Q&A: Buccaneers vs. Panthers


I had a chance to sit down with Cave Crave’s Joe Soriano, who also manages the brilliant baseball blog Call to the Pen, to talk about the Carolina Panthers and their matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The big story whenever you talk about the Carolina Panthers this year has been Cam Newton and how he has defied the odds of the No. 1 pick curse to actually be a reliable quarterback. But we all romanticize Newton from an outside looking in point of view. From the Panthers stand point and a guy with an in on the Panthers situation, how good is Cam Newton really? Is he really showing the signs of being a guy that can become elite in the NFL and lead the Panthers to the Super Bowl or are we all glamorizing another quarterback who is basically a converted running back?
How good is Newton right now? He’s an above-average quarterback but nothing special; yet. His two problems are solvable with experience and they are accuracy and decision making. At times, Newton struggles with his accuracy, but he isn’t as “bad” as his completion percentage indicates, and this is because he goes deep a lot. In fact, it’s safe to say that he’s one of the best ten quarterbacks- at least- on deep passes in the league already. It’s what separates him from those other “running” QBs, and that deep aerial ability is comparable to a guy like Daunte Culpepper. Cam is definitely going to keep on improving, and I think he will be a top ten QB a couple of years from now. It’s too soon to say elite, but he is on that path for sure.
How do the comparisons to Tim Tebow make Panther fans feel? We all know they’re different quarterbacks but does it bother Carolina fans that Tebow is winning even though his style, albeit dangerously similar, inferior to that of Newton’s?
I honestly don’t get the comparisons between Tim Tebow and Cam, because Cam is much better as a passer; it isn’t even close. Tebow has absolutely no accuracy, and he is less of a true quarterback than Newton. I don’t get why people say that Newton isn’t a real quarterback, because anybody who watches him play can see that he can make the plays with his arm. I want to also note that his completion percentage is 11% higher than Tebow’s, and that Tebow has a negative EPA. This is an advanced statistic that measures how many points a player, in a sense, contributes to his team using down and distance factors. Newton is fifth in the NFL with a 103.2 EPA, while Tebow is 37th with a -14.6 EPA. People always talk about how Tebow just “wins”, but his WPA is just 0.04, and WPA measures how much a player helped his team win and weighs clutch plays. Cam is 11th in the league in this stat, and Tebow is 26th. That’s about where I would rank them among starting QBs in the NFL right now, with Newton a couple of notches lower at around 13 or 14. In fact, Newton is 14th in the league in Advanced NFL Stat’s adjusted yards per attempt. Tebow? 24th. I think these three stats give us a good indication of where these two players are as quarterbacks, and you can see that the comparisons are way off.
This offseason the Panthers shelled out the big bucks to keep DeAngelo Williams in Carolina. When paired with Jonathan Stewart the two are arguably the most elusive tandem in the league. Now that the Panther have another losing season in the books, how do you feel about the decision to keep Williams at the price that was paid?
 
They are the most elusive tandem in the league and probably the most talented, but I honestly thought it was a bad decision to give him that much money when the deal was first reported. Five years and $8.6 million is too much for a 28-year-old running back who bases his game on elusiveness, because he is going to hit the wall after a couple of seasons. The last two years will most likely be unproductive years for Williams and will have the Panthers saddled with paying a little over $8 million to a player who isn’t producing. Williams is one of my favorite players in the league and is still among the best backs out there, but this was a deal that the Panthers shouldn’t have made. We already have Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson, so a three-year deal would have been a more prudent and understandable move. 

Speaking of offseason decisions the Panthers made a coaching change firing John Fox and bringing in Ron Rivera. How confident are you that Rivera is the kind of coach that can lead this team to a Super Bowl like Fox did? What will the long term impact be of Rivera on Carolina or do you see the fan base turing on him if next year results in something less then a playoff berth?  
 
Ron Rivera definitely has the makings of a Super Bowl winning coach, because he’s able to maximize the talents of his players. He was able to get a lot out of “bust” cornerback Darius Butler; a guy who was viewed as soft, and a player who Bill Belichick couldn’t get anything out of. However, Butler has been a key cog in the secondary for the Panthers and has been playing very well in 2011. Rivera conducts himself well in front of the press, he obviously knows what he’s doing on defense, and he’s an open-minded coach who is willing to led Rob Chudzinski be creative on offense. I think the Panthers definitely made the right hire, and I highly doubt the fan base turns on him if the team doesn’t make the playoffs. You have to remember that Rivera was inheriting a lifeless 2-14 squad, and that the fan base would have lost all rationality if they turned on Rivera.

Rivera is a defensive guy and the Panthers have had defensive presence in the past butt his year they’re ranked near the bottom of the league. Being that Rivera knows defense, how long will it take for Carolina to be a defensive monster in the NFC? Was the failure this year just first year jitters or was it the injuries or are pieces missing?
 
There are holes in Carolina’s defense, and they lie in the secondary and on the defensive line. Sherrod Martin and Charles Godfrey are both among the leaders in missed tackles and aren’t consistent enough at the back, and I think one of them has to go in favor of a guy who can play more high safety. They are both solid safeties, but you can’t have both of them playing at the same time. The Panthers have a good amount of depth in the secondary, but it should be noted that Captain Munnerlyn has really struggled recently. He should snap out of it, but I would seriously consider adding another corner to the mix. The biggest problem on defense, to me, is the main reason why they are so poor on run defense. The interior of the defensive line is porous and allows far too many offensive linemen to get to the second level. Rookie defensive tackle Terrell McClain was very poor this season and was completely overran, while Sione Fua was slightly below average against the run and doesn’t fit the scheme. Our only adequate tackle is Andre Neblett, and it looks like letting rotation star Derek Landri go to the Eagles wasn’t the best move. The Panthers really need a defensive tackle, and that need cannot be understated. Now that I think about it, the Panther should get a No. 2 corner, because Munnerlyn and Butler are both really just slot corners. They play very well in the slot, but Munnerlyn struggles against No. 2 wideouts. I say that we should play promising rookie Brandon Hogan and see what we have in him first.

How does it feel to the Panthers that they won’t finish in last place this year and that instead the hated Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the team in turmoil, melting away form within sitting in last place?
 
It feels great to be out of the doldrums, and really the only other team in this division that could be in turmoil is the Bucs. The Panthers are better in almost every area when comparing both rosters, and it definitely feels good to have the arrow pointing up in the future.

Does anything scare you about the Buccaneers or are the Panthers pretty confident they can walk all over the Bucs again and sweep them in blow out fashion.
 
LeGarrette Blount really scares me, because this is a guy who absolutely destroys teams who don’t play good run defense. I remember when he absolutely gashed the Saints last year, and he had that insane run against the Packers this season. Blount will have a huge day against the Panthers, and I also have to say that Michael Bennett gives me a scare as well. Kellen Winslow has a matchup that he should exploit, but those are the only three players who really scare me at this point. Josh Freeman could break out of his slump against a beat up secondary, so that’s something else that I’m wary of at this moment in time. It’s tough to say that one team will get destroyed in a rivalry game, but that looks like it will be the case in this one.

Alright man, what’s your score? Who wins and why do they win?
 
Panthers 27 Bucs 10, I think that the Bucs get steamrolled by Double Trouble, and Cam Newton picks apart an undisciplined secondary. Steve Smith should shred that secondary, especially since the Bucs no longer have the man who is easily their best corner; Aqib Talib. Even if Talib did play, Smith would still win his matchup, albeit not in such a destructive manner, because he feasts on corners who gamble and give up the big play. Neither E.J. Biggers nor Ronde Barber can take him, and I doubt the safeties give him much trouble. Greg Olsen also has a good chance of exploiting rookie Mason Foster, and I just think the Bucs defense isn’t good enough to stop the Panthers offense. Going the other way, the Bucs offense won’t generate enough points to keep up with this disparity

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