Three areas the Panthers can improve in to post a winning season in 2019
The Panthers started the 2018 season hot, going 6-2 through the first half of the season before the wheels fell off and the team finished 7-9.
How can the Panthers prevent that from happening again? Well it all starts with Cam Newton‘s health, as rehabbing his shoulder and getting back to 100% will be a major factor in the team’s success.
But Newton’s shoulder wasn’t the only issue that plagued the team last season. Here’s three other fixes the team should make before the 2019 season kicks off.
Winning NFC South Match-ups
A big part of the Panthers slide was an inability to beat division rivals – and it’s not just a one year trend. The Panthers haven’t posted a winning divisional record since 2015 and that ineptness has been a major issue. The Panthers lost to the lowly Buccaneers in December when Newton threw four interceptions, and were swept by the Falcons.
Struggles against the Falcons and Saints have marked this trend, as the Panthers have only two wins over the Falcons in the last four years and were eliminated from the playoffs in 2017 by the Saints on the road.
Division games will play a massive role in whether the Panthers can finish strong, as Carolina plays the Falcons and Saints in four of the final seven games of the season.
There wasn’t a single division winner with a losing divisional record last season and there hasn’t been one since the 2010 Chiefs, so it’s imperative the team right the ship in divisional games.
Improving the Special Teams
Probably not what you expected, considering kicker Graham Gano has been one of the better placekickers in the league, however there are several areas the Panthers can improve on. Consider these stats:
- 22nd in kickoff return yards
- 25th in punt return yards
- 29th in extra point accuracy
- 17th in punts downed inside the 20
The positives of course are that Gano is one of the best in the game and won Carolina at least one game last year with his foot, including converting a 63-yard game winner against the New York Giants. The numbers here point to a massive problem, which is that Carolina will struggle to win the field position battle as long as they struggle in the return game.
Getting after the Quarterback
The Carolina Panthers were not a good pass-rushing team in 2018. Carolina posted 35 total sacks, good for 27th in the NFL. This was a major factor in the team selecting defensive end Brian Burns out of Florida State in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
A good pass rush can cover up holes in the secondary and will be a major factor in whether the defense can improve past a bottom rung unit. The signing of Gerald McCoy is a massive addition as the big defensive tackle has 54.5 career sacks and would’ve ranked second on the Panthers in sacks behind only Mario Addison.
The combination of Burns and McCoy should boost the pass rush and greatly help out a weakened secondary.