With the Panthers due to start training camp in the coming weeks – and the rest of the NFL for that matter – now is very much a period of optimism for fans around the league – even Browns fans think they might have a chance this year. However, while there are going to be teams who live up to most, if not all, of their fans’ expectations, there are also going to be teams which never quite deliver on the promise they showed on paper in early July.
Of course, as the Panthers know only too well, the trajectory of a team can change drastically mid-season, but for many teams, the tale of the season begins to get told during training camp, with hitherto undiscovered issues emerging and expected issues being patched or solved altogether.
The worst thing that could happen to any team, including Carolina, in camp is one – or multiple – significant injuries; no team is really built to contend after losing their quarterback in August. Multiple injuries on the offensive line or injuries to cornerstone pieces such as Christian McCaffrey or Luke Kuechly could make the Panthers path to a Super Bowl a significant uphill affair.
Obviously, and I’m sure this will be pointed out in social media replies, the worst case scenario for the Panthers will be that Cam Newton’s shoulder isn’t 100%.
However, this type of scenario is true for every single team in the NFL, and the impact of losing Cam or CMC is pretty self-evident, so rather than simply listing all the players who could get injured in order of their importance to the team, let’s instead focus on the unanswered questions facing the Panthers, and what the potential worst-case scenario might be.
We’ve focused on the offense, now let’s check in on the defense. Knock on some wood.
New Defensive Scheme Slow Starter
It has been extremely well publicized that the Panthers are moving to a 3-4 defense this season, and while on paper that should make it easier to generate pressure, there are always going to be some concerns when changing scheme, especially one that is different from what the coaches implementing it have run for the past decade or so. Of course, there’s always the risk that the new scheme simply doesn’t quite work as intended, but given that Rivera has run similar schemes in the past, the more likely issue is that the defensive players take longer than planned to fully adjust to their new scheme.
The repercussions of this could range anywhere from issues getting lined up, blown coverages, rush plan confusions or simply players playing a step slow or not really working in their new roles. For the defensive backs it shouldn’t be that much of a change, but for edge rushers largely inexperienced at dropping into coverage there is always going to be something of a learning curve, as well as for outside linebackers who are now expected to either move inside or be to able to rush the quarterback on a more consistent basis – remember the play last season when the Panthers rushed only two on third down?
Picture that, but on a regular basis.
The Panthers do have the advantage of having arguably the smartest defensive player in the NFL to help get everybody lined up – and having guys like Bruce Irvin and Dontari Poe who have played in similar defenses in the recent past will always help, but for the edge players in particular, this could be something of a difficult transition.
Perhaps the two players who are going to be most affected by this change are Mario Addison and Efe Obada, both of whom have spent almost their entire careers – albeit of somewhat different lengths – playing the edge in a 4-3 and who were the two most potent edge rushers from the 2018 Panthers returning in 2019.
If Addison in particular struggles to adjust to the new defense, that would mark a real issue for the Panthers pass rush – while Brian Burns and Christian Miller are the team’s future at the position, Addison is almost certainly their best pass rusher right now, and if he takes a marked step back due to the new scheme, the benefits of said scheme might be outweighed by the damage done to their biggest threat off the edge.
It’s unlikely that this is something that would derail the season in the way that the offensive line can, but particularly early on, the Panthers could well have some teething troubles with their new defense, with the worst case scenario being that these issues are less a case of unfamiliarity and more one of incompatibility.
Up Next: The Questions On The Back End Don’t Get Answered