What’s in store for your franchise in 2022? Adam Rank sets the table, providing an overview of the state of the franchise for all 32 teams, focusing on key figures to keep an eye on and setting the stakes for the upcoming season.
Panthers members, Panthers fans around the world and those who need freeze, son!
It was a difficult time for our friends in Carolina. The Panthers have finished with five wins in each of their last three seasons. In the previous 24 seasons of their existence, they have scored five victories or even less. three once. Can Carolina get six wins in 2022? Damn, playoff challenge? Let’s take a look.
One high from last season: Start 3-0. Does anyone remember this? I mean of course you do if you are a Panther fan. But the casual observer may not remember the 3-0 score or the fact that at some point the team was 5-5.
Cons of last season: Fall from 5-5 to 5-12. That’s pretty much all there is to say about how 2021 ended.
Head Coach: Matt Rule. He came into the league with a lot of fanfare from Baylor in 2020 and we root for him because we’re not terrible people. But while there have been flare-ups, including that big start last season, the results have mostly not been consistent so far. Rule is clearly trying – I mean, the dude let his players kick soccer balls at him, which was pretty cool. (Though I’m a little worried about Sam Darnold kick is here. Yes, throwing is a more important skill, but you’re from Orange County, man. be a little better)
All this suggests that we need to finally see success on the field. Joe Brady was fired as offensive coordinator at the height of last season and was taken over by Ben McAdoo during the offseason. On the one hand, the last time McAdoo played this role with the Giants in 2014 and 2015, his offense ranked 10th and 8th in yards and 13th and 6th in points, respectively. But on the other hand, it brings new system for the quarterbacks to learn, and he’ll be the third vote in two seasons, counting Brady and acting head coach Jeff Nixon. Rule’s long-term safety could improve if the offensive approach – and the quarterback – finally took hold. Speaking of…
Defender: Sam Darnold. Sam is my boyfriend. I’m really rooting for him. But McAdoo will be Darnold’s fifth offensive coordinator of his NFL career (including Nixon and Brady last season, and Dowell Loggains and Jeremy Bates during his tenure with the Jets). It’s hard to be truly successful when you jump around like that between coordinators. Last season, after the Jets (who started the organizational reset) traded him to the Carolinas, he posted a career-low passer rating of 71.9 (29th in the NFL). Although Darnold has lost several games with a shoulder blade injury, he has been intercepted enough times (13) to keep him among the NFL leaders over the past four seasons – with 52 picks, he is second in the league over that period.
Rule hasn’t been shy about trying his hand at center, starting with 2020 rookie Teddy Bridgewater, Cam Newton (whose triumphant return to the franchise as Darnold’s replacement after an injury last season ultimately fell through), PJ Walker and Darnold. During this year’s draft, Carolina came out and added Matt Corral in the third round. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, meanwhile, looms as potential exchange option.
Rule recently said that Darnold would have been in the starting lineup had the season started today. However, it is not. And it’s fair to wonder how much space Darnold has at the moment. The Panthers exercised his fifth-year option last year by extending his rookie contract until 2022, but it would be a miracle if he could secure a contract extension after that. With Rule seemingly under pressure to increase his win total, and with Corral in the lineup, Sam has to come out of the gate swinging. He did it last year, showing some of the ability that made him the top pick. He is very athletic despite his football kick and can play several rallies. He just has to put it all together.
Predicted MVP 2022: Christian McCaffreyon the way back. From 2017-19, in his first three seasons in the NFL, CMC didn’t miss a game and during that time he led the NFL with 5,443 rushing yards. The problem was the 23 games he missed in the last two years. As Carolina’s stats show with him (4-3) last season and without him (1-9), if this team wants to succeed in 2022, McCaffrey will be the driver.
New face to know: D’Onta Foreman running back. The Panthers signed him to a $2 million friendly deal that offseason. And I know fantasy fans will be worried that he will be the handcuff for CMC, but honestly, Foreman just has to play a role on this team, even if McCaffrey stays healthy. Foreman is a different style of runner, someone who can take on some of the dirty work between tackles and help keep McCaffrey fresh.
Breakout star 2022: Yetur Gross-Matos, defender. This is a key season for the former second-round pick. He’s been a good rusher for the Panthers, but he’s never had his breakout moment yet, hitting just six sacks and 21 rushes in two seasons with the team. But last year’s sack leader, Haason Reddick, signed with Philadelphia, meaning Reddick will look to join consistent scoring Brian Burns (25.5 sacks in three seasons) in the passing race.
Three key dates:
- Week 1 vs. Cleveland Browns. Whatever happened to Baker Mayfield, there’s a lot of juice in this matchup as the Panthers lost in a draw to Deshawn Watson. Even if Watson doesn’t play, the Browns have enough talent to serve as a good early test.
- Week 5 vs. San Francisco 49ers. An almost impossible stretch of time begins as the Panthers take on the 49ers, travel to Los Angeles to play the world champion Rams, and then take on the previous Super Bowl winners, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Phew.
- Week 8 at Atlanta Falcons. Some relief for the Panthers comes in the first of two games against the Falcons. After a date with the Bengals in week 9, Carolina gets Atlanta again in week 10, this time at home. Maybe this is where the Panthers can escape?
Can the Panthers…
… restore order in the defense in the red zone? The Panthers finished second in overall defense in 2021. They passed just over 300 yards per game. This is great. But they couldn’t stop anyone in the red zone, where the opposition were scoring 67.3% touchdowns (29th in the NFL), leaving Carolina 23.8 points per game to lose (21st). So maybe the defense wasn’t as good as the second overall rating suggests. Perhaps the reason they didn’t give up a lot of yards was because the Panthers’ offense was so generous with distributions (Carolina scored 29, second in the NFL), resulting in shorter opposing offense fields. I’m not trying to break through the defense. The Panthers were 5-0 in games where they allowed under 15 points. But the team was under intense pressure to be perfect, given the team’s record of 15 or more points (0-12 – the Panthers were the only team not to lose in such games last season).