When I used to cover Don Shula's Miami squads in the early 1990s, there was a huge poster that covered much of one side of the Dolphins locker room. It listed various goals for the team each week.
The goal for points was always the same: at least 17. Shula believed if you scored 17 or more, you had a good chance of winning in the NFL.
It's still a good rule of thumb. In the four games the Panthers have scored 17 or more this season, they've won. In the two they haven't – including Sunday's embarrassing 27-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – they haven't.
As the opponents grow tougher and the season rougher, scoring points will remain this Carolina team's No.1 concern. The defense had a bad day like everyone else Sunday, but as a whole it remains the squad's strength.
The offense is iffy, though. It can be a feel-good offense with its blast-from-the-past trio of quarterback Jake Delhomme and receivers Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad. It also can remind you of many previous Panthers offenses that couldn't run the ball consistently.
Even though John Fox orders up a “run-run-run” drumbeat every season in training camp, something's not right.
Since Fox took over as coach in 2002, do you know how many times Carolina has had a Top 10 rushing attack?
Exactly once. In 2003, the Panthers ranked seventh as Stephen Davis set all sorts of franchise rushing records. That's it.
Right now, Carolina is 19th in rushing yardage per game. Even more telling, the Panthers are 26th in rushing yards per attempt.
So they keep trying to beat their head against the rushing wall, and they keep getting two yards a carry. They rushed 20 times for 40 yards against an admittedly superb Tampa Bay defense, and not a single run went for more than 7 yards.
Now this isn't just the fault of tailbacks DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. It's also the fault of an offensive line that can't stay healthy and hasn't pried open nearly enough holes, as well as a lack of creative play-calling by Fox and offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson.
Did you know the Panthers haven't run a single reverse to Steve Smith – or any other receiver – all season? And the direct snap to Williams that has worked almost every time it has been tried – why not do that a little more? Former Panthers offensive coordinator Dan Henning sure has figured out how to perfect it in Miami.
I asked Fox on Monday if the Panthers had a specific goal for points every week.
“More than three,” he said, referring to the Tampa Bay score.
I asked him if Tampa Bay holding the Panthers to 40 rushing yards was a product of the Bucs playing eight men in the tackle box on most plays.
“The reality was we didn't run real well against eight or seven,” Fox said.
The reality is also that the Panthers are going to have to score more regularly to win.
At the moment, Carolina ranks last in the NFC South and 23rd in the league in points per game. And 23rd is not going to get it done.
Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140