For the Carolina Panthers, It's Time to Panic

The Panthers are an average 2-2 team, but given their upcoming schedule, things could start getting ugly.

With the season only a quarter over, many teams have already begun making sweeping changes. The Oakland Raiders have fired head coach Dennis Allen, the Buffalo Bills have benched EJ Manuel for Kyle Orton, and the Jacksonville Jaguars have already moved on to rookie quarterback Blake Bortles.

Though it seems like we were all preparing for fantasy drafts just yesterday, given the short 16-game season, coaches and teams are already feeling the itch to hit the panic button.

With that said, it appears the Carolina Panthers have somewhat stayed out of the negative limelight. No real sweeping changes have been made, as a solid 2013 season may have bought some time for the team and coach Ron Rivera.

Many projected Carolina to be bad in 2014 - for a variety of reasons - but two wins in their first two games sort of squashed a lot of those predictions. However, the last two weeks have brought the Panthers back to .500, allowing 75 points during the stretch. Carolina has been on a downward slide since Week 2, and unfortunately for Panthers fans, the trend shows no real signs of slowing down.

The Numbers Through One Quarter

Below is a table charting Carolina's Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP), as well as how well they've performed offensively throwing and running the football. You can read up on Net Expected Points and what it means in our glossary.

Adjusted NEP per Play0.0720th
Per Drop Back0.246th
Per Rush-0.2232th

Surprisingly, the passing game hasn't been awful at all. The rushing game, however, has been worst in the league, bringing the Panthers back down into the bottom half of the league overall on offense.

That's not much of a shock - Cam Newton is 10th in the league in Passing NEP among all quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs, despite missing Week 1. The success passing the ball has translated to Cam's wide receivers - among the 142 players with at least 12 targets this year, Jerricho Cotchery ranks 12th in Reception NEP per target, and teammate Kelvin Benjamin ranks 14th.

What's been a little troubling is that Cam Netwon - injury or otherwise - hasn't really run the ball as much as both fantasy owners and probably Panthers fans have wanted. Cam's seven carries over three games is his lowest total rushing attempts in any three-game period of his career, and the run game overall has suffered as a result. As noted above, the Panthers have the lowest Adjusted Rushing NEP per rush as a team in the league (which would correct for strength of opposition). Newton has stayed mostly in the pocket, leaving the rushing load to Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.

In 2014, Stewart has been one of the league's least effective backs per carry. Among all players with at least 25 rushes this season (59), Stewart is posting the second-worst Success Rate (the percentage of rushes that are a net positive for his team) in the league, ahead of only Donald Brown.

Per rush, Stewart's partner in the backfield, DeAngelo Williams, doesn't help the cause. Among the same 59 players with at least 25 rushes this year, Williams ranks 40th in Rushing NEP per rush. Stewart ranks 54th.

I don't think many expected the offense to be the reason for potential Carolina success in 2014 though. Rather, it was supposed to be the stout defense. Below are the same numbers in the table above, only flipped around for defense. In the table, keep in mind that a high NEP is bad, as it indicates that the team allowed opponents to perform above expectation per play.

Adjusted Defensive NEP per Play0.1224th
Per Dropback0.1113th
Per Rush0.0925th

The pass defense has been somewhat passable, but as you can see, the adjusted rank against the run has been one of the worst in the league. So far this year, in total, Carolina's defense ranks 24th. A season ago, according to our adjusted metrics, the Panthers ranked third.

A Look Ahead

The problem for Carolina moving forward is that their schedule is pretty tough. Below is a chart with the Panthers' next seven opponents, including where they rank both offensively and defensively according to our metrics.

TeamOffensive RankDefensive Rank
at Cincinatti8th2nd
at Green Bay14th28th
New Orleans3rd31st
at Philadelphia22nd4th

Over the next seven weeks, the Panthers will face each of the top three most efficient offenses (Atlanta, Seattle, and New Orleans) and two top-10 defenses (Seattle and Philadelphia). While it appears they have a few games where they are able to score points (Green Bay, New Orleans, and Atlanta), two of those games are against two of the best offenses in the league, and the third is against Aaron Rodgers. These next seven games, all occurring before (and up until) Carolina's bye week, are extremely tough matchups. If the offense continues going as it goes, they'll be fortunate to escape with even three wins over their next seven.

With this rough patch coming up, and without a bye week to cure what ails Cam Newton, Panthers fans should be worried. The defense just hasn't continued their play from 2013, and while the passing game has been a bright spot so far, the running game (or complete lack thereof) has caused a ton of issues for Carolina. While Riverboat Ron and his staff might not necessarily be on the hot seat, there is definitely cause for concern in Carolina.