As the Carolina Panthers try to rebuild their franchise in the competitive NFC South, they’ll hope to establish a culture that can sustain success for many years to come.
Head coach Matt Rhule had an encouraging rookie year as a head man in the NFL, after seven years leading Temple and Baylor in the collegiate ranks.
In year two of the Rhule regime, the Panthers hope to establish an identity for the team, potentially spearheaded by the healthy return of premier running back Christian McCaffrey.
The road to the playoffs in the NFC and through their division will not be an easy one, but it’s possible Carolina could surprise and sneak into the postseason as a seventh seed.
Even if that does not come to fruition, here are two goals the Panthers should have for their season in 2021.
2. Improved Execution In Close Games
Even with McCaffrey missing 13 games last season with a variety of injuries, the Panthers played hard for their new coach.
They were much more competitive than anyone would have predicted considering they were missing their best player.
Out of the Panthers’ 11 losses in 2020, eight of their defeats were by eight points or less.
That includes a heartbreaking loss to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 12, where they won the turnover battle, but relinquished the lead with less than a minute to play.
Even with a bit of a shorthanded roster, Carolina was not getting thrashed week in and week out, which speaks to how hard the players tried under Rhule.
If Carolina can even flip half of those games into the win column, they’ll be in the mix for an NFC playoff berth.
McCaffrey’s return as a chain-mover via the ground or through the air should help in that regard.
Happy 25th Birthday Christian McCaffrey!
Players in their first four seasons with at least 3k rush yds and 2,500 rec yds in NFL history:
Christian McCaffrey (In 51 Games)
Alvin Kamara (In 60 Games)
Roger Craig (In 64 Games) pic.twitter.com/8FrFZoBftQ
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) June 7, 2021
1. Increase Defensive Pressure
They’ll get a little bit of a reprieve with the retirement of Brees, but the Saints still figure to be a threat offensively as long as Sean Payton is their head coach.
Be that as it may, it’s going to be tough for Carolina to improve their record if they’re engaged in shootouts week in and week out.
As such, their defensive performance will need to improve to at least contain the explosive offenses they face.
The franchise was in the bottom third of the league in sacks and pressure percentage in 2020, and missed the eighth-most tackles of any team in the league last year.
Additionally, they only picked off seven passes which was tied for the second-lowest total in the NFL.
Yetur Gross-Matos is 1st among rookie edge rushers in the NFL with a tackling grade of 78.9 (per PFF) 💪 pic.twitter.com/7YWlBwsk16
— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) December 29, 2020
If Carolina ends up facing the triumvirate of Brady, Ryan, and Jameis Winston, they’ll have the chance to improve their performance in a big way.
None of those three quarterbacks are a threat to escape the pocket consistently, so guys like second-year pass-rusher Yetur Gross-Matos will need to make those stationary throwers uncomfortable more often.