A 3-0 start is a fry car from where we currently find the Carolina Panthers. With four consecutive losses, an army of skeptics have arisen from the ashes to share their displeasures with all that has gone wrong in the last calendar month for Matt Rhule’s group. A team once looked upon as a unit primed to stay on the hip of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the race for the NFC South crown has quickly fallen below .500 and into the cellar of their division.
With Rhule at the helm in his second campaign pressing the buttons, Carolina entered the fall with extreme optimism, and rightly so. And while I’ll be the first to say that Carolina had all the makings of a team primed to make a postseason run prior to their unblemished start, the loss of do-it-all (and more) running back Christian McCaffrey has seen the Panthers quickly fall back to reality. A talent at the forefront of an offense unlike any in the NFL, McCaffrey’s inability to stay healthy has once again caused a ripple effect within the overall scope of Carolina’s offensive attack. While Carolina by no means lit up the scoreboard in its first three games with the All-Pro in uniform, since his departure, Sam Darnold has been, well, Sam Darnold, and an offensive group littered with talent has invited substandard play and an uninspired locker room.
Similar to the role Derrick Henry serves for the Tennessee Titans, opposing defensive coordinators gameplan with McCaffrey at the top of their game notes. A unique talent who’s proven to be one of the league’s most dynamic weapons, his prowess both inside the tackles on the ground and in space in the passing game presents a nightmare to counter when healthy. The straw that has stirred the Panthers’ offense since his arrival in 2017, the formula for Carolina’s offensive success isn’t one of mystery.
Get the ball to No. 22 and let him work.
But, as the old saying goes, the “best ability is availability”, and through seven games, McCaffrey has once again found himself donning street clothes more often than a Panthers uni.
The fact Darnold looked as if he’d enjoyed a career revival with McCaffrey alongside him is proof of just how special a player the former Stanford product is. Without him, Darnold has returned to his ugly ways that we saw far too often with the New York Jets, and a skill set that looks completely inept to lead an NFL roster to success has become the overshadowing elephant in the room for Carolina.
There are multiple factors that come into play here, but the simple fact is Darnold is simply not doing enough in all facets, which led to his benching this past week in a 25-3 loss to the now 2-5 New York Giants. And while the team was initially rumored to have interest in Deshaun Watson (since been denied) before the trade deadline, which in turn would present a hefty amount of baggage to account for, the Panthers have found themselves in quite the dilemma near the midway point of the season. Their limitations as a roster have hinged on the over-reliance of McCaffrey’s ability, and for an organization on the heels of one of their most optimistic offseasons, Carolina must find a way to execute Plan B if they ever hope to return to early season form. With the second-toughest remaining strength of schedule of any team in football, Rhule’s ability to re-command his locker room and get his Panthers back on the rails could have a massive impact toward the future for one of the league’s most youth-infused rosters.
- Sep 24, 2023
- Sep 22, 2023