also graded out positively in run stopping too, which has eluded him this season. It looks like the second round pick is putting it all together. He'll be fun to watch down the stretch.
Greg Hardy (+3.0)
It was an interesting game for Hardy, who battled illness for much of the week leading up to the game. He didn't show much as a pass rusher, which was unexpected -- but finished with the second-highest run stopping grade on the team.
The way he's turned the corner as a pass rusher is northing short of remarkable. In 2011 he was one of the worst players on the team, finishing with a -8.6 grade, but improved this to +12.3 over the last two seasons to become one of the team's most reliable players.
If Carolina wants to keep him they'll need to loosen those purse strings.
Steve Smith (-2.4)
Smith was terrible, it's that simple. Post-game comments about officiating seem more like sour milk than a legitimate gripe. Receivers have had it easy for the last five years and while the refs didn't follow the letter of the law, it was pretty even on both sides. Larry Fitzgerald was mugged just as often as Smitty was.
The two dropped passes were momentum killers that came at the worst possible time. Thankfully we know Smith wont be on this side of the ledger very often.
Captain Munnerlyn (-2.1)
It's okay to compare Steve Smith and Captain Munnerlyn now!
What more is there to say? This horse is dead and beaten.
Colin Cole (-1.4)
It's a good thing the Panthers have Star Lotulelei, because Cole somehow managed to grade as one of the worst three players in just 20 snaps.
Cole finished with the team's second-lowest run stop rating, which is scary for a one-trick pony who can only run stop. This was against Arizona too, a team that can't run.