|2014||7-8-1||· Won Wild Card Round versus Cardinals
· Lost Divisional Round at Seahawks
|2015||15-1-0||· Won Divisional Round versus Seahawks
· Won NFC Championship versus Cardinals
· Lost Super Bowl 50 versus Broncos
|2016||6-10-0||· Missed playoffs|
|2017||11-5-0||· Lost Wild Card Round at Saints|
|2018||7-9-0||· Missed playoffs|
Division Record: 2-4-0
Record at home: 5-3-0
Record away: 2-6-0
Offense rank by yards: 10th (373.2 ypg)
Offense rank by points: Tied for 14th (23.5 ppg)
Defense rank by yards: 15th (353.2 ypg)
Defense rank by points: 19th (23.9 ppg)
It is now less than a week before the start of free agency on March 13th and the beginning in earnest of the 2019 NFL season. After that, it will be about a month and a half until the commencement on April 25th of the NFL Draft in Nashville. To effectively analyze the Carolina Panthers’ potential moves in the coming weeks and months and have some idea of the free agents and draft picks they are likely to target, their present strengths and weaknesses must be examined, along with other factors that will affect their performance in 2019. To see where the team might go, it is important to look at where the team stands.
The Carolina Panthers started 2018 strongly, winning six of their first eight games. They faltered down the stretch, however, losing seven games in the second half of their season. A key reason for this rough end to the year was injuries – seventeen Panthers players ended the season on injured reserve, with the offensive line and the secondary hit particularly hard – and there was a lack of depth to compensate for the missing players. What’s more, the team has already made personnel moves for this coming season, including letting go two experienced members of the secondary as part of what Ian Rapaport reported as a “youth movement” for the team.
Given the number of injuries and Rapaport’s characterization of the team’s recent personnel movements, this offseason could see a lot of change and activity for the Carolina Panthers. Will they rebound from 2018 or are further reversal and decline ahead? Is a more extensive rebuild underway? Only February 2020 holds the answer as to whether it’s rejuvenation, renovation, or recession for the Panthers in 2019.
When it comes to the Panthers roster, as the old saying goes, there is some good news, and some bad news. The good news is that there are some very talented players wearing black, Panther blue and silver uniforms. Quarterback Cam Newton, running back Christian McCaffrey and linebacker Luke Kuechly, among other Panthers, are some of the most dynamic and capable players in the league. The bad news is that too many Panthers were not in uniform last season due to injuries, including at times Newton and leading tight end Greg Olsen, and this revealed a lack of depth in Carolina beyond the star players.
What’s more concerning is that incomplete seasons are not isolated events for these key players. In the past five seasons, Newton and Kuechly have each played a full set of sixteen games only twice, and the formerly reliable Olsen has averaged only half a season’s worth of games over the past two years. Add in the retirement of defensive end Julius Peppers after the 2018 season, and recent years have not been good for team stalwarts and fan favorites. That said, there are some bright prospects for the team, notably the aforementioned McCaffrey and wide receiver DJ Moore. Despite 2018 being his first year in the league, Moore had the second highest number of catches and yards on the team – notably it was the running back McCaffrey who had the most receptions – and Pro Football Focus (PFF) ranked him very highly. PFF noted that Moore had the highest amount of yards after contact among wide receivers, rookie or otherwise.
Apart from McCaffrey and Moore, Carolina’s offense has so many questions that they could be an episode on Jeopardy. Newton is able with his arm and is arguably the most physical running quarterback in the league. His timetable to return after shoulder surgery in January is uncertain, however, and the team has to figure out how to protect him better to prevent more surgeries occurring in the future. Olsen went from nine seasons of playing in all sixteen games to appearing in only seven games in 2017 and nine games in 2018 and considered retiring. The Panthers reportedly liked what they saw from rookie Ian Thomas in 2018, but if Olsen is similarly limited in 2019, the tight end position is thin. The biggest question on offense, though, is the offensive line. Both starting tackles, Matt Kalil and Daryl Williams, were on injured reserve for nearly all of the season, and most of the remaining offensive linemen missed games. The uncertainty about the offensive line continues into the 2019 offseason, as Williams, center Ryan Kalil, left tackle Chris Clark, and backup right tackle Marshall Newhouse are all free agents, and it was recently reported that negotiations with Williams had stalled.
On defense, there are fewer questions but that doesn’t mean there has been better performance. By both yards and points, the Panthers defense ranked lower in the league than their offense, and in general ranked in the middle of the league or below. The defense ranked 15th in the league in yards allowed in and 19th by points allowed. It was better against the run than against the pass – 12th in the NFL in rush defense compared to 18th against the pass – which reflects the philosophy of Carolina’s coaches of focusing their defense on the line and then building from there. In general, this has meant the secondary has not been as effective as the front seven. That said, in 2018 the Panthers ranked 15th in the league in interceptions with thirteen picks but ranked all the way down at 27th for sacks with 35. Pass rushing remains a concern for the team going into 2019, although it’s in the back end that the team has made early moves, already releasing a couple of secondary veterans in cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Mike Adams. Rapaport framed these departures in the terms of the team going younger overall. The ineffectual play of the defensive backs, however, likely didn’t help.
Ron Rivera, in his eighth year in 2018 as head coach of the Panthers, arguably could have been on the hot seat for the team fading as the year went on. While the team was beset by injuries, all teams face injuries, and the coach is ultimately responsible for the depth of a team and the injuries revealed a lack of depth on the Panthers roster, especially at key positions. 2018 continued the up and down nature of Rivera’s tenure In Carolina. There have been no indications from the team that they are dissatisfied with Rivera, however, and he appears secure in his position going into 2019. On the bright side, if the Rivera rollercoaster is true to form in 2019, the Panthers will have a better season, although that’s obviously not a scientific analysis.
2018 was the first season with Norv Turner serving as the offensive coordinator. The Panthers offense improved markedly in passing yards, going from 192.3 yards per game (ypg), which ranked 28th in the league in 2017, to 239.8 ypg in 2018, good for 16th among NFL teams. This was a particularly notable achievement given the injuries to the offensive line. The increase in passing yards helped boost the offense overall from 19th in the NFL in 2017 with 323.7 ypg in total to 10th in 2018 with 373.2 ypg. Otherwise, the offense remained effectively static or declined slightly. In terms of points per game (ppg) the offense dipped slightly in 2018 to 23.1 ppg, down from 22.7 ppg in 2017, a minor drop from 12th in the league down to 14th. In 2018, Carolina rushed for an average of 133.5 ypg, which was a little more than the 131.4 ypg they had in 2017, although the ranking was the same in both years at fourth.
2018 was also the first year in the position for Carolina’s defensive coordinator, Eric Washington after Steve Wilks left to be the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. Unlike Turner, who was an external hire and new to the team, Washington has been with the team since the beginning of Rivera’s tenure, serving as the defensive line coach prior to last season. Despite the continuity in coaching, there was a considerable drop-off in defensive performance. In 2017, the Panthers defense allowed 317.1ypg and 20.4 ppg, and recorded 50 sacks, ranking in the league 7th, 11th and 3rd respectively. In 2018, they allowed 353.2 ypg and 23.9 ppg, and only accumulated 35 sacks, ranking respectively 18th, 19th and 27th. One area they did improve was interceptions, going from ten interceptions in 2017 to 13 in 2018. It may have only been a difference of three more picks but they jumped from 24th in the NFL to 15th. This decline in defensive effectiveness was likely influenced by the departures of long term Panther defensive end Charles Johnson and starting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, along with cornerback Daryl Worley and free safety Kurt Coleman, who were among Carolina’s leading tacklers in 2017. A number of the key personnel from that 2017 defense are still with the team, however, and Washington will need to improve the Panthers performance on his side of the football in 2019.
Despite it being only a month since Super Bowl LIII and the actual end of the 2018 season and a week away from the beginning of the active part of the 2019 offseason, there have been some changes in coaching at Carolina. Jim Skipper, who had been the team’s running back coach for fifteen of the last seventeen years, retired. He was succeeded by Jake Peetz, who has been an offensive assistant and analyst with other teams. Lance Taylor, the wide receivers coach, was let go in a move that surprised some and has been replaced by Jim Hostler, most recently a passing game coordinator for the Packers. Assistant Special Teams Coach Heath Farwell has moved on to become the Special Teams Coach for the Buffalo Bills, and he will be succeeded by former Panthers linebacker Ben Jacobs. Perry Fewell has been brought in from the Jacksonville Jaguars to coach the secondary, and last year’s defensive backs coach Richard Rodgers will now coach just the safeties. One Carolina coach has changed roles slightly. Defensive line coach Sam Mills III will now also serve as a game management coach to help Rivera with areas such as clock management, replay challenges, and other situational elements.
The Panthers are only one half of what is happening in their games. As the old saying goes, the enemy gets a vote, meaning Carolina’s opponents will influence their fortunes on the field. In order to best understand where the Panthers stand going into 2019, it is useful to examine which teams they will be facing in the upcoming season.
Coming up next – Scouting the division.