Insiders

NFC Heavyweights Surprisingly Struggling

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Heading into a NFL season, most coaches like to look at the season in quarters. Every four games represent a quarter and as we head into the second quarter, it’s time to dissect where teams stand. As you evaluate how the first quarter went and how you can approve upon your mistakes throughout the second quarter, which will lead us to the halfway mark. It’s important to know, unless your winless right now, this is not a time to panic, but at the same time, there may be cause for concern.

Earlier this year, the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals represented the NFC in the conference championship game. With such high expectations for both squads, it’s safe to say they’ve been major disappointments thus far. Both teams are currently sitting with records of (1-3).

Let’s examine how both teams have reached this point.

Carolina Panthers – After coming up one win short of hoisting the Vince Lombardi trophy, many expected Carolina to come out with a vengeance, but that’s been far from the case. Last year, Carolina arguably had the best defense in all of football, allowing only 19.3 points per game, which ranked sixth in the league.

Throughout the first four games of this year, Carolina is surrendering nearly 30 points per game at 29.5, ranking 28th. At the time, everyone was aware of how big of a loss All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman was, but no one thought his absence would be this sorely missed. If you doubted the impact of Norman’s departure before game four, then you’ve probably changed your mind now.

Everyone knows how elite of a receiver Julio Jones is, but that’s no excuse for Carolina’s secondary to allow him to go for 300 yards, which has only happened six times in NFL history.

Yes, 300.

With inexperienced defensive backs attempting to slow down Jones, former Panther and current Washington Redskin Josh Norman had this to say. 

“Shoot, just disrespectful to line up a rook against that man like that, like he ain’t the top wide receiver in the league,” Norman told ESPN.

For as disappointing at Carolina’s defense has been, the reigning MVP Cam Newton is more of a concern at this point. All of last season, Newton only threw 10 picks, however, the former Heismna trophy winner has already threw the ball to the opposing team five times, while yielding a lousy quarterback rating of 80.2. To make matter worse, Newton has been diagnosed with a concussion following a nasty hit from Atlanta Falcons linebacker Deion Jones.

As the Panthers to face another in-divison rival in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Monday night, they’re unsure if Newton will be available after being diagnosed with a concussion. To this point, Newton hasn’t been cleared for practice. On the bright side, it doesn’t seem like anyone in the NFC South will run away with the division, which is welcomed news for the struggling Panthers.

Arizona Cardinals – Just like Carolina, expectations were high for Arizona before the season. For the past few seasons, Arizona has been one of those teams you must account for every single year in the NFC. However, for the first time in six years, the Cardinals won the NFC West in 2015. The Seattle Seahawks won the division the previous two seasons.

Nonetheless, in terms of pure talent and depth, not too many teams are more impressive than Arizona. So, why are they struggling so bad?

Well, look no further than offensively. Considering we live in a quarterback world, it starts and ends with veteran Carson Palmer. Several months ago, Palmer was a MVP candidate and now he looks like the monstars took all of his powers. A season ago, Palmer only threw 11 interceptions. Thus far this season, the 36-year-old has thrown the ball away to the opponent five times already.

Sounds similar to Newton?

Ironically, Palmer suffered a concussion this past Sunday as well and his playing status for Arizona’s upcoming Thursday contest and he’s been ruled out for this Thursday’s contest against the San Francisco 49ers. For as bad as Palmer has been, his offensive line may be in worse shape.The right side of the line has been absolutely atrocious and when you factor in how stiff Palmer is in the pocket, this is just a recipe for disaster.

As stated with Carolina, there’s no need to panic yet. Keyword: yet.


About Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels

Mark Gunnels is an NFL columnist for Football Insiders. He has several years of experience covering the NFL and NCAA football. He's the radio color commentator for Lincoln University football. Mark's work has been featured on Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports and Yard Barker.