Last year, the Carolina Panthers slid through the regular season 15-1 en route to a Super Bowl berth.
This year, those same Panthers are now 2-5 and come to LA to take on the Rams at the Coliseum.
To get a better sense of what the Rams are up against this weekend, I linked up with Jaxon from Cat Scratch Reader, the SB Nation community for Carolina Panthers fans.
Let's start with the win-loss record. From Super Bowl runners up to a 2-5 start to the 2016 season. The margins have been thin, no doubt -- three losses of 3 points or less. But what gives? How do you go from 15-1 to a 2-5 start in consecutive seasons? CB Josh Norman can't be THAT good...
I wish I could pin it on a single factor but it’s a complex problem. First it was the offense started slow as they usually do. Newton was holding the ball too long and was taking hits causing him to miss a game that we subsequently lost. Then when the offense finally got it going the defensive secondary fell apart. The secondary is still a work in progress but they getting healthy and looked much improved last week. Plus it looks like rookie James Bradberry will be back this week. He was playing pretty well before the turf toe injury. Which leads me to the final factor: injuries. LT Michael Oher has been out 5 weeks putting the o-line in a state of flux. Jonathan Stewart missed a couple games. It all adds to the challenge every week to overcome these losses.
To answer the second part of your question, Josh Norman is very good and we do miss him in the secondary. Would we have a better record than 2-5 right now with him? I can’t say that.
Cam Newton is a fixture in the national football consciousness. Between his post-Super Bowl tirade and recent media work-arounds regarding the lack of calls in how physical opponents are dealing with him, are you worried about the off-field Cam Newton getting in the way of on-field Cam Newton? Any concerns of a step back for Cam in his sixth NFL season after a career year in 2015?
We didn’t have those concerns during the offseason but the 1-5 start sure made us rethink that. Up until last week it was apparent the Panthers were calling fewer designed runs for Newton. Feeling the pressure to not run Newton became more hesitant in the pocket and was holding the ball too long. He seems to settled down and has played a lot better starting with the 2nd half of the Saints game.
As much as I wish Newton could give the standard Johnnie Rah Rah post-game interview that just not Newton. We’ve come to accept that he isn’t an eloquent speaker, he doesn’t take losing well, never has and he doesn’t even try to hide it. But he is as genuine as they come which I know flies against the national narrative. Hence why I’ve call him the most misunderstood player in the NFL. But he is a competitor and this team believes in him. As Newton goes so goes the Panthers.
Defensively, you guys finished sixth in both yards and points allowed. Right now, you're 26th and 20th in those categories, respectively. What happened?
If you break down the defensive stats you’ll see the Panthers are tied for 1st in the NFL yards allowed per carry at 3.3. So teams have to throw and guess what, our secondary has started two rookie CBs in several games. The safety play hasn’t been anything to write about either. At the same time the pass rush dried up the Pantherss played two of the best offenses in the league in the Falcons and Saints. Two teams that know us very well I might add. So teams are throwing the ball and making hay. The key this Sunday is getting pressure on the QB like we did last week on Carson Palmer (8 sacks). The Panthers have to get pressure to protect their suspect secondary.
Speaking of the defense, you guys spent heavily on that side in the draft with four of your five draft picks coming on that side, and let us not disparage "Big" Beau "Sandman" Sandland "From the Badlands"... What are the returns from the 2016 draft class (ASKING FOR A FRIEND BECAUSE I THINK YOU CAN JUST DRAFT GUYS AND PUT THEM ON THE BENCH FOREVER AND THAT'S OK I GUESS)? What are shaping up to be the big roster needs heading into next spring?
Well 1st rounder DT Vernon Butler was looking pretty good injuring his leg the second game. He might return this week. But don’t think for a second we haven’t given Panthers GM Dave Gettleman for ignoring the offensive tackle position ever since Oher went out. So it won’t matter what our needs are next draft if there is a defensive ‘hog mollie’ there he likes he will take him.
CB James Bradberry (2nd rd) looks like a keeper. Very disciplined and a sure tackler. It’s only a matter of time before he starts getting his hands on the ball. CB Darryl Worley (4thrd) was lost early but has played better recently plus he’s extremely athletic. CB Zack Sanchez (5th rd) was promoted after we cut our only vet CB Bene Benwikere a couple weeks ago. I’m still trying to figure that move out.
But the gem is certainly Big Beau from the Badlands (TE Beau Sandland 7th). We just had to stash him on our PS for the time being until we are ready to unleash him.
Big picture. It's Year 6 for Head Coach Ron Rivera and Newton. You're coming out of the franchise's second Super Bowl appearance in history. What's your "state of the union"? Is there a huge need to get back to the Super Bowl now given Newton's NFL peak year window? What would constitute the kind of failure where you begin thinking of moving on from Riverboat Ron? Is the 2-5 start enough of a jolt to the system to move on from Ron + Cam = forever heart symbol tree carving?
Rivera is very safe no matter what happens this season. Any Panther fan that doesn’t like Rivera is one who never liked him from the get go. We still think Cam has many potential MVP seasons ahead of him. Newton just needs some damn protection in front of him because he gets hit enough just running the ball. I’d like to think Mike Shula might go but even at 2-5 the Panthers offense is 7th in yards per game and 4th in points.
Coming into the season the notion of a 4th straight NFC South crown seemed a given but that looks like a long shot already given how well the Falcons (6-3) are playing. But we have hope they can turn it around. The NFC wildcard picture is still wide open.
Thanks to Xmus Jaxon Flaxon-Waxon for the time.