Carolina’s offense ranked a dull 26th during the 2013 season, and it’s only going to get worse. Top receiver Steve Smith, who’s an explosive player and quarterback Cam Newton‘s most reliable target, is gone now, preparing to face the Panthers with a Baltimore Ravens logo on his helmet.
It raises a legitimate question at this point: where is Carolina’s offense? If people thought the offense was hiding out last year, it’s about to fade away further into the darkness. Prepare for more three-and-outs, low-scoring bouts, and field goals — if they can move the ball that far. Losing Smith can’t be deemed simply as water under the ship; he’s a dominating receiver who can control the field.
Smith had over 1,000 receiving yards two out of Newton’s three seasons. His stats during 2013 declined because opposing defenses are starting to expose Carolina’s passing game more and more without other respectable passing threats. Carolina’s 11th-ranked rush offense also benefited from Smith’s presence; safeties and corners couldn’t play too up close, fearing Smith’s deep ability. Smith requires a lot of attention from defenses, yet outside of tight end Greg Olsen, no other tight end or wide receiver currently on the roster had over 100 yards receiving over the course of 2013. That’s going to improve without Smith commanding the attention that he does? That’s very doubtful. Olsen’s a good player, but will feel the weight on his shoulders grow heavier as Carolina’s passing ability will tighten due to a lack of talent.
Carolina couldn’t move the ball and averaged nearly 23 points a game, ranking 18th — and that’s with Smith on the field. I expect those numbers to plummet. Without Smith, they’ll have no deep threat; defenses will come up closer and lock down receivers easier. Carolina will be expected to run more, and since nobody is intimidating in their receiving corps, it’ll become predictable and ineffective.
Newton’s coming into his fourth year, with pressures mounting on him as if he’s the pillar holding a a building upright. The Panthers are coming off of a playoff appearance — their first one since 2008. They’ll be expected to repeat. To make matters worse, Newton will have the expectations to do so, and without any true offensive weapons. He’s also expected to miss a majority of Carolina’s offseason workouts, due to surgery he’s having for an ankle injury, sacrificing precious time to grow more accustom with an ill-equipped offense. When he comes back, Newton will need to continue developing his game, which will be a heftier task now with a lack of sharper tools to be given.
Carolina’s defense was stellar, but it can’t continue to be expected to hold one or two point leads; that’s just unrealistic with how advanced the offenses are in today’s NFL. Carolina’s offense needs to mold into a more dynamic unit. Carolina will struggle beating opposing teams with stronger defenses if they do not craft some scores offensively.
Smith will be missed. Even though his stats went down, he’s still a play-making receiver. Even when he’s not getting the ball, he’s assisting the whole offense, allowing the running game to open from the opposing secondary shifting back, and fellow receivers to get open due to the way he’s tended to. Carolina’s receivers couldn’t capitalize with him there, and the offense was lackluster period; they’ll only be worse without a field-stretching receiver like him. Their rushing game, receivers, and Newton’s growth will all be stunted without him or more talented players. From the looks of it now, Carolina has no offense.