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Where did the Panthers go wrong?

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

One year removed from representing the NFC in the Super Bowl, the Carolina Panthers (6-8) currently sit in last place in the NFC South and are just about out of the playoff race. The Panthers already have seven more losses this season than 2015 and took a huge step back in 2016, so where did they go so wrong?

The first and most obvious place to look is one critical mistake the front office made this offseason: letting their star cornerback, Josh Norman, leave in free agency without getting anything in return. Norman ended up signing with the Washington Redskins after the Panthers rescinded their franchise tag on him.

In 2015, the Panthers had one of the best defenses in the NFL only allowing 19.2 points per game and 234.4 passing yards per game. However, in 2016, they have one of the worst defenses in the NFL, allowing 25 PPG and an NFL-worst 274.8 passing yards per game.

Is that all because of the loss of one cornerback? No, they have had injuries on the defensive side of the ball that includes star linebacker, Luke Kuechly, who is currently recovering from a concussion.

Surprisingly, the Panthers lead the NFL with 40 sacks in 2016, which is only four off of their total in 2015. This points to the secondary and defensive backs being the problem for Carolina. The loss of Norman hurt and the Panthers could be a different team with him on their roster.

The second weakness for the Panthers has been their offensive line. The line has not changed drastically this season but they are not playing at a Super Bowl level. In all of 2015, their offensive line allowed 61 quarterback hits on Cam Newton, but in 2016 they have already allowed 84. Even though Newton has been in under so much more pressure in 206, he has only been sacked 31 times compared to 33 in 2015. Newton is not getting as much time in the pocket and his production is hurting.

In 2015, Newton’s quarterback rating was 99.4 percent, one of the best in the NFL, but in 2016 his rating dropped about 19 points to 80.9 percent. Newton has been known for his big play-making abilities, but if he does not get any time in the pocket, he is not going to have an opportunity to make those plays, which is happening this season.

Another effect of their offensive line struggles has been a struggling running game. In 2016, the Panthers are only averaging 3.9 yards per carry, which is in the bottom half of the NFL. Their lead back, Jonathan Stewart, is averaging 3.8 yards per rush and only seven touchdowns. This puts more pressure on Newton to make plays in the passing game which he has not been able to do.

Going into the 2017 season, for the Panthers to get back to the Super Bowl they, need to one, solidify their offensive line and two, draft or sign a cornerback that can come in and make an impact. As the NFL saw last year, the Panthers are not that far away from getting back to the top of the NFC south or another Super Bowl appearance.

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