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A Deeper Offense

Week one in the preseason is less than a week away and I can’t be more excited. This emotion is closely coupled with an extreme nervousness at hearing the news about our recently injured DT Ron Edwards. Last year’s defense did pretty well considering our offensive struggles. This year it is a different story with Chudzinski hopefully opening up the playbook a little and an open-minded Rivera looking to turn our team of woes into a team of heroes. Panther fans have posted many optimistic comments about what they have seen with Cam and the new offensive scheme, but impressive plays at practice are a far cry from guaranteed points on the gridiron.

In the running game, you can expect to see a lot of the same action that we’ve seen in previous years from the Williams/Stewart tandem. Individually, their production is sufficient. Together, they could be unstoppable. Staying healthy is a concern, but with options in the passing game there won’t be as much pressure for them belt out those 15 and 20 yard plays.  They will just happen naturally. If there is any doubt about our running game I urge you to refer to the 2009 season for clarity

2009 is not 2011 and last year can hardly be considered a year for numbers and records. What we did see last year was a huge contribution by young RB Mike Goodsen, who had himself a breakout year with 452 yards and 3 TD’s. These numbers were achieved with an offense that barely reached 15 points a game. If injuries are a threat to plague our offense, we still have some depth in the running game to ease the pain. I really can’t say enough about the Panther running game. I predict significant yardage and at least 2 TD’s per game.

Next is the passing game. It is the most skeptical portion of the Panther offense and is also the most critical. At the moment, nobody knows who will be the starting QB. Based on the snap count from recent practices, we can guess that Derek Anderson is not expected to be that guy. Clausen had a very disappointing season last year and will be looking to make some serious adjustments. Cam, as the rookie QB, will have to make long strides in his development to become what the franchise is hoping he will be. All in all, things look pretty bleak for an overly successful passing game.

However, consistency is the only thing that we need from our QB and it does not need to be in the form of a 70 yard TD in the last 2 minutes of every game. With the amount of yardage that the running game should produce, we need only create a threat with passes, enough to keep opponent defenses guessing. Along with converting 3rd down conversions, limiting turnovers will be a must. This includes the ability to turn a potential sack into some yards, which Cam may be able to do should he prove to have that leadership quality. Having a QB that can also run will be a refreshing difference from any other QB that we’ve had throughout Panther history. Really, we only need 5 yards per every 4 downs from the pass. This will keep us moving and give our RB’s enough wiggle room to make a big run downfield. I predict at least 1 endzone TD per game.

As we have all seen lately, one of the things that could really tip the scales in the 2011 season is the core of receivers and TE’s. Currently there are several WR’s competing for a spot alongside veteran Steve Smith. Armanti Edwards has made some great progress, but camp is nothing like the big show. LaFell and Gettis both had decent numbers last year in the midst of an almost non-existent passing game. Legadu Naanee is the most recent addition to this group, hailing from San Diego and coming to Carolina with 371 yards in 23 receptions and 3 TD’s. Not  incredible numbers by any means, but enough to keep defenses working. Overall, we should have enough firepower to connect several plays through the air. Here I predict around average yardage and 1 TD per game.

Something that the Panthers have been lacking in recent years in a serious threat at the tight end position. This year there will be two in Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey. Olsen is said to have some of the best hands in the NFL and could potentially play as a WR, but clearly he is better used at TE. Shockey has proven himself time and again to be a championship class player with an aggressiveness that demands respect. Refer to last year’s highlights if you need a reminder  As a fellow former Miami TE, offensive coordinator and TE coach, Rob Chudzinski hopes to make an impact by opening the playbook options, especially in the endzone. As long as we have a QB that can handle short passes and sideline routes we should see plenty of action at the TE position. I predict several yards and at least 1 TD per game.

Finally, in a questionable dismissal of Panther legend John Kasay, Olindo Mare will be taking the reigns at kicker. His 16 years of league experience and 1,420 career points (106 points last season) demonstrate a solid potential for long field goals and touchbacks. Since the kick off line as been changed from the 30 to the 35 yard line, many special teams will be awarded with touchbacks. With Mare’s history of consistency and a career long of 54 yards, there is no reason to think that he won’t perform where needed. I predict a potential 9 points per game.

Despite not having a solid QB over the past few years, if you look at the some of the numbers that the Panthers have achieved in the last few years, things look pretty good since we have maintained most of that same core of players. Sadly, numbers alone don’t win games. Potentially the Panthers can score an average of 4 TD’s per game and, if we can slip in a few special plays here and there, maybe more. Things are heavily dependent on how it works out with the QB situation. If the defense can continue to hold teams to 25 points or less, we should see a significant change in the right direction.

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