For a team that has gotten off to a fast start, the Carolina Panthers sure don’t get off to fast starts.
If that sounds like Yogi Berra, it’s supposed to. It’s my little tribute to the late, great New York Yankee with the gift of gab. But it’s also true for Carolina, a team that despite starting the season 2-0 has played poorly on offense early.
Tight end Greg Olsen describes the Panthers’ early drives as “herky jerky,” and that’s accurate. Let’s take the first four Panthers drives from both the Jacksonville and Houston games as examples.
That’s a total of eight drives. On four of them, Carolina hasn’t netted a single first down. On five of them, the Panthers have punted. Cam Newton threw an interception on one. The Panthers kicked a field goal on one and missed a field goal on the other.
So ... eight drives. Three points.
“We just have to start faster,” Newton said.
If I were the Panthers, I’d run Newton’s favorite offense – the no-huddle – at least 90 percent of the time. He gets a better, longer look at the defense when the offense doesn’t huddle and the play is called at the line. I’m convinced the early-game huddles, when they happen, are part of the problem.
▪ I am intrigued to see how well or poorly Star Lotulelei performs when he gets on the field. Lotulelei has had a foot injury that kept him out of the entire preseason and the first two regular-season games, and you get the sense that the Panthers haven’t been totally thrilled with his conditioning in the meantime. Lotulelei not only needs to get on the field but he needs to make an impact, and soon, to calm those fears.
▪ The Panthers better not get another field goal or extra point blocked Sunday – there aren’t many things that Ron Rivera dislikes more than that.
▪ Panthers Prediction: I have started the season pretty well. I picked Carolina to win by 11 points in the first game and they did. I picked the Panthers to win by six points in their second game and they won by seven.
My prediction: Carolina 27, New Orleans 16.