2012 Season Recap
Six weeks before the season, sixth-year center Ryan Kalil set the bar high in a full-page ad in
Most of the blame for Carolina's frustrating first half was assigned to Cam Newton, while the eroding depth at several key positions -- most of them on the defensive side -- was largely ignored. Newton was criticized for fumbling away late chances to beat the Falcons, Seahawks and Cowboys. Then, he was criticized some more for taking losses too personally, not focusing on football during the Panthers' bye week and calling a reporter "sweetheart." Newton's immaturity once again became a suffocating storyline, one best summed up in two words: "suggestion box." When general manager Marty Hurney was fired on Oct. 22 with the team at 1-5, the assumption was that Newton's own calls for "change real fast" was the cause -- and not the salary cap bind in which Hurney's penchant for overpaying for homegrown players had put the Panthers.
In the minds of most, the 2-8 mark was where the Panthers' season ended. But they improved from that point on, winning five of their last six on the way to a runner-up finish in the NFC South. (The game that got away? Week 13 at Kansas City, an emotional tsunami of a contest played against the
Stat To Feel Good About
If It Ain't Broke ...
Stick with the read-option, which was less broken than bogged down by Newton's lack of freedom at the line of scrimmage. The fact that Newton has run and passed for 7,546 yards and 48 touchdowns despite intense restrictions on audibling says volumes about his immense talent. It says even more about coordinator Rob Chudzinski; he went from a play caller who influenced offenses in San Francisco and Washington to a play caller whose offense failed to score more than 14 points in six of the Panthers' first 10 games. Replacing him with quarterbacks coach Mike Shula could be the move that keeps Rivera in Charlotte beyond 2013.
Must Fix It
The running game, which would seem to negate the case for the read option stated above. There is a need for more variety, and an end to the Panthers' days of lining up in the shotgun to get two yards or fewer. Carolina's decision to start mixing in more traditional run formations with the read-option played a large role in the team's 5-3 second-half turnaround. Look for the power/jumbo packages to increase under Shula, who made Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn the ultimate rushing combo while the offensive coordinator in Tampa. When used properly, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert are the most dangerous backfield in football.
More On The To-Do List
What We'll Be Saying In July
The same things we did last July: that they will be a sleeper pick for the playoffs -- only this time the hype will be justified, if hushed to start. The running backs will be so certain in their movements once the ball smacks them in the gut, they'll seem as if they're being shot out of a cannon. Newton will take snaps from under center, and look comfortable doing it. The descriptions of the relationship between Newton and Shula will veer into Joe Montana-Bill Walsh territory.
If any unit seems vulnerable to a crisis of confidence, it's the defense. Tackle Dwan Edwards was an afterthought signing who became a steadying force on a line that was in constant flux. He matched a career high in tackles (52) and registered more sacks last season (6.0) than in his previous seven (5.5). He seems like exactly the kind of player that GM Dave Gettleman would