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Old Gold & Black

OPINION: Men’s Basketball just won’t back down
Abigail Taylor, Contributing writer • February 27, 2024

Keeping up with the NFL: Questions in Carolina

Keeping+up+with+the+NFL%3A+Questions+in+Carolina

By: James Barkley, Contributing Writer

It’s still early in the NFL season, but for now the Carolina Panthers do not look like the team they were a season ago when they won the NFC Championship. There’s always talk about teams suffering a potential super bowl “hangover,” but never did anyone anticipate the Panthers were going to enter week five at 1-3. Everyone knew the Panthers weren’t the same team this year as they were during their super bowl run last season as they lost some key players during the offseason. With all the drama that filled the offseason, the Panthers were among those teams with the departure of cornerback Josh Norman to Washington. It’s been a lurking question ever since last April as to whether Carolina’s secondary would be able to replace key players lost and pick up the slack.

Norman played no small part on the defense, providing four interceptions last season and continually playing a big role by shadowing the main receivers on opposing teams. We all remember the original Odell vs. Norman fiasco in 2015, but Norman also had big games in limiting Dez Bryant of the Dallas Cowboys and helping to contain Julio Jones of the Falcons. By the way Julio Jones just played against the Panthers secondary, it’s clear the Panthers are in a dangerous place. Carolina’s general manager Dave Gettleman stood by his decision to rescind the franchise tag from Josh Norman after stating that the two sides couldn’t meet terms for a long-term deal. Norman had no problem finding the money he wanted in Washington, by signing a five-year deal for $75 million with the Redskins, which included $50 million guaranteed and a $15 million signing bonus. With Norman sitting pretty with a fat check and with a new team, Carolina turned to the draft to find a replacement at corner. The answer came in the second round when the Panthers selected James Bradberry from Samford College, who won the starting corner job during training camp. With Bradberry starting on the outside, Bené Benwikere, who suffered a fractured leg last season, was able to stay in the slot. The initial hope was for the defensive line to create enough pressure so that the secondary wouldn’t become overwhelmed.

Now after a quarter of the current season has passed, the Panther’s defense is looking exposed. While the secondary did their part in week one against an inexperienced Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian behind center, the Panthers had trouble stopping the run. C.J. Anderson ran for 92 yards on 20 carries while also punching in one score. While the defense struggled in Denver, the offense did what it could to keep the team in the game but came up short by one point in the end after a missed field goal by Graham Gano.

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A matchup with the 49ers provided the Panthers with a needed bounce-back victory. Both sides of the ball looked sharp in this matchup as the Panthers won 46-27. One of the notable highlights for the defense was Bradberry’s first interception of the season. Carolina seemed to have figured things out as they looked to be back to their old form and looked to then take advantage of an injured Vikings team. However, even with Sam Bradford replacing Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson not playing, the Panthers didn’t have a way to stop the Vikings. Bradford was efficient in completing 64.3 percent of his passes for 171 yards and touchdown. The defense and offense struggled together in this matchup, especially the offensive line. Cam Newton was sacked a total of eight times in this matchup and the offense could not get anything going. The offensive line never has been the strongest part of the Panthers game, but rarely did it ever get in the way of the offense being able to produce, except for this game. Kelvin Benjamin was held to zero catches the entire game, ultimately summing up the day for Carolina. As the matchup with a surging Falcons team loomed, it seemed like the Panthers had more questions than answers.

And the answers weren’t found in Atlanta either. Two historical performances by Matt Ryan and Julio Jones have the Panthers reeling. Ryan completed 75.7 percent of his passes for 503 yards, 4 touchdowns and only 1 interception. Jones accounted for 300 of those yards and one touchdown. The Panthers really had no way to stop Jones, initially asking the rookie Bradberry to cover him, but after suffering a toe injury, Benwikere had to take over. Jones answered this change of coverage by smoking Benwikere for the majority of his yards for the day. This included taking a slant 75 yards to the house, while stiff-arming Benwikere with ease. The secondary had one interception off of a tipped ball returned for a touchdown by Kurt Coleman. The Panthers were set back again when Cam Newton suffered a concussion in the contest after getting hit on a two-point conversion right before entering the end zone. Backup Derek Anderson took over and almost led the Panthers to a successful comeback, but that all came crashing down with a pick six at the end to seal the deal for the Falcons.

While some are proclaiming the Carolina Panthers are finished for the season, there are still several games to be played.  The Panthers still have some favorable matchups that could help them get back on track, but they also have some big away games, like Seattle at night, to worry about. In the end, this is still a playoff caliber team and shouldn’t be counted out. Cam Newton is still Cam Newton and will continue to work his magic and fuel the Panthers offense. However, if the Panthers are to make a run and repeat as NFC Champions, the offensive line will need to do a better job of protecting Cam and changes will have to be made to a struggling secondary that needs to show more life against opposing teams.

 

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