Christmas Thoughts for Panthers 2019 are a mixed bag for ‘fruitcake’ 5-9

Would Christian McCaffrey tell you, “Honestly, this ugly sweater is going right to the bottom of any drawer I can find space,” if you’d gifted him so? Doubtful, but there’s no reason to believe he’s doing anything less than giving each game his best effort. As a team, there’s also no reason to believe otherwise, even if the defense was sliced and diced by Seattle, dropping the Panthers to 5-9.

Fruitcake season? Just because you hear someone say “It’s not that bad” doesn’t mean you want any more of it. (Gonna have to use that one again…)

Everyone will point to McCaffrey as a bright point in a sub-par season, but holy moley! DJ Moore has 86 catches for 1,174 (4 TD) in his second year. Nobody is “happy” with six straight losses, and yes, eyes goes naturally to Kyle Allen’s 15 INTs (and 3,027) yards as a replacement for Cam Newton after two games .

It wouldn’t be any glaring sign of giving up if 3rd round pick Will Grier got a chance at QB the last two games.

Its pretty certain the Panthers have had a look at Allen after twelve games. Rookie name of Gardner Minshaw II did fine in Jax’ville, its not like they’re clearing the bench to give everyone a couple plays to consider over the winter, but a time when Panther fans will hear about LOTS of changes.

KEY PLAYERS

Doesn’t everyone have a favorite nephew, whose exploits you like to remind others about? McCaffrey is obviously as productive as anyone you can think of, and if he gets 186 yards receiving the next two games, “The Legend-Weapon that is Cee Mac” will be firmly anchored.

Like the kid who demands Santa’s “sled” in the commercial, Dad saying, “He was pretty good this year,” is very legitimate. C-Mac needs those 186 yards to hit 1,000/1,000 level, so I hope that item gets wrapped up real nice and arrives, FedEx or whatever. You’ve heard only two guys have done that, so expect some serious effort to deny him.

Speaking of favorites, congratulations to Drew Brees, a GOAT of GOATS. *That* is a team needing one LESS maximum negative a play in the clutch at some point, but they’ll play an extra inspirational bit harder for that/Drew’s championship this year. Topper on the tree stuff.

Most would agree the O-line has done its bit. Despite constant churn at positions with injuries, McCaffrey doesn’t get all those yards himself. Allen does hold onto the ball at times, so while the line has given up quite a few sacks, eliminating throwing errors (one hopes), although his mistakes, including fumbles, have clearly hurt offensive production.

Curtis Samuel got some different looks in the Seattle game, and using him as a runner like they do with Moore is always intriguing, because he’s a bolt coming at defenders. If he continues to learn how to evade, he could become a devastating slot receiver. Whether Ian Thomas is able to take the tight end job after an Olsen retirement is open to question.

Joey Slye has made seven 50-yard plus field goals this year, but he also missed some kicks that cost games. Overall, do you return cheap gifts and maybe stick with a higher priced version, like a $17 million kicker? Ahhhh! Something has gotten into the egg nog…

The Newton question is the big package hidden in the closet. He may have everyone’s good thoughts for recovery, the question is whether his injury and style – as a passer, all he has is a fastball – and price tag work for 2020.

20190910_114439
Panther fans won’t be sure what they’re getting for 2020, but ‘D’ will need to look less undressed.

The Turner offense certainly put certain players (Moore, McCaffrey) on a very strong path, just like it was designed to, and with a relative newbie at the controls to boot. Newton was +10 pts. over his career passing percentage last year before the shoulder really crimped his production, is he really-really going to be “okay” (you know the commercial) when games count again?

If someone doesn’t pay for Allen to attend some serious camp committed to cutting down his turnovers (13 fumbles), its because he’s getting that proverbial hunk of coal on the way out.

Yes, there needs to be something small but appreciable in the “Running back, besides Christian M.” under the tree for Panther fans to rest assured he won’t be toast in two more years.

DEFENSE WAS LIT UP LIKE CHRISTMAS TREE

If Mr. Tepper keeps Eric Washington as Defensive Coordinator after the way the front was repeatedly gouged for yardage all year, it would be a massive surprise. While the sack total is back up to historical levels, and Kuechly is #3 in the league with 131 tackles (17 against Seattle), Chris Carson went for 133 yards and 2 TDs last week.

Stats: The Panthers have given up 386 points (27.6 ppg) thus far, ahead of only Miami20181223_220242 (29.6 ppg). Pitiful Cincinnati (325, 23.2) was #22: Cleveland and Indy were middle of the pack (311 pts/22.2 ppg); New England (157, 11.2 ppg leads the league).

In 2018, the Panthers started giving up 100 yard rushers regularly, and it hasn’t stopped. It was suggested that opposing QBs didn’t mind throwing against their secondary either, and an improved rush didn’t lessen effectiveness going long. Whether the 3-4 alignment or standard 4-3 is better will require examining the potential of 2nd, 3rd year players like Brian Burns and Marquis Haynes.

Eric Reed was every bit the hitter they wanted at safety and run support, but a lot of people (not just Falcons, Saints; Jax had a receiver get 2-60 yard gains out of 383 total v. Panthers) seemed to be running free far too often. Give Dante Jackson credit for “make up speed” and no lack of confidence, but even when he gets there, people are still making catches. With expectations that he will blossom into the A-1 cover guy Panthers obviously need in 2020, lets hope the Big Boy pants under the tree fit right, or he acquires ‘sticky’ vs. anything figgy by next season.

Shaq Thompson is the speed linebacker many expected him to be with more playing time, but Dontari Poe doesn’t appear to¬† be a run stopper by any $9 million definition, and I didn’t hear Butler’s name often, that probably can’t stand either. Mario Addison might be trade bait after another decline in sacks.

While Fewell got the nod for interim coach, as the coach of secondary, he might not be around for New Years either.

If some Panther stockings are still hung by the chimney with care after New Year’s, look for when “Bonus $$ for on roster – (X date)” about decision time. James Bradbury’s stocking has something in it, hopefully a situation he can share with Ross Cockrell, who had a quietly good year after a broken leg kept him out all of 2018. Most probably its just a thank you for keeping things respectable with most receivers.

Nobody wants to see Greg Olsen ride off into the sunset (with or without a Man of Year award), it will be up to him and family to decide whether 2019 was enough.

Philosophically and realistically speaking, its going to be an uncomfortable winter for Panther fans. Mr. Tepper has big plans for his soccer franchise, but his NFL franchise will need considerable tending too.

 

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