Studying the Past: The 2010 Carolina Panthers

A while back, Brandon and Grant (also known as he who admires the great O'Brien) wrote up the first installments of this off-season series, looking at the Rams and Saints in the 2010 season. With the draft behind us and a summer full of litigation and PR tactics by the NFL and NFLPA ahead of us, I'll take a look back at the 2010 season put together by the Packers' week 2 opponent: the Carolina Panthers.

Generally, it's not a good sign when your team has the first pick in the draft. I'm not going to sugar-coat it - the Panthers were bad last year. Behind quarterbacks Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen, they averaged 143.1 passing yards per game in 2010. Exactly zero teams had fewer passing yards. They also finished last in total offense and scoring (12.2 points per game). The two-headed rushing attack of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart rarely saw the field together. Receiver Steve Smith couldn't break 600 receiving yards for the year. The defense was better than the offense, but that's like saying Weezer is better than Fall Out Boy. (Okay, the defense wasn't THAT bad.)

In any case, 2011 appears to be a year for growth and development for Carolina with new head coach Ron Rivera and new quarterback Cam Newton.

THE EARLY GOING

Week 1: @New York Giants 31, Panthers 18
Week 2: Tampa Bay 20, @Panthers 7
Week 3: Cincinnati 20, @Panthers 7
Week 4: @New Orleans  16, Panthers 14

The 2010 season began in ugly fashion for the Panthers. Three straight 13-point defeats led into a close come-from-ahead loss to the Saints, as Drew Brees led a long drive late in the fourth quarter that was capped by a John Carney field goal to pull off the win. No Panther exceeded 200 passing yards, 100 rushing yards, or 100 receiving yards in any of the team's first four games.

Week 5: Chicago 23, @Panthers 6
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: @Panthers 23, San Francisco 20 (WIN!)
Week 8: @St. Louis 20, Panthers 10
Week 9: New Orleans 34, @Panthers 3

This Bears-Panthers game was really one to behold. Jimmy Clausen was the leading passer in the game with 61 yards. Lovie Smith failed to learn from this game that Todd Collins (6/16, 32 yards, 4 INTs) wasn't fit to be a 2nd-string QB, a lack of understanding which would come back to haunt him a few months later. The Panthers' running game wasn't much better, accounting for 84 yards on the day.

However, the Panthers would get a fleeting taste of victory against the 49ers, thanks to the return of Matt Moore from injury. A late interception in a tied game led to a John Kasay field goal and the Panthers' first win of the season. However, Carolina went back to its unimpressive ways the next week, coughing the ball up four times to the Rams before being routed by the Saints.

THE HALFWAY POINT

At 1-7 and after losing Moore with a torn labrum, the Panthers were already out of any playoff scenario imaginable, and the race for the top draft pick was on. Meanwhile, Cam Newton was being called a "phenomenal young man" by his coach at Auburn, Gene Chizik, during the quickly escalating controversy over his recruitment.

Week 10: @Tampa Bay 31, Panthers 16
Week 11: Baltimore 37, @Panthers 13
Week 12: @Cleveland 24, Panthers 23
Week 13: @Seattle 31, Panthers 14

The third quarter of Carolina's schedule went much like the first, with three blowout losses and one close game. This time however, it was Mack Truck lookalike (and new Madden 12 cover boy) Peyton Hillis leading the Browns attack and another old-as-dirt kicker in Phil Dawson who sealed a late defeat for the Cats.

Week 14: Atlanta 31, @Panthers 10
Week 15: @Panthers 19, Arizona 12 (WIN!)
Week 16: @Pittsburgh 27, Panthers 3
Week 17: @Atlanta 31, Panthers 10

If you thought the Panthers had quarterback issues in 2010, meet the Arizona Cardinals, who predictably lost when they started dead funnyman Red Skelton undrafted rookie John Skelton at QB in Carolina. He wasn't awful, but the Panthers kept any semblance of a Cardinals running game smothered while riding four John Kasay field goals to a three-point win. The Panthers were then utterly outmatched by strong playoff teams in Atlanta and Pittsburgh (and Atlanta again) at the end of the year.

POST-SEASON

Since the playoffs were obviously out of the question, the only major things events to mention here are the firing of head coach John Fox and subsequent hiring of Ron Rivera, and the Cam Newton hype explosion, resulting in his being drafted first overall by Carolina.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2011

The most interesting question facing the Panthers is, predictably, who will start at quarterback. I'll go on record saying that I don't think Newton will be a top-15 QB in the NFL, but I feel even more strongly that there's no possible way he'll be ready to start at any point in 2011, even if the lockout ended today. (Just watch this to see why I feel that way.) Rivera will likely bring improvement to the defense, but with the possible departures of Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams, I don't see this team having enough weapons to effectively compete with most other NFL teams in 2011. Ultimately, this team is still a few years off from making a push for the playoffs, especially in a tough NFC South division.

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