Ten thoughts about the Carolina Panthers and the NFL after the first month of the season:
1. I think the NFC South is the worst division in football this season, primarily because no one in the division plays defense worth a darn. It is amazing how far and how fast the Panthers’ defense has fallen.
This statistic would have seemed inconceivable in August but is true: The Panthers defense has now allowed a score 12 of the past 16 times the opposing offense has had the ball.
Yet Carolina has still allowed fewer points through four games than Atlanta, New Orleans and Tampa Bay. The Panthers and Atlanta are tied for the division lead at 2-2, and I think a 9-7 record will win the division. So the Panthers are not out of anything yet. But they will be by the end of this month if their 27th-ranked run defense does not improve.
2. The running back corps is overdue for an overhaul. Having the top three backs hurt at the same time is unusual and unlucky, but it also points to the fact that too much money has been poured into a position where the Panthers have gotten too old.
They have spent too much on aging players who simply can’t stay healthy at the game’s most injury-prone position. In the spring of 2015, this position will need serious offseason work, with “cheaper” and “younger” being the two watchwords.
3. Speaking of cheaper and younger, Darrin Reaves is absolutely not the answer at running back. The sooner the Panthers understand that, the better. Reaves went down on first contact constantly against Baltimore. According to Pro Football Focus, he didn’t force a single missed tackle in 12 carries.
Of course, Reaves is the fifth-string tailback, so don’t blame him. Blame the injury gods.
4. I liked the homemade “split personality” Steve Smith jersey that Panthers fan Ross Levin wore to the Baltimore game. Levin said he had hundreds of requests from Ravens fans for pictures, and also got tons of comments from Ravens fans to the effect of “Thanks for Smith, but why would you ever let a guy like that go?”
Levin, a longtime Panthers PSL holder who plans to wear his Smith jersey again Sunday to the home game against Chicago, was one of many Carolina fans frustrated by the Panthers’ release of Smith during the offseason.
“It is just amazing to me we boot our superstar,” Levin wrote to me in an email.
5. Former coach John Fox didn’t have many pithy sayings, but this one always made sense to me: “You’re always two games from disaster in the NFL.”
Fox’s point was that no matter how well a team is playing, all it takes is two bad games to make that same team look awful and its fans begin to scream. Losing back-to-back games by a combined score of 75-29 has done just that to the Panthers.
6. The NFL likes to brag about the fact that around half of its games are decided by a touchdown or less, but it won’t be bragging about last week. Eight of the 13 games were decided by a margin of 19 points or more.
7. If Carolina cannot beat the off-and-on Chicago Bears (2-2), the Panthers might not win a game in October. The Panthers follow that one with road games against Cincinnati and Green Bay and home games against Seattle and New Orleans. Cincinnati might be the best team in football.
8. When I saw Teddy Bridgewater lead Minnesota to 41 points Sunday, it reminded me of the way Cam Newton used to play before he got hurt.
9. Can someone tell me what happened to Charles Johnson?
10. One ray of hope: The Panthers still have five games left to play against NFC South opponents, and all five of those games are very winnable. Three of those four games are in December, when the Panthers – as bad as they seem right now – will still be a factor in the race to win the NFL’s most flawed division.