The 2016 Carolina Panthers: Broken, but not Dead

Last Word On Pro Football, Jocelyn Berg

The reigning NFC champions look like a ghost of their 2015 selves. This is a team absolutely stacked with the talent to win games, yet their record sits at 1-4. Last year, they had the top ranked offense and the sixth ranked defense in the league and were the favorites to win Super Bowl 50 heading in. The Lombardi Trophy was supposed to come to Charlotte because of a super talented defense and MVP signal caller Cam Newton. And then this team collapsed.

The 2016 Carolina Panthers: Broken, but not Dead

The NFC champions, who coasted to 15 wins last year, currently hold just one. Their lone win so far came against the similarly 1-4 San Francisco 49ers, which was no big feat. Many analysts and fans now say that the Panthers are done and have no chance to look respectable again this season. They’re beginning to say the Panthers hopes of doing anything, maybe even a winning record, are dead.

The Defense

This team is not dead, it’s just out of sync and experiencing some breakage. It’s not a matter of bringing this team back to life, their hopes for a respectable season rest on repairing the damage.

One of their biggest issues is that they are sorely missing the presence of first team All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman in the secondary, whom they let walk in free agency. Their secondary is now comprised almost entirely of young, inexperienced players. Both of their starting corners, Daryl Worley and James Bradberry, are rookies. The inexperience of these young players has allowed them to get burned at times for huge gains. Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons really had them smelling like toast when he went for just over 300 yards. Norman’s absence has left a broken, but not irreparable, secondary behind. These young guys need to study film and put in some hard work in practice and the coaches should be able to refine them.

The Panthers posses an insanely talented front seven. The line is comprised of four highly talented players. Left defensive end Charles Johnson is a ten-year veteran who adds a valuable experienced presence to the defense. Right defensive end Kony Ealywho is in his third year, began to look like a blossoming star in the postseason last year. In the Super Bowl alone he amassed a game record three sacks, an interception, a forced fumble, and a recovery. If he can continue to build on that he could become a true force. Fourth year tackles Star Lotulelei and first team All-Pro talent Kawann Short man the middle of the defensive front.

The linebacking corps is perhaps the most talented position on this entire team. Thomas Davisa 12th year pro, brought down the ball carrier 105 times. 5.5 sacks, four forced fumble, and four interceptions. He’s a very talented player who also serves as a leader on defense. Their other outside linebacker, Shaq Thompson, is in his second year in the league. He’s been a bright young talent and should grow to be a dominant force with this group. In the middle resides star first team All-Pro Luke KuechlyHe’s currently second in the league with 57 tackles so far. In addition, he already has an interception and three pass deflections. Kuechly is one of the best defensive players in the league in all aspects.

The Panthers have the talent on defense to be stopping teams and allowing their offense to win games, but everything seems out of whack. The run defense ranks as number ten, but the pass defense ranks somewhere in the middle of the pile. They just have not been able to effectively come together to stop teams from scoring, allowing 27 points per game. This defense looks like a ghost of the 2015 squad that led them to 15 wins and the sixth overall defensive ranking but the damage is reparable. But in time, this team will overcome and work through the struggle.

The Offense

The struggles of this offense can be summed up in two words: Cam Newton. Last year’s MVP currently ranks just 27th amongst quarterbacks overall. He has six touchdowns to five interceptions and has completed only 57.9 percent of his passes. Newton’s struggles have brought down the entire offense. Last year he was their driving force. He was responsible for 45 touchdowns, 35 passing and ten more rushing. His insane rushing ability earned him the nickname Superman. Superman seems to have come into contact with some Kryptonite though this year. He even has his best offensive weapon back in the 6’5″ Kelvin Benjamin, which should, in theory, be a huge boost to him. Yet Cam just has not been quite himself.

Do the struggles of the team thus far mean it’s over? No. Should Cam and last year’s number one offense be considered a bust this year? No. This is not a team that has had the life taken from it. The Panthers are still alive and capable of performing at a high level despite these early season struggles. By grinding it out in practice and working step by step through the struggles with the coaches, the Panthers can heal and come back just as strong as last year’s NFC champion squad.