Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Apocalypse Meow

       The 2010 Carolina Panthers season will be remembered for what many consider to be the worst offensive football team in the NFL since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. The 2011 Carolina Panthers will be remembered for a defense that is just as bad, if not worse than the putrid offense of the previous season. Rookie head coach Ron Rivera & general manager Marty Hurney will have their work cut out for them during the offseason to improve what most analysts view as the worst defense in Carolina Panthers history.  Marty Hurney and his team of scouts have failed to capitalize in both the draft and free agency to address team needs, provide quality depth, and give the proud Panther fans a team to cheer on Sundays in the Fall.
    All of this began following the 2009 season. Perennial Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers was soon to be a free agent, and the team had already signed him to the league franchise tag during the 2009 season.  Rather than signing Peppers to the tag again to receive compensation for his contract rights, Hurney, team owner Jerry Richardson, and then head coach John Fox allowed Peppers to leave the team for free.   This upset many Panther fans and was viewed as a questionable decision across the league. With Fox knowing he would be leaving the organization, the team suffered with a dismal 2-14 season, last in the NFL.
    In February of 2011, Ron Rivera was announced as new head coach of the franchise. He brought with him a new staff of coaches, determined to get Carolina back to the top of the NFC South. The top order of defensive minded Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was getting an offensively challenged team some help on defense. With the #1 overall pick in the NFL draft, many pundits called on Carolina to draft Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley or LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson. Both players were expected to be standout players capable of making an impact from the start of their career; instead, Carolina & Hurney elected to draft Heisman winning quarterback Cam Newton from Auburn University. While a good pick, a failure to shore up the defense has led to Carolina’s demise this season. While Marty Hurney made an excellent choice in Newton, it’s his other choices that have questioned his ability to be a competent GM in the NFL. With 2 3rd round selections, Carolina drafted defensive tackles Sione Fua of Stanford and Terrell McClain from the University of South Florida. Both have shown they aren’t capable of being starting defensive tackles in the NFL thus far. In the 4th round, Carolina selected cornerback Brandon Hogan out of West Virginia; Hogan has yet to see action this season, as he is still recovering from knee surgery that forced him to miss his entire senior season, a questionable choice to say the least.
    Through 10 games in the 2011 season, Carolina ranks 27th in total defense out of 32 teams. The rush defense ranks 30th in the NFL at 140 yards per game, having allowed a league high 14 touchdowns on the ground. The pass defense is 17th, yielding 234 yards per game, with 16 touchdowns allowed. Carolina is averaging 28 points allowed per game on defense with 34 touchdowns total against the Panthers; those stats also include special teams which has been a disaster for Carolina as well, allowing a league high 3 return touchdowns on special teams. The only teams worse than Carolina at stopping the run are winless Indianapolis and the lowly St. Louis Rams.  Taking a look at the bottom 4 teams in rush defense you’ll see a trend, and that is that they’re all in last place. Certainly not a coincidence.
    A remedy for many struggling offenses this season has been a game against Carolina. Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson had only 1 game with 100 yards rushing, and that was against Cleveland, who is ranked 29th in the NFL in rush defense. Johnson had a huge game against Carolina, totaling 174 yards against the pitiful panthers. Last Sunday against the Detroit Lions was the lowest point of the 2011 campaign for Carolina. Quarterback Matthew Stafford had a career day, accumulating over 300 yards through the air en route to 5 touchdown passes. That wasn’t even the worst part for coach Rivera’s squad. Running back Kevin Smith, who prior to November 7th was out of the NFL, ran for 140 yards and 2 touchdowns. Smith also had 61 yards receiving with a touchdown. While Carolina has made great strides offensively with Newton and reviving veteran receiver Steve Smith, coach Rivera and his staff still have miles to go before being considered a contender in the NFC playoff picture.

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