Coach Andy Reid did a fine job in his first year as HC in Carolina; the team was excellent on all three sides of the ball, winning the division and earning a first-round bye. Let’s take a look at the team stats and performance on the 2018 regular season.
The Panthers had the 4th best offense in the league in terms of points scored per game with 26.1 and 7th on yards gained per game with 358.8, and it all starts with the play of QB Cam Newton.
The former Auburn star wasn’t flashy but was very efficient, ending the season with only 3,004 passing yards but with the league’s best QB passing rating of 106.4, courtesy of a completion pct. of 66.7% (2nd best in all football), 26 TDs (ranked 3rd) and only 3 INTs which is very impressive in this day and age. He was also the leader in 3rd down completion percentage with 68.9%.
But in reality this is a grinding, pounding offense, leading all football in rushing attempts and yards. RB Amos Doleman started the year hot and ended with 978 yards, an average of 4.16 per carry and 5 TDs. He lost a bit of gas mid-season but fellow second-year man RB Donny Bush picked up the slack and had a season of 778 yards and the 4th best YPA with 5.29. QB Newton also contributed with 709 yards and his 5.58 avg was the 2nd best in the league.
The offensive line led by veteran C Ryan Kalil deserves a lot of credit for these stats, their blocking percentage of 39.4 was ranked 3rd in the league and allowed the 4th fewest sacks with 23.
While the rushing numbers were great it has to be said that fans don’t really appreciate OC Jorge Finister’s gameplan of eating the clock and converting short-yardage third downs, as this had led to very anaemic numbers for the receiving corps. Most of the passes were caught by the Tight Ends; Jason Boswell led the team with 66 catches for 847 yards and 5 TDs, and Greg Olsen was second with 52/593/5. The best wide receiver was Willie Snead with only 35 catches for 413 yards, Justin Hunter had 30 and 371. Former first-rounder Kelvin Benjamin was money in the redzone with 5 TDs but ended the year with 11 catches for 94 yards, not exactly the production you expect from a $5M per year WR so it’s fair to wonder if this is going to be his last season with the team.
The defense was the 2nd best in the league in terms of points allowed with 16.5 and 8th in yards allowed with 320.1, and it all begins with the play of the front seven.
Five-year pro DT Kawann Short leads the unit and had a great year topping all interior linemen with 9.5 sacks and 53 solo tackles; his play also helped undrafted DE Ryan Delaire get 11.5 sacks, 5th best in the league. The heart and soul of the defense is LB Luke Kuechly who led the team in tackles with 100 and interceptions with 5; a great ball-hawk, he has now 16 INTs for his career. 32-year-old LB Cliff Avril joined the team as a free agent this summer and was very productive with 77 tackles and 3 sacks.
The secondary was also great with a league leading 20 interceptions that helped the team have the best turnover differential of +18. Last year’s first round pick from Missouri, CB Emmitt Anthony, accepted the challenge of becoming the team’s no.1 corner and had a positive year with a pass defense percentage of 78.7 and 4 INTs. After a very disappointing 2017 CB Bene Benwikere’ had a bit of a renaissance year with a great 82.7 PD% plus 3 INTs. Secondary leader S Tre Boston had another injury-plagued season but still managed to play on all 16 games and contributed a 81.5 PD%.
The specialists weren’t that good all things considered; undrafted rookie from Alabama P Abel Conley was middle-of-the-pack with 45.5 punt average, 37.9 net avg and 36 punts inside the 20. K Rex Fuld was perfect from 0-to-40 range but abysmal from 40+ going 4 from 14 for worst in the league and also his longest make of 44 yards was ranked 32nd.
On the other hand, the returners were the best in all football stats-wise, with WR Devin Funchess returning punts for 663 yards (2nd best) and the 1st best average of 14.4 yards to go with 1 TD. CB Dontae Johnson was ranked 1st on both kickoff yards and average, with 868 and 28.9 respectively.
More to come?
The Panthers had a great regular season but the playoffs are a completely different tournament so we’ll see how they fare. Will they reach the Super Bowl like in 2016 or will it be one-and-done like last year? We’ll find out next Sunday Jan. 12th.