By Ted Fleming
With the firing of special teams coordinator Brian Murphy, the Panthers have made their second move in three weeks to try and find the right combination moving forward. A 2-7 record necessitates change, and while Ron Rivera’s job appears secure for now, the second year head coach may be looking at a lot of new faces, both on his staff and on the roster.
GM Marty Hurney was the first to go; now that Murphy is gone, there could be three more names that may rise to the top of the growing unemployment list: offensive line coach John Matsko, quarterbacks coach Mike Shula, and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
It is kind of sobering to think that trio could be on the chopping block when they were supposed to be guiding quarterback Cam Newton and the entire offense to new heights, especially after what was thought to be a major step in that direction last year.
What might have been the biggest question mark for the Panthers entering 2012 was the defense, and despite being exposed as not one of the elites when the Manning brothers picked them apart, they have made great strides. Instead of folding their tents when injuries came in rapid succession, the defense gelled with replacements and shifting of positions, and there may be some serious competition for jobs when training camp opens next July.
The offense, on the other hand, has been nearly as bad as special teams–maybe worse when you consider the latter wasn’t expected to carry the team, but rather complement it. The deficiencies are too numerous to count, but suffice it to say it begins at the quarterback position, where Cam Newton has regressed from his rookie campaign. While not necessarily all his fault, the play calling has been suspect, protection has been anything but, and there has been absolutely no bang for the buck when it comes to the ground game.
Maybe Newton was correct when he went through his whining phase, saying that things had to change. Hurney was the first to go, but that did not change the play on the field, because he didn’t dress on Sunday.
Murphy’s departure may help in getting better field position on punts and kickoffs, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to watch the quarterback lead the team in rushing – by 88 yards – when there is a bazillion dollar backfield growing cobwebs from lack of use.
Newton, running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, along with fullback Mike Tolbert, have combined for 1,013 yards on the ground. By comparison, there are two players – Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch – who have each cracked the thousand-yard plateau.
The biggest problem is how Newton has had to play this season. The lack of protection has not afforded him the kind of time needed to set up for a pass, leaving him with only his God-given talent to run when it all breaks down. As a second year player, Newton is being forced to make the kinds of decisions that should be left for the coaching staff, not Newton on the fly, which seems to be happening more often than not. It has a domino effect and effectively negates the backs from doing their job because the other team is constantly in the backfield.
Ron Rivera is a defensive guy, so he needs some quality offensive guys to have his back, and so far this season, that has not happened. Matsko, Shula and Chudzinski have to be held to the same standard as those who have already been fired. As stated here a week ago, Rivera should be given the time to see this through as opposed to being jettisoned after a just couple of seasons.
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Panthers news, see CBS Sports Charlotte.
Ted Fleming is a freelance writer covering all things Carolina Panthers. His work can be found on Examiner.com.