PFT is trying to look at every team in-depth during their bye week.
Losing rarely feels this good
Carolina is 2-6 at the midway point. They are on pace to double their win total from a year ago, but that’s not the reason for optimism. The Panthers are better than their record indicates. They are 1-5 in games decided by one score or less.
Some of those close losses came to quality opponents: Green Bay, New Orleans, and Chicago. The Panthers offense is dramatically improved, and there’s just one reason why.
Promising decade ahead
Cam Newton is far better, far sooner than even Warren Moon imagined. You could argue Newton is already one of the ten best quarterbacks in football. Carolina’s offense was dead last in points, passing yards, and total yards last season. They rank 14th, 5th, and 5th respectively this year. That’s all Newton.
Newton’s rushing totals (317 yards, 7 TDs) are big as expected. But no one expected him to be such a composed pocket passer. He doesn’t look to run unless it’s necessary. He doesn’t get too flustered by blitzes. He delivers strikes with bodies around him in the pocket.
There are still some errant throws and his decision making can be improved, but that’s to be expected. The Panthers found themselves a franchise quarterback who can be one of the game’s best sooner than you think.
Creative running game
The Panthers are a lot of fun to watch because Newton gives them so many options in the running game. Newton’s play fakes are terrific and the threat of him running keeps defenses a half-step slow. Carolina is fifth in the league in yards-per-carry. Jonathan Stewart has started to take the primary back role from DeAngelo Williams.
Good thing they kept Smith
Steve Smith has been reborn with Newton helping him out. Smith leads the league in receiving yards. Carolina’s offense has enough weapons with Smith, the two running backs, and Greg Olsen playing well at tight end. Throw in an underrated pass-blocking line and it’s a solid grop overall.
Rivera hasn’t helped defense
So why is this team 2-6? Mostly because their defense can’t get stops. Ron Rivera arrived from San Diego knowing the defense was shaky, but they have been worse than expected.
The linebacker group was decimated by injuries. Chris Gamble is enjoying a revived season at cornerback, but the rest of the secondary is mediocre. Charles Johnson has looked worth his big money at defensive end, but starting two rookie defensive tackles hasn’t worked.
The Panthers are 28th in points allowed. Only three teams give up more yards-per-pass. They are 28th in turnovers and can’t stop the run. Rivera’s group is among the league’s worst.
Schedule gets tougher
The Panthers play seven winning teams in their final eight games. That includes four division games in their final five weeks.
Carolina has shown they can compete with anyone. A 4-4 record down the stretch with this schedule would be a sign of big things to come.