After Sunday’s game against the Patriots, Carolina will have successfully completed a quarter of their season. Logic says that a trip up to Foxboro to take on Tom Brady will result in a loss and a subsequent 2-2 record. Being .500 after four games in the NFL certainly isn’t a death sentence, but with the way other teams in the division (namely the Falcons) are playing, the margin for error is pretty thin going forward.
If there is anything that Panther fans can lean on for optimism going into this week’s game, it’s that the New England defense is absolutely awful. New England’s defense ranks at the bottom of the league in most major statistical categories and are on pace for a historically bad season. They lack the personnel to get good push up front and there simply aren’t enough to playmakers on the backend to compensate for the difference. The Pats have been especially vulnerable when it comes to defending backs like McCaffrey who can dice you up with receiving yards out of the backfield or in the slot. Carolina and Shula have proved to be unafraid to feed CMC the rock early and often so I expect he will be pretty involved throughout the day.
The problem though for Carolina has been their inability to capitalize on scoring opportunities regardless of whether they’ve played a bad defense or not. Cam Newton is clearly not 100% coming off his shoulder surgery. Even if the shoulder itself is healthy, his timing and reads that he’s making are behind, off or completely nonexistent. As much as we can pass some blame around to Shula for lackluster play calling, the offensive line for lack of protection, etc. Cam has and deserves a decent amount of criticism. He has missed multiple plays that, as a starting QB in the NFL, you should never miss and more often than not, those misses would have either been scores or a big gain down the field.
As good as the defense is, they’re not invincible. Drew Brees proved that last Sunday as he picked them apart for four quarters. Rivera has often relied on the defense to win games for him during his tenure, but frankly, if Cam and the offense can’t get points, then the pressure on the defense to perform every time out is too much.
I’m as concerned as anyone about Cam’s performance this season. I’m still firmly on his bandwagon because the guy is simply too talented to not rebound at some point. However, if Rivera is insistent on limiting Cam’s running opportunities to protect him, but his shoulder isn’t fully back from rehab then it’s going to be hard for Carolina to outscore their opponents on a weekly basis.
Losses in the NFL typically spark overreaction so the Saints game may end up being an anomaly, but fans will definitely need to see strides from the offense against an absolutely awful defense. Even if the team loses, but the offense proves they can score, then we should feel better going into the second quarter of the season. If Carolina continues their trend, then there will be some hard questions to answer on Monday.