The Carolina Panthers boasted one of the league's top defenses a year ago, but looked like a JV team as Chip Kelly's hurry-up offense confused them, made them look slow and dominated to the tune of 402 total yards. While the defense was bad, at least they have excuses: A new-look Eagles' scheme, no time to prepare -- teams around the NFL will have problems with its pace. To this end the offense have no excuses, and that's a serious concern as the Panthers prepare for the third, and most-important preseason game.
The Panthers lost 14-9, but watching the game it felt like a 30-point victory. The Eagles used five different quarterbacks, all of whom had varying degrees of success -- while none of Carolina's signal callers made a dent in a mediocre Philadelphia defense. The quarterback issue is largely attributable to an offensive line who can't buy them time, but that's also removing the responsibility from coaches who have shown an ineptitude to run a successful offense this far.
Yes, this team has looked flat in preseason during the 2011 and 2012 seasons -- they also won a combined 13 games when they started to count. Carolina's modus operandi under Ron Rivera has been to start slow, dig themselves into a hole, and have an impressive turnaround down the stretch. This makes it difficult to write off performances as 'just preseason', when there's a clear pattern that the Panthers look under-prepared with Rivera at the helm.
This is billed as a 'run-first' team, but the offense could only muster 3.0 yards per carry against a defense that allowed 4.2 yards last year. It wasn't just that blocking broke down, it's that there weren't any adjustments to counteract the meltdown on the field -- on either side of the ball. It was clear early that the offensive line was having a hard time with their interior blocking, and it was late in the second quarter before DeAngelo Williams was allowed to run off tackle. He gained six yards, and the play was never called again. There's only so much that can be said about hiding one's hand, at some point clear changes need to be made on the field to show you're acknowledging what's happening.
Dave Gettleman talked about the need to evaluate players on the roster before making free agency decisions, and the early verdict is that he didn't do a very good job. Gettleman ignored the offensive line, while signing two receivers and three cornerbacks -- through two weeks the only two players making a serious impact are David Gettis, and Josh Norman, both of whom are making a case to start above the free agent signings.
It's difficult if you're looking for an overarching optimistic takeaway from Thursday, but take some solace knowing that the defense isn't this bad. The Panthers were ill prepared to contend with Philadelphia's speed, and looked winded early. They wont see a similar scheme again this year, so it's safe to push this one to the side as an outlier -- especially after how good the defense looked against Chicago.
David Gettis -- Extremely Optimistic
It's been a stunning turnaround for a player who looked like one of the worst receivers in training camp. Gettis has easily played himself onto the 53 at this rate, and will likely battle Armanti Edwards for the third receiver spot. His 5 reception, 85 yard game was far and away the best from any Panthers' receiver -- and it's a testament to his character that Gettis has stuck to it, where so many players would fold.
Graham Gano and Brad Nortman -- Extremely Optimistic
Yep, the friggin' kicker and punter are the second best things that happened in this game. Grats Graham, you didn't miss one. Brad, kudos for some excellent punting.
This game was a trash heap.
Wes Horton -- Extremely Optimistic
Horton game in late in the game and really put the screws to the
third forth string quarterback. He got good pressure, but it's important not to overvalue him too much, as there's still a snowball's chance he makes the roster.
Josh Norman -- Extremely Optimistic
The interception on a Hail Mary is a non-factor, but his four tackles (all in close coverage) and two passes defended were much better. Why he didn't start the game is beyond my understanding.
Star Loutlelei -- Somewhat Optimistic
There were a few good plays from the Panthers' first round pick, but he was off the field far too often. Star acknowledged that the speed of the offense left him winded, which is understandable -- and something he'll work on moving forward.
Mike Shula -- Extremely Pessimistic
278 total yards. 3.0 yards per carry. 6.4 yards per pass. Nine points on three field goals.
I'll keep harping on it until things change. The only time Carolina moved the ball through the air effectively was when there were huge cushions to throw into, with the exception of a pass here or there. Part of me wants so badly to write this off as 'no big deal' or 'vanilla preseason offense', then you see how Philadelphia and Cleveland moved the ball on Thursday night with new offensive coordinators at the helm, and it's hard to argue in favor of Shula.
Defensive line -- Extremely Pessimistic
This is a one week thing, I'm sure -- but there's no doubt the defensive line was atrocious on Thursday night. Speed or not, the Panthers got almost no pressure on the quarterbacks. Philadelphia have a talented offensive line, but Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy should have been able to do more.
Captain Munnerlyn -- Extremely Pessimistic
I hope this was an effort in evaluation, and not foreshadowing of the regular season. Josh Norman has outplayed Munnerlyn at every turn in training camp and preseason, yet he still isn't getting the starting nod. It's an unfair system that isn't allowing Munnerlyn to thrive either, when he should be playing in the slot.
Amini Silatolu and Garry Williams -- Extremely Pessimistic
Did the guards regress, or were they always this bad? It's probably the latter. Silatolu and Williams looked better than they are against the Chicago Bears, a game where several defensive players were missing. On Thursday they faced a healthy Eagles' defense, and looked completely lost. Slow out of their stance, missed assignments, players were in the Carolina backfield before the guards realized they were blocking the wrong player. Cam struggles with pressure up the middle, and he'll see plenty of it in 2013.
Kenjon Barner -- Somewhat pessimistic
Lets be clear: the muffed punt wasn't on him, but rather a product of D.J. Campbell running into him. That being said, Barner should have been able to do more in the running game. He finished the night with 0.8 yards per carry on 6 attempts, and couldn't use his speed to evade the defense. It's been a rough two weeks for Barner, but he's a rookie, so give it time.
Next week the Panthers face the Baltimore Ravens in a game that will really give some insight as to how the regular season will look. Problems you see in the third game will be those that crop up when it matters, and the Ravens already look in mid-season form. Joe Flacco completed a 77-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith last night, while Tyrod Taylor threw another two touchdowns in a reserve role. Ozzie Newsome has built that team for depth, and it will be an excellent test.
The temptation is to write off the game as "only preseason", which it is to some degree -- however, you're putting your head in the sand if you overlook the myriad issues this team has right now. They will need the defense to carry them in 2013, but if the offense can't score touchdowns against a less-than-stellar defense, they're in trouble. What's more concerning is how much better the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints got, while the Panthers and Buccaneers both look like they're struggling with coaching issues.