Yesterday the Carolina Panthers put on one of their most complete performances as a team against an actually good NFL team. It would be tempting to call that progress if the team actually looked good. Instead, the team continues to look inconsistent in their best moments—a quality that helped them seal the Panthers’ sixth consecutive losing season yesterday.
Credit where it is due, the running game finally looked better. Both Chuba Hubbard and Miles Sanders exceeded expectations. Some of that was because the Panthers played a more up-tempo offense in the first half against advantageous personnel groupings. Some of that was because the offensive line was actually blocking reasonably well.
The defense also started off well, holding an explosive Dallas offense to ten points in the first half. Several of the Cowboys first scoring drives were more likely to be stops than scores but for some untimely Panthers penalties. That’s not a great look for Carolina, but it is indicative of them being capable of a better game than yesterday’s ultimately was.
All of that said, the Panthers still look awful overall and I’m solidifying my opinion that that’s a leadership problem. There are, at best, three Panthers players that I would call good this season. Derrick Brown has been good. Frankie Luvu has been good. Adam Thielen has been good. Nobody else has presented a consistent or superlative effort.
There are fifty other players on the roster. Many of them are players we know to be good. Taylor Moton did not forget how to play football. Xavier Woods did not become a sloppy tackler over night. Miles Sanders has more talent than this staff has been able to wring from him. I can’t evaluate Bryce Young because he spends more time running for his life or being sacked than he does throwing the ball. Name a player and I’ll show you someone who is under performing their reputation or expectations.
The fact of the matter is that the Carolina Panthers ran one of the rookie friendliest offenses in the NFL last season under interim head coach Steve Wilks with mostly this same offensive line and this same offensive line coach. They drafted “the most pro ready quarterback of all time,” surrounded him with an “All-Star” coaching staff and have produced one of the most difficult to watch offenses in the NFL.
11 weeks of baby steps have shown no progress. Shuffling play callers has had no effect. Last season’s offense was invented on the fly by an interim staff and won six games. The commitment to this season’s fiasco has not been for a lack of options but because of Frank Reich’s conviction in his own demonstrated failures.
Firing a coach in his first season suggests a lot of failures in the hiring process and, if habitual, instability in the organization as a whole. Creating an unstable environment for a rookie quarterback is bad when stability is an option. I don’t think losing with your head stuck in the sand makes for more nurturing environment for Young than a clean slate.
This season is lost.
This offense has shown nothing worth building on for next season, let alone an ability to build. The organization has two assets and those are the defensive mind of Ejiro Evero and the potential of Bryce Young.
Evero has made chicken sandwiches every week, for at least a half, out of the players he’s had left. Maybe he’s worth giving a chance, but he shouldn’t be given a guarantee today.
Young meanwhile, is far from promise. He is potential and his fate should be decided by the next leadership team in the Carolinas instead of being sealed by the trauma inflicted by this one.
The Panthers have not had a fully clean slate, with a general manager hiring his own head coach since 1995, when Bill Polian hired Dom Capers. Every other leadership change has see-sawed between firings and hirings. That mishmash of styles and philosophies has shown in the team’s generally middling records.
David Tepper needs to lead a national search for a new general manager. That general manager then needs, after another thorough search, to have the authority to hire his own preferred head coaching candidate. They need to make the most of Young that they can, either as a player or middling trade bait, and then set about building their roster. Their fates will be both built and tied together.
In addition to the intractability of Reich’s scheme, it is clear that this roster is a terrible match for him. Scott Fitterer spent years building it at Matt Rhule’s direction. We need, for once, a GM and a head coach on the same page from the beginning. The closest they have had to that since the Capers/Polian era was when a GM-less Panthers hired John Fox and then promoted Marty Hurney to GM from within. That worked out for awhile.
A new team, a new direction, and enough authority to make their own decisions. That’s the only way forward for the Carolina Panthers. Otherwise every “new era” will have at least one important voice constantly trying to make up for mistakes committed before the new faces walked in the building.