The Carolina Panthers have all kinds of offensive weapons. So why are they ranked 17th in points per game (24.2) and 22nd in yards per game (361.8)? Why has quarterback Cam Newton only completed one pass of 20-plus yards in the first five games? Why are the Panthers dinking and dunking instead of looking for the deep ball?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good thing Newton’s completion percentage currently sits at a career-high 65.9. It’s a good thing his passer rating of 93.2 is the highest its been since his MVP season in 2015. It’s a good thing he’s doing a better job of going through his progressions and checking it down instead of heaving it long.
But with wide receivers like Curtis Samuel, DJ Moore, Damiere Byrd, Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright on the roster, the Panthers should be hitting more big plays down the field. It’s what they did with Ted Ginn Jr. and Corey Brown during their Super Bowl run three years ago. Now that they have even more speedsters at their disposal and an offensive coordinator like Norv Turner, they should be running up and down the field on teams.
The short passes are covered. Second-year running back Christian McCaffrey and veteran tight end Greg Olsen are going to catch just about everything thrown their way. No. 1 wide receiver Devin Funchess is also a big target Newton can go to in crunch time.
The Panthers have historically taken a ground-and-pound approach on offense, and it’s still a huge part of what they like to do. In fact, Carolina currently ranks fourth in rushing yards per game (139.4).
But the Panthers need to take more shots down the field. The Philadelphia Eagles have a banged-up secondary, making Sunday the perfect time to air it out.
Carolina’s offense has a ton of potential. In 2015, the Panthers were near the top of the NFL in both offense and defense. And while neither side of the ball is near that level yet, the pieces are certainly in place.
A strong rushing attack is a major plus. So is the ability to hit short to intermediate passes. But in a big-play league like the NFL, some of the best teams seem to be the ones who can score in seconds instead of minutes.
Just imagine how difficult it would be to beat a Panthers team that can strike quickly or grind it out. This year’s squad hasn’t proven it can do that just yet, and yet Carolina is still 3-2. But perhaps the Panthers could be 4-1 or even 5-0 if they had made a few more big plays.
There’s no going back and changing the past at this point, but the future could be very bright. The Panthers are already a competitive team as they have had a chance to win every game, but it’s going to take a little extra oomph for them to reach that next level.
The Panthers felt like an unstoppable juggernaut in 2015, but they haven’t been at or near that level since. This year, they finally seem to have the right personnel to get back into the league’s upper echelon.
On Sunday, they need to make sure that instead of “Fly, Eagles, Fly,” people are saying “Go, Panthers, Go.” Because despite injuries in their secondary, the 3-3 Eagles have still hung around and had a chance to win every game this season.
It’s not a must-win game for either team, but Philadelphia certainly doesn’t want to fall below .500 again. On the other side, Carolina doesn’t want to drop back to .500 for the first time since a Week 2 defeat.
Unless the Panthers are satisfied with hovering around .500 and having another so-so year, they need more variety on the offensive side of the ball. They won’t be able to keep up with the NFL’s top-tier teams if they don’t rediscover their big-play ability.