Are you ready for some optimism!?
We may be halfway through the NFL offseason, but we are right in the middle of another season. A season of dreams, hopes, excessive extrapolations, extended fury over a season lost, and the prevalence of a plethora of unprofessional football experts. Given the qualifications of the latter, I will henceforth consider myself an unprofessional football expert because, after all, I have a football opinion. Never mind if my opinion is substantiated with facts, or if I give a logical explanation for coming to any of my football conclusions.
That is all irrelevant in our field of unprofessional football experts, because we adhere to the golden rule that has been established by the professional football experts: the sports writers, the talking heads, and the all-knowing pundits. If you do not know the golden rule of the professional football experts, allow me to share it with you:
If it is my opinion, then I can make it appear to be a fact simply by acting like it is a fact.
So there you have it, that is my out and the premise for what follows.
What Follows – An Eternally Optimistic View of the 2013 Carolina Panthers
That’s right folks; you won’t hear any realism in this post, and barely one ounce of pessimism. This is for the feel goods, for the dreamers, for the hopers! We will only look at the good because the bad doesn’t really exist here; it’s the offseason after all! Some of us can choose to temper our expectations so that we are let down gently, others will prefer to run full-on into the brick wall while blindfolded.
So how about it…put on your blindfolds and we’ll talk about those Carolina Panthers. I mean that figuratively, please put down the blindfolds. You can’t really read with a good blindfold on unless you’re reading braille.
So first of all the Panthers are going to the playoffs, and they will make a deep run. That is the closest thing to pessimism that you will hear in this entire post. That’s right, not predicting a Super Bowl berth or Super Bowl victory, just a deep run. You can spend the next few hours explaining to me how this is impossible, or highly improbable, but this is my overly optimistic post. In my overly optimistic post they make a deep run in the playoffs. Here’s the first reason why:
In Cam’s third year we finally get to see the Quarterback we’ve been waiting for. It all starts with Cam, because the success of this team is permanently hinged to his back. This year, Cam puts it together for a full season. In his first season everything was new and he had a great group to ease him in. He had an OC who played to his strengths, a league that had no idea what he could do, and….wait for it….a Pro Bowl center in Ryan Kalil. Yes, Kalil’s importance cannot be overstated. It’s his job to keep that big NT out of Cam’s face so that he can step up into the pocket. Perhaps just as important to a young QB, he makes the first line call for the defensive formation. This was a critical piece to Cam’s early development.
Today’s NFL center is vital to the offensive line’s success, and last year Cam had to make due with a backup. Ouch! Guess what else happened last year: the infamous Mad Hatter’s Meltdown. Rod Chudzinski appeared to be borderline brilliant in his first season with the Panthers, and it was almost as if he felt he had to outperform himself in year two. You all know the sadness that ensued.
His approach to outperforming himself: hit the league with an unprecedented number of read option plays. The problem: the read option was only successful when used in moderation. The other problem: Chud would not accept this fact and continued to unsuccessfully force the scheme down the throats of opposing defenses. The result: defenses ate our lunch, and we looked nothing like the previous year’s offense.
There’s a silver lining, an adjustment was eventually made and Cam had to struggle through all of this. Some will say this hindered his development, but I will say that he only improved through his struggles. If I can be philosophical for a moment: those with weak character falter in the face of adversity, those with strong character find strength through their struggles. Well…something like that. He lost his Pro Bowl center, he persevered through the horrendous play calling, and in the end he became a better football player and a leader of this team. Now, Kalil returns, and Cam gets to start the year as a leader, not just finish it as one. This is the first reason the Panthers will go deep this year, and perhaps the most important.
Did I not mention that this will be overly optimistic? Pessimists and self-proclaimed realists struggle along with me here, for the next reason the Panthers will go deep:
The defense will be the strongest unit we’ve fielded in a decade. That may be too much for some of you to stomach, but again this is my overly optimistic post. Tell me all about our secondary in the comments below, and I’ll tell you all about our pass rush now. This squad performed admirably in the second half of the season last year, and the mantra during the early offseason was that resigning Dwan was critical. Well, that happened, and then we also picked up a day one starter (potential animal I might add) and solid rotational DT in the draft. Our pass rush was pretty solid before, but where we would get killed is right up the gut. Allowing QB’s to step up in the pocket and unable to stop the rushing attack when we absolutely had to, the Panther defense let games slip right through their fingers.
Those days may very well be behind us for the foreseeable future. We have good guys in starting roles throughout the front seven, and for the first time in a long time we have quality depth behind them. While our secondary is not the elite unit that we are looking for, with a very strong and deep front seven we won’t need an elite unit to back them up. Many will cry about losing Gamble, but the reality is that he only played a quarter of the season last year. We added players to our existing group from last year so rest assured there will be some improvement in that area.
Let me state it simply, if a good QB has all day to throw the ball he will beat a top tier secondary every time. If a good QB has only a few seconds to throw the ball, has a DT in his face every play, and has to constantly worry about pressure from the outside, he will generally miss targets that a weak secondary gives him. For that, this defense will be very, very good.
Finally, I come to my third and final overly optimistic opinion on why the Panthers will make a deep run: love him or hate him, Rivera will be a better game manager. Why? Simply one word…experience. No one ever questioned Rivera’s ability in coaching skills and coordinating a defense, but his head coaching skills during the game left much to be desired. His first year, to put it mildly, he was awful in critical time-sensitive coaching situations. Last year, there were still some mistakes but it was certainly an improvement over year one. While I don’t expect him to be one of the top game managers this year, I do expect to see continued improvement in that regard. Inexperience was the major killer here and now he has two seasons under his belt.
With a more experienced and more mature QB, a more solid defense that can get off of the field, and a head coach who will show improvement in game management, this team will get over the hump. They have been a better team during the latter half of the last two seasons. This will be the year that they start off well enough to be in contention during the second half of the season, and the way this team plays down the stretch the playoffs will be a deep run.
So there you go, it’s not my typical realist view…this is one for the optimists. I’m a fan first and foremost, not an analyst. As a fan it’s okay to dream and hope for the best. Plus, if it all works out like this I will refer back to this post and look like a football seer…if not then you won’t remember this post six months from now and I won’t remind you. That’s how the professional football experts do it right?
Today, I’m happy to hope for more and explain why I’m hopeful...running into that brick wall while blindfolded doesn't seem so bad right now. We can spend the rest of the offseason debating the Panthers mediocrity and explaining how the team missed filling needs, but for this post, you get the happy happy happy.