Friday 23 March 2018 / 07:45 PM


Just sit and pick any of the massively disappointing moments from Sunday night’s clash with the Seattle Seahawks to hone in on the horrible season the Carolina Panthers are having.

Largely expected to be a Super Bowl favorite, the Panthers came into this season after sporting a 17-2 record a season ago, coming just a game away from their first Super Bowl win in the franchise’s history. Their young franchise quarterback won the MVP and they lit the league on fire.

Then this year happened. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where things went wrong for these Panthers, but their most recent game firmly encapsulated their biggest problems in one shiny, sixty-minute compilation. So what exactly went wrong? Let’s take a really painful journey, shall we?

The O-Line is in Shambles

Three times during the first half, and twice in the second half, the Panthers tended to an offensive lineman. They’ve started 11 different players on the line and currently have three on injured reserve. They’ve played three centers now, and it’s becoming a murderer’s row along the line.

The dominant running game from a year ago is gone, along with any sort of pass protection. The Panthers have to keep up to two tight ends in to block to keep Cam from getting killed. Which leads us to problem No.2…

Cam Isn’t Cam This Year

Three times in this game, Cam Newton took a dive to avoid contact, protecting himself and moving out of the way of defenders. He’s far from the running threat he was a year ago, and it’s killing the Panthers running attack. His passing stats are sliding, with teams now able to drop more in coverage knowing Newton won’t use his legs. In fact, he went from averaging 12 rushes per game a year ago down to just six this season.

And who can blame him? Newton has been crushed on scrambles and in the pocket this year. Defenders are leveling him, and it’s been discussed ad nauseum just how frequently and belligerently Cam is targeted. Without his offensive line protecting him, Cam is a sitting duck in the pocket and is just getting destroyed on the field. He’s lost his confidence in his feet and the rest of his game has suffered as a result.

The Receivers Just Haven’t Been Good

Cam gained his notoriety last year for lighting up the passing attack despite missing his top receiver in Kelvin Benjamin. But this year, KB has been in the lineup and it seems to have made it worse. The receivers, particularly Benjamin and Ted Ginn, are dropping everything. And receivers that were standouts a year ago, like Philly Brown, have been quiet and lost this season.

Even Greg Olsen, the normally sure-handed tight end, has had issues with drops. Two times the Panthers dropped easy first downs early – and even on the interception from Anderson, it was off the butterfingers of a receiver. The Panthers are sitting near the top of the league in drops, which is leaving Cam out to dry.

The Head Coach is Just Winging It

Let’s not forget the best moment of this game: the very first play. Unexpectedly to start the game, Derek Anderson went under center for the Panthers. On the road. With the season on the line. In Seattle. Against that defense. Derek. Anderson. And he proceeded to do exactly what anyone with a pulse and a functioning brain expected, promptly throwing a pick.

Newton would play the rest of the game, despite shooting themselves in the foot before he even stepped on the field. Rivera would cite a “dress code violation” for the one-possession penalty for Newton, and that probably reads just as funny as it was to type.

Rivera has had numerous instances like this over the season. From punting down four with less than four to go against Oakland, to the weird defenses against Atlanta, to the choices to throw on short situations. He’s nowhere near the gambler he was a year ago and the difference is palpable. But even that isn’t the biggest change.

The Defense is Awful

Let’s not kid ourselves: while things have gone south everywhere for the Panthers, the real killer for the team has been the defense. The pass rush isn’t quite there anymore, injuries have ravaged each position, and they just aren’t on the same page.

The secondary, in particular, is just bad, and it’s been by design for them to be that way. After letting Josh Norman walk, the Panthers infused nothing but rookies and unproven guys to fill the void of three lost starters in the defensive line. Now they can’t stop anyone, and the team admits that they have many growing pains.

This was pretty obvious in the numerous broken coverages, including two of Wilson’s touchdowns, that let receivers walk untouched into the endzone. The secondary is just bad, and the front seven is suffering massively for it.

Playoff Chances Done

Ultimately, the game against Seattle served a purpose by officially ending any faint hope the Panthers had for a postseason trip and officially letting them focus for next year. And that’s a good thing. But with myriad problems, the Panthers need to try and remember the magic that got them three straight division titles before this dismal campaign.

If they can, they can make next year’s game with the Seattle crowd the rivalry it should be.

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About the author

Austin Albertson

Austin is CBS' senior NFL and NBA analyst, bringing you commentary on everything between the lines and inside the hashes, from the film room to the scoreboard.

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