Coming off a 17-2 season, a Super Bowl appearance and a injury free preseason, the Carolina Panthers were expected to be among the NFL elites once again in 2016. The Panthers started the season ranked as ESPN's # 1 ranked team, and NFL Network's #4 ranked team. But here we are, three weeks into the season, and the Panther's sit at a disappointing 1-2, coming off a home loss to the Minnesota Vikings 22-10. So what's going on with the Panthers? Many Panthers fans are wondering this.
First let's look at the schedule, it's not been an easy schedule by any means, playing two of the best teams in the NFL. Week 1 playing in Denver against the defending Super Bowl champions is no easy task, and the Panther's had a chance to win that game, just missing a last second field goal to fall to the Broncos 21-20 on the road. Week 2 the Panthers started off sluggish against the lowly San Francisco 49ers, only to find their offensive stride in the second half to pull away from the 49ers 46-27. Week 3 against the Vikings at home was the most disappointing loss for the Panthers, after jumping out to a 10-0 early lead, the Vikings smothered the Panthers the final three quarters, to win 22-10 on the Panthers field, something a visiting team hadn't done at Bank of America Stadium since November 2014 (14 straight games). So looking at this, maybe the answer is simple, maybe it's just a result of a tough early schedule, minus Week 2, maybe there's simply nothing wrong with Carolina.
However anyone who is a Panther fan, and has watched the first three games can tell something just doesn't seem right about the Panther's so far this season. But what is it? Defense? Cam Newton? Play calling? Let's take a quick look.
The Panther's heralded defense, that has been spectacular the, top 10 in the NFL, the last few seasons hasn't been playing very well so far in 2016. Most immediately point to the two rookie corners, James Bradberry and Daryl Worley. However that's not necessarily the issue, in fact Bradberry has been one of the highest graded cornerbacks in the league through the first three games. One thing that seems to be hurting the Panther's is the play of the defensive line. As a unit, the defensive line has just two sacks through three games, and none of those coming from any of the starting defensive lineman. Not getting pressure of the QB is affecting the back end of the Panther's defense, and not giving Tre Boston, Kurt Coleman and company the time or opportunity to make plays and get take aways as they did last year. The Panther's have a minus-2 turnover margin through three games, something they are not used to, and definitely not a stat that translates into success. To fix this, the defensive line has got to start getting pressure on opposing QBs and allow the back end of the defense to be aggressive as they were able to do in 2015.
I've seen a lot of criticism of Cam Newton so far this year and that his play isn't near the level is was last year when he won the NFL MVP award. I would agree with this somewhat, but it's not all on Cam Newton. His offensive line and protection has been horrendous so far in 2016; Newton has been sacked 12 times. The play calling for Newton also hasn't been that great so far in 2016 either. Newton hasn't been allowed to run very much in 2016, which as any Panther's fan knows, is a huge part of Newton's game. So far the Panther's have asked Newton to be more of a "pocket passer" this season as opposed to the dual threat that he is. In turn this has caused Newton to have to hold onto the ball longer, and his offensive line hasn't been able to protect him enough.
So what does it come down to? In my opinion the Panther's have got to get much better on both the offensive and defensive lines to have success in 2016. If these two units can get better, you will see the Panther's as a whole be more like the Panther's everyone thought they would be in 2016.