Last week was brutal. Wait, brutal probably doesn't cover it. Ridiculous might. Nobody really gave the Carolina Panthers (3-3-1) much of a chance against the Green Bay Packers. They are a better team, we were playing in Lambeau, Aaron Rodgers was on fire, our defense has struggled this year... so many reasons why the Panthers would lose the game, and they all proved to be true. It just would have been nice to see some fight out of them. We knew the defense would be behind the proverbial 8-ball, but the offense should have done much better than they did.
They were given a blueprint by the team that gave the Packers fits the week before in the Miami Dolphins. QB Ryan Tannehill's running game antics helped the Dolphins nearly pull off the upset. He may not have run much, but had 49 yards on 3 attempts, with 40 of those coming off one run. Now, if Tannehill can do that, there was no reason why Cam Newton could not have with even more success considering the type of athlete he is. Newton only had 41 yards on the ground, but considering the Packers rush defense rank and the success the Panthers had the week prior, that number is certainly disappointing. When you look at the overall stats, they are not that bad, gaining 331 total yards of offense. You must take into account though that these stats were inflated due to the fact the Packers definitely took their foot off the gas at halftime.
The Panthers will return to the "friendly" confines of Bank of America Stadium this weekend to face a team akin to a pissed off bunch of hornets whose nest you just messed with. The Super Bowl defending champs, Seattle Seahawks (3-3) find themselves in 3rd place in the NFC West and coming off a rare two-game losing streak. The fabled Legion of Boom has been a bit of a whimper lately, allowing the Dallas Cowboys and St. Louis Rams nearly have their way with them. They will be looking to get back on track against the Panthers, while the Panthers will hope a patchwork offensive line and battered confidence can find some kind of traction this Sunday.
So with that in mind, let's take a look at the Panthers offense going into Week 8.
Panthers Passing Offense
I'll reiterate: Cam Newton is not the reason for the Panthers struggles on offense. Granted, that is not a widely held notion on CSR, but it is on the fringe, lunatic social media fan pages. Yes, Newton struggled early and often against the Packers, but so did the entire team. Our WR corps wasn't much of a help either, of course until garbage time commenced in the second half. TE Greg Olsen was contained for much of the game and wasn't much of a factor until the game was essentially already over. In short, the offense, which was the only hope we had of hanging with the Packers, did nothing to help an already beleaguered defense.
The Seahawks on the other hand are coming into the game with something to prove. They currently rank 16th in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 239 passing YPG and 12 TD's to only 2 INT's. The Legion of Boom has been ineffective thus far. Given the Panthers recent history however, that doesn't mean they won't look like the Seattle defense of last year this weekend. Seattle's pass rush is still alive but barely holding on. Anchored by DE Micheal Bennett, the 6th year man from Texas A&M so far on the season has 3 sacks and 1 FF. Fellow DE Cliff Avril by comparison is having a down year, with only 1 sack to speak of so far. The pass rush for the Seahawks can also be generated by the LB's in Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin, however even their ability to do so this season has been stunted somewhat.
The biggest concern in facing the Seahawks has to be their secondary. Having arguably the best secondary in the game, manned by CB Richard Sherman, and S's Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, they can make life difficult for opposing offenses to have much success through the air. Much like the rest of their defense however, even these guys are struggling some. The "best corner in the game" so far this year has 0 INT's. Now, while INT's don't give you the whole picture for a defensive back, they are still a telling statistic. Earl Thomas has a similar stat line for INT's. Chancellor is the only starting DB outside of CB Byron Maxwell to have an INT so far this year.
It isn't all bad. Especially when you consider that Maxwell and Wagner are already ruled out for this game. Even with that though, things will still be a rough go for this Panthers offense. The maligned offensive line will still be under fire this week. Both of the team's starting guards, Trai Turner and Amini Silatolu went down with injury last week and will not play on Sunday. That leaves the likely starting duties to Andrew Norwell and Fernando Velasco, with Chris Scott perhaps, rotating in for the interior of the line. On the outside, it is the familiar suspects, as Byron Bell appears to have recovered form his elbow injury (at least we won't hopefully have to see Foucault out there again). It looks like the typical dumpster fire we are accustomed to seeing on Sunday's except this one has a bit more propellant added to the flames.
X-Factor: OC Mike Shula
Two weeks ago against the Bengals, Shula called a very good game. Everyone had hoped that he had finally found a rhythm for the offense to flow with. Unfortunately, the offense regressed terribly against the Packers. Newton wasn't put in a position to run the ball, Greg Olsen was in the lost and found section of Lambeau Field for about half the game (not necessarily Shula's fault), and the offense as a whole never gelled or got anything going, as the Packers pass rush constantly harassed Newton for much of the afternoon. Granted, he doesn't have a lot to work with, but he must make do with what he has, and that means calling plays that mitigate the weaknesses of this team. The main weakness is still this offensive line. If we are to have any success at all, we need to win some battles in the trenches. Calling some screens or quick passes not only can help take some pressure off the OL, but also instill some confidence in Newton to start the game. Shula needs to call a smart game, and leave the flea flicker at home.
Panthers Rushing Offense
I refuse to acknowledge that the Panthers had a good game running the ball last week. Once again, many of the yards gained happened well after the game was out of hand and the Packers stopped caring. The mercy rule was in effect and it allowed the Panthers to make the game look more respectable than it really was. As a total though, the Panthers had 108 total yards on the ground, which against the worst rush defense in the league at the time was just OK. The Panthers can thank garbage time for that again.
For the Seahawks, while their passing defense may be a bit suspect, their run defense is still legit. Ranked 6th in the league so far, they allow 85 YPG, which averages out to a paltry 3.2 YPC. They have also forced 7 fumbles, which is tops in the league. Needless to say they are very hard to run against. They have allowed in the last two weeks however, 115 yards to Dallas' DeMarco Murray and 85 yards to St. Louis' Tre Mason, so there might be some hope for the Panthers this week. Unfortunately, I just don't see it.
Now it is only my opinion, but the fact is the Panthers, even with their starting OL in, has struggled to create running room against teams ranked near the bottom of the league in rush defense already this year. They haven't faced a team as good as the Seahawks in the that department yet. Add in the fact that the interior of our line is in shambles and it is a recipe for disaster. I can't even see Newton being much of a factor thanks to the fact that Seattle practices against Russell Wilson all week, a perfect parallel to Newton in terms of mobile QB's. It might be up to Newton, and RB's Jonathan Stewart, Darrin Reaves, and Tauren Poole to create their own running room. Given how bad the run game has been to this point so far this year, that doesn't inspire much confidence.
X-Factor: The Passing Game
The only way I see Carolina getting anything moving on the ground is if the passing game is respected by the Seattle defense. Watching them play Green Bay, it looked as though the Panthers were simply not respected as an opponent. The Packer defense wasn't afraid of Cam Newton escaping the pocket, or of Jonathan Stewart breaking off a run. They just looked like they honestly didn't care. I'm not sure how that can be fixed, but I do know that if the Panthers want any hope of winning this game and running the ball, they must use the passing game to open up the ground game. Otherwise it will be another disappointing afternoon for Newton and the backs.
Not going to lie, I am not really confident in this team going into this game. The Panthers have not been able to impose their will on anyone offensively, save for the Bengals perhaps, this season. Every play it seems like has been a struggle. Now you throw a desperate last season Super Bowl winner into the mix, looking to quiet fans and pundits concerns alike about a hangover and it could be yet another bloodbath out there, this time on home soil. Perhaps the thing I am most concerned about is how the audience will look for this game. Another pathetic effort from the team, and the Seahawks are likely to have a home game for the second half. Carolina has the tools to do it, but it will take a perfect effort from everyone out there to pull out a win this weekend.