If the NFL was a classroom, it would be filled with C students. Through seven weeks, there are no undefeated teams, and there is only one team (Philadelphia) that has lost just one time. But all C-students aren’t built the same. There are those that are consistently mediocre, and then those that tantalize the teacher with their stellar performance on one test, only to drop the ball on the rest of the assignments.
The Panthers are such a student; completely befuddling fans with their up and down season.
The (4-3) Panthers lost a game Sunday where they gave up a total of 158 yards offense. They only surrendered three points to the three and four Bears. And the FOUR completions by former Tar Heel Mitchell Trubisky were the fewest in a winning effort since 2011 when Tim Tebow completed five. So how did they lose?
Two freak turnovers led directly to two Eddie Jackson returns for touchdowns (the 75 and 76 yard returns are the only time in the history of the NFL a player has eclipsed those yardages on returns for TDs).The 14 points generated off of turnovers turned out to be the difference in score once the game ended, with the Panthers only mustering three points.
It would seem the perfect time to panic for the Panther pride except…the team has been here before. The 293 yards amassed Sunday are more than in three other games this season. It was the second game that the team finished with single digit points.
But here comes the bewildering part
The last time the offense looked this bad (week three at home against the Saints), they rattled off back-to-back wins on the road against the Lions and Patriots. And even in their recent loss on Thursday Night Football to the NFC East-leading Eagles, they racked up 23 first downs in addition to their 23 points. Amusement parks would marvel at the roller coaster that is the Panthers season.
In fact, the only consistent thing about this team has been the run game—it’s been steadily non-existent all year. The team’s 3.4 yards per carry is 29th in the league. They are currently 21st in rushing yards per game. When the Panthers are living their best life, it is done with a strong running game. In the three years the team won the NFC South, they never finished lower than 11th (and never outside the top 10 in rushes per game). They currently sit in 11th in attempts, and Cam Newton has led the team in rushing yards the past two weeks.
There are several potential reasons for the Panthers’ running struggles. First, the All Pro Center Ryan Kalil (who briefly appeared in the Bears game before exiting with an injury recurrence) has been out since week 2.
Greg Olsen’s injury didn’t help either. Not only is he the best blocking tight end on the roster, but removing a passing threat is never healthy for a running game. Moreover, the “replacement” for Ted Ginn Jr’s speed, Curtis Samuel has battled injury, and contributed to the tune of 5 receptions for 32 yards for the season. With no threat of the vertical from Samuel or possession receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess, safeties have felt confident sauntering down into the box; “When you look at the last two games we’ve played, we’ve faced 8- and 9-man boxes,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said leading up to Sunday’s game.
Hit the books or blocks or whatever…
Whether it’s one reason or several, the Panthers need to fix the running game if the offense is going to go to the top of the class; not an impossible feat considering seven NFL teams didn’t even score an offensive touchdown on Sunday—something that hasn’t happened since 2001. Being Valedictorian of your home school graduating class still counts, and the Panthers head to Tampa Bay and their 30th ranked defense to get back on the Dean’s List.
Study up Panthers fans, mid-terms are right around the corner and it’d be great if the Panthers were over .500 halfway through the season.