The Carolina Panthers lost another heartbreaker 24-23 to the Buffalo Bills last week, but it's time to move on to the next opponent and try to get the first win of the season. This week we get to take a look at an NFC East team as the Panthers will host the New York Giants. These two teams saw each other in Week 3 last season in a game that Panthers fans would rather forget, because quite frankly the G-Men stomped a mud hole in Carolina's asterisk in front of a national audience. That was last year though, and--Captain Obvious alert--if the Panthers want to win this game they cannot play the same way they played when they were obliterated by the Giants last season.
Hopefully things won't turn out the same way they did on that terrible Thursday night, because the Panthers need to win this game. This game could be the game that sets the tone for the rest of the season. A loss to New York would mean an 0-3 record at the bye week, and it could spell the end of Ron Rivera's tenure in Carolina.
I think it's safe to assume that Rivera wants to keep his job, so he's probably interested in winning this game. Here are five keys for a victory this Sunday against the Giants that will extend his employment for at least two more weeks.
Don't be afraid to fail
One of the biggest criticisms many fans have of Rivera's coaching style is that he's just too dad-gum conservative. It's almost as if he's so afraid of making a mistake that he won't do anything that has the slightest amount of risk. The problem with that is that when you refuse to take chances you give up the opportunity to be great.
Sure, there's a chance that going for it on 4th and 1 will give the other team the football and cost you points. But there's also the chance that you get the first down and set up a scoring opportunity of your own that could eventually be the difference between winning and losing.
Most fans can handle losing if we know the team did everything they could to win the game but simply failed to execute. However, most fans cannot handle losing if the team opted to play not to lose instead of playing to win.
It's like the old saying goes, Ron: Nothing ventured, nothing gained. You should consider that advice this weekend; it could give you a win.
First half timeouts don't roll over to the second half
One of my biggest gripes with Rivera is his refusal to try and score points to close out the first half when he has all three timeouts in his pocket. It's almost as if he thinks he gets to carry them with him into the second half or something.
Well Ron, you don't. If you're on offense with less than a minute to go in the 2nd quarter and you have all three time outs, you should probably tell the offense to try and score some points. I don't know if you've noticed this, or if you just don't care, but it seems that every time you refuse to try and add to your lead before halftime it always comes back to bite you in the keister. You can change that Ron, and if you have the opportunity to do so on Sunday you should consider it.
The prevent defense only prevents winning
Seriously. That's all it's good for. It certainly doesn't stop the other team from driving down the field and scoring.
Here's the thing: if you play aggressive defense and force the other team to make a play, there's a chance they could beat you. But, there's also a chance that you could pressure them into making a mistake that could seal the win for you. If you play prevent defense and give the opposing offense plenty of space to work, the most likely outcome is they will take what you give them and drive their way down the field to victory.
If you play aggressive defense late in the game and give up the game-winning score, we'll forgive you Ron. We know the secondary is in shambles. We know the team will have given its all. But most of all, we'll know that you at least tried to approach the problem of losing leads in the 4th quarter a different way, and we'll understand.
Let Cam be Cam
This is mostly Mike Shula's area of concern, but Rivera is the head coach of the team and thus has the authority to tell Shula to let Cam do what he does best: use play action to attack the field deep and use his legs to escape trouble and pick up needed yards when there are no open receivers. It's really not that hard to figure out.
Forcing Cam to stay anchored in the pocket is doing him a huge disservice, especially when you consider that the offensive line is incapable of creating a pocket for him to stand in. He's 6'5", 250 lbs. and extremely athletic. Not letting him take advantage of that is beyond absurd, and as long as he's playing quarterback as Trent Dilfer in a Cam Newton costume, the offense will struggle.
Stop telling us what you're going to do and just do it
You may notice that I wrote this last week. You would be correct. I copied and pasted it because it's still a major point of concern and an important factor in who wins this week's game.
We've been hearing for two years now that the Panthers are going to be a team that will "twist the knife" when they have teams down, and so far we've yet to see that in action. What we've seen is a team that plays not to lose instead of a team that plays to win. Well, we're tired of talk and ready for action.
I'm not saying that Rivera should start coaching like he's playing Madden, but what he should do is stop telling us how he doesn't like that we're too conservative and start coaching a more aggressive game plan. If we have the football with 30 seconds to go in the first half and three time outs, there's little reason why we shouldn't at least try to get into field goal range. Graham Gano's range is roughly 55 yards, and with Cam Newton at quarterback it's entirely possible for the offense to get to the opponent's 35 yard line to try and get more points before halftime.
Obviously hindsight is 20/20, but I think a lot of Panthers fans would agree with me when I say that I would much rather see them go for it and not make it than see them not even try at all. If they go for it and fail, at least we can take pride in the fact that we tried to win the game instead of loathing yet another instance where an overly-conservative approach took away our chances of success.
Hopefully this is the week that Rivera starts to show us that famous "twist the knife" approach, because if he doesn't it won't be too much longer before we're forced to revoke his BAMF card.
That's it for this week's Friday Five. If Rivera can follow this road map against the Giants on Sunday, then Carolina should be able to claim their first victory of the season and go into the bye confident that things may finally be turning around.