Since 2011, a Carolina Panthers loss immediately kicks off the infuriating, ever changing cycle of where to place the blame for the result. Last night's 28-23 grueling loss at Bank of America Stadium to the Philadelphia Eagles was the latest example. In a game that included a literal inability to run the football, some questionable time management, mind blowing playcalls and straight up poor play and execution, it gets a little more foggy and begs the question; What is it that really prevents the Panthers from having a consistent offense?
1. CAM NEWTON
You knew that was coming. No one loses the 'blame game' from the critics quicker than Cam. The reality is Cam put his body on the line for the Panthers Thursday night being not only their leading rusher, but literally their only rusher. With the inability for Panthers RBs to even get back to the line of scrimmage, Cam put the rushing game on his back while also throwing a mind blowing 52 passes in the affair and was significantly pressured on just about half of them. Looking at it statistically within his 45.1 graded performance by PFF, Cam put up 3 INTs (even though he probably should have had a few more) but the ones on the stat sheet can't all be his fault. In the example below, a huge game changing INT for the Eagles that arguably could have been a first down really had little to do with Cam himself.
The final two drives of the game were a different story. Getting the ball back with a chance to win the game, the Panthers threw deep three times in a row from close to mid field. The first two were essentially uncatchable misses with the third being easily intercepted on a play where very few Panthers were on the same page. In addition, Panthers receivers dropped six very catchable passes from Newton not making things any easier. While Cam made some exceptional throws in this game, my phone immediately blew up with questions as to why he was throwing deep three times in a row with plenty of time left in the game, but you also have to point out that all three receivers were simply running deep routes too? The craziest part about this too is why is your QB who just came off shoulder surgery throwing deep after he just aggravated his shoulder and furthermore 52 passes in a game?! What's going on here, I thought we were past this offense? With all that said, I don't see how you can pin the overall loss on Cam alone who was a reason they were even in the game in the first place. Final two drives? Fine.
2. mike shula
Another favorite in the blame game; Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula. At key points in the game NFL Network analyst and former Panthers WR Steve Smith Sr. did not hold back his feelings on the creativity of the Panthers play caller and his ability to pull out a close game.
He's got a point.
In two separate times to win the game, the Panthers choice of plays were very questionable. For instance, the Panthers literally didn't get back to the line of scrimmage on a RB sweep all night yet Mike thought that late in the game would be a good time to give it another try? Third time is not a charm with this play when your running game is having a night that would be even difficult to replicate in Madden. The most scrutiny of Mike for me comes down to the final two plays in the game. With the Panthers needing just 1 yard on 3rd down in the final drive for a first down, Shula completely ignored the fact that he has one of the most effective short yardage weapons in the NFL twice and dialed up two interesting short passes to Ed Dickson and Christian McCaffrey that were both defended well and fell incomplete handing the Panthers their second loss of the season. Also, at numerous times throughout this game the Panthers showed a lot of the haunting 2 WR set runs from the shotgun keeping them in long 2nd downs, something that they have been able to avoid thus far in 2017.
3. JOnathan Stewart / rushing game
It's no secret that Stewart has been less than effective in 2017, but his struggles couldn't have been more apparent on Thursday. Stewart had a whopping -4 yards on the ground on 8 carries with 0 receptions and essentially a caused interception. Putting it into perspective, you can sum up his entire play on Thursday by saying "He lost a half a yard every time he touched the ball, and turned the ball over....and well that’s it.". Panthers fans aren't used to placing much blame on Stew and the running game over the years, but this one was pretty hard to swallow. To be fair though, the entire team's rushing stats aren't much better and begs more serious questions that don't really have a clear answer. Why can't Carolina run the ball? Is it Ryan Kalil's void or something more with the line? Is it the ball carriers or play calls?
4. Thursday night football
I never want to see the Panthers in the color rush uniforms again. Let's bring back the all black uniforms for the hell of it for the next one. Everyone knows Thursday Night Football is messy and dangerous and I personally think the bad outweighs the good, but don't see it going away unfortunately. This is the second time Panthers fans have had to cringe while Luke Kuechly left Thursday night's game with possibly his third concussion in three years while also seeing other players go down over the years due to the lack of typical rest. Although the Panthers defense locked in last night and made big stops, football wise the absence of Luke creates an entirely different defense for opposing teams. More importantly however, a player's personal life always outweighs the sport and we all wish Luke the best going forward. In addition, Thursday night games seem to destroy home fans attendance at BOA. A once "unbeatable at home" Panthers have not been able to snag a win there this year with many season ticket owners allowing other team’s fans to fill the beloved blue seats. According to many fans and reporters (and also from the audible chants of DEFENSE while Carolina had the ball) last night was far from a home game for the Panthers.
5. Ron rivera
The Riverboat Ron nickname was cool for a bit, but not so much when the Panthers aren't successful from the calls. Twitter was set ablaze last night regarding two decisions Ron made from the sideline that may or may not have played a role in the outcome. The first came on the decision to try a 58 yard field goal or not before the half in a 10-10 game. Two weeks ago, we saw the Patriots in a similar position and Stephen Gostkowski put it through making it the longest of his NFL career and brought the Patriots 3 points closer. As the clock wound down Thursday, Rivera didn't think this was the time for that gamble. Instead of giving the kick a shot, the Panthers ran an interesting play that left a dangerous pass short of the end zone and took their 10-10 tie to the half. Twitter was split on the decision where some saw no risk in seeing if Gano (who has a career long of 59) had it in him and those who agreed with limiting the risk of this being blocked and/or returned for Eagles points. I see both sides of this, but honestly I think I would have liked to see Gano get the nod here. If Gano was able to make the low percentage kick, the scoring strategy of this game could change completely.
The second questionable call came on a challenge where Cam Newton put his body on the line (possibly reinjuring his shoulder by the way) leaping MJ style from the five yard line to put the ball in the end zone for a TD which was ruled down at the 1. With many replay reviews, Cam 100% scored here which may have made the decision easier for Ron, but nonetheless down two scores with three priceless timeouts "Riverboat" threw the challenge flag and lost one of them. The Panthers would go on to score quickly anyway which made a number of folks question why even challenge this even if he was in? Many would suggest with four fresh tries from the 1 and the clock stopped, just take the spot, keep the timeout and score on the next play. This call wasn't really scrutinized as much as I expected from the broadcast team, but having another timeout on the final Panthers drive(s) could have been game changing. It's also totally possible the Panthers were screwed either way.
Whatever this blame game outcome is, let’s just hope like today’s Friday the 13th, it doesn’t come back around for the Panthers too often.