Fowler: Is the Panthers offense simply not good enough?

sfowler@charlotteobserver.comSeptember 9, 2013 

On Sunday, the Carolina Panthers offense never threw the ball deep, never gained more than 30 yards on a single play, never had its No.2 receiver touch the ball and never scored a point after halftime.

Other than that, the offense wasn’t bad.

Thank the heavens for Jacksonville, because without the Jaguars the Panthers would have scored fewer points in their season opener than any other NFL team Sunday. The Jaguars scored only on a safety in a 28-2 loss, but Carolina wasn’t much better than that in a 12-7 loss to Seattle.

Part of that is that Seattle’s defense is very good. But part of it also is that the Panthers still haven’t surrounded quarterback Cam Newton with enough difference-making players. That lack of weaponry – coupled with an inherent conservative streak that must be curtailed – combined as large factors in the Panthers’ frustrating loss to the Seahawks.

Coach Ron Rivera agreed Monday with a reporter’s question about the offense being too conservative Sunday and said Carolina needed to do better in terms of “getting the ball vertical.” Amen to that.

Offensive coordinator Mike Shula did not have a good debut in his new role. Breakaway threat Ted Ginn Jr., the team’s No.3 wideout, was targeted only once on a 10-yard route. No.2 wideout Brandon LaFell officially wasn’t thrown to at all. He did have an overthrown deep ball go his way but the play was wiped out because of a holding penalty on Carolina. And Rivera skipped out on a couple of fourth-and-short opportunities in favor of the old John Fox favorite – the punt.

The Panthers can’t waste defensive performances like that and become a winning team.

“I thought the defense played really well,” center Ryan Kalil said. “Couldn’t ask for anything more. We’ve got to put up more than seven points. That’s the bottom line.”

Newton’s career-low 125 yards passing was the sort of number Jimmy Clausen used to post in the 2-14 dog days of 2010. The Panthers did run the ball well Sunday, with 26 carries for 134 yards, but where did that get them?

Ultimately, it got Carolina to 0-1, which also is where they began 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

One game doesn’t define a season, and don’t forget that three of the four teams in the NFC South are 0-1. But get this: Since 1990, NFL teams that have started 0-2 have made the playoffs only 11.6percent of the time.

If the Panthers lose a very winnable game Sunday at Buffalo, they already will be in a very deep hole.

One more stat for you: Last year in the NFL playoff quarterfinals, the eight teams remaining all scored at least 28 points in their respective games. That’s what the NFL has come to. With all the dazzling offensive players and all the offensive-minded rules, the best teams almost always are going to score in the 20s even if you have a good defense.

Can Carolina get into the 20s itself? Not if it has only one play of more than 20 yards, which was the case Sunday.

It is true that more points were probably coming until DeAngelo Williams fumbled the ball inside the Seattle 10 on the Panthers’ final possession.

As Williams said, “I coughed the ball up and I cost my team. This won’t be a headline for the rest of the year. It will be a headline for this game, and then we’ll move on and get better.”

Maybe that’s right. But it’s also quite conceivable that the headline for the 2013 Panthers will be that their offense just isn’t good enough.

Fowler: sfowler@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @scott_fowler

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