Panthers need to rectify passing game, one of NFL's worst in history
Signs of hope at end of 2009 turned into a statistical shipwreck in 2010
Five QBs took snaps for Carolina in 2010, managing just nine TDs total
Panthers defense played well, shining spotlight on need for better passing game
The Carolina Panthers are on the clock, with the No. 1 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, and their greatest need is the most obvious one. They must find a quarterback who can produce at even an average level by NFL standards.
The organization thought it solved the problem last year -- the biggest issue on any football team -- when it devoted a second-round pick (48th overall) to former Notre Dame star Jimmy Clausen. There were other signs of hope, too: young quarterback Matt Moore played extremely well in place of the injured Jake Delhomme at the end of 2009.
In fact, Moore started the final five games of the season and completed 63 percent of his passes for 990 yards with eight touchdowns and only one interception, with an awesome 104.9 passer rating. Carolina went 4-1 in those five games.
Moore and the 2009 Panthers looked downright deadly in Week 16, when they destroyed the Giants 41-9 at the Meadowlands. Jonathan Stewart ran for 206 yards, while Moore shredded New York with a near-flawless performance (15 of 20, 171 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, 139.8 rating). It was just his seventh NFL start.
So it seemed like a great situation heading into 2010: two promising young quarterbacks for a Carolina team that was red hot at the end of the 2009 season. Many observers saw Carolina as a team poised to make a playoff run. But the promise at the end of 2009 quickly turned into a statistical shipwreck.
Indeed, the 2010 Panthers were one of the worst passing teams in recent history. And in a league where you can't win if you can't pass the ball effectively, it led to a disastrous 2-14 season and the top slot in the April draft.
Moore played poorly as the team's starter, including three interceptions in a 31-18 Week 1 loss at the Giants. He was quickly replaced by rookie Clausen, who played even worse. He started 10 games and appeared in three others, yet totaled just three touchdown passes, with nine picks and a 58.4 rating.
Clausen was so ineffective that it appears the team has already given up on him, after just one woeful season. Carolina has already worked out Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton of Auburn and Blaine Gabbert of Missouri, two of the most highly touted passers in the draft. The names of free agents, such as Kevin Kolb of Philadelphia, have been tossed around, too.
New head coach Ron Rivera told the Charlotte Observer earlier this week that Clausen "got too much of the blame" for the team's 2-14 season. But he also made it clear that the team is looking to make changes at the position.
Who could blame him? After all, it was a brutally inept passing game that made Carolina the worst team in the NFL last year.
Five quarterbacks took a snap for Carolina, and they combined for just nine touchdown passes all season. Only three teams this century passed for fewer, and all were very bad teams, too: the 2000 Bengals (six), 2005 49ers (eight) and 2006 Raiders (seven).
Carolina's quarterbacks also combined for a 57.0 passer rating -- one of the lowest team-wide ratings of the past decade.
The quarterbacking situation got so bad for Carolina that the Panthers even had to install Brian St. Pierre as the starter in a Week 11 game against Baltimore. Keep in mind that St. Pierre was 30, had attempted just five NFL passes and had never started a game.
Given the state of the position in Carolina, and the quality of the opponent, St. Pierre was not as bad as he might have been: 13 of 28, 173 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT and a 48.7 rating.
31st in Quarterback Rating (which takes into account all factors of QB performance, including rushing, fumbles and sacks)
32nd in Scoreability, our measure of offensive efficiency
32nd in Passing Yards Per Attempt
32nd in Offensive Passer Rating
32nd in Passer Rating Differential
The Panthers were also dead last in the NFL in both total offense and scoring offense. (We sum up Carolina's entire 2010 season statistically right here.)
Clearly, this is a team that couldn't win because it couldn't score. And it couldn't score because it couldn't pass the football.
There is hope: The Panthers actually fielded a playoff-caliber defense in 2010, at least according to the measures we use at ColdHardFootballFacts.com. They were No. 12, for example, in Defensive Passer Rating, our measure of each team's ability to stifle opposing quarterbacks. For some perspective, the 14-2 Patriots were No. 13 in Defensive Passer Rating. The 13-3 Falcons were No. 14 in Defensive Passer Rating.
The Panthers were also No. 12 in what we call the Defensive Hog Index, a measure of each team's defensive front. And they were a top 10 unit in run defense, surrendering just 3.94 yards per attempt on the ground last year.
But you can't win in the NFL if you can't pass the football -- and few teams in recent history were more inept at the craft than the 2010 Panthers.
So now it's back to the drawing board: a team that thought it had solved its quarterbacking situation just a year ago finds itself in desperate need of a quarterback yet again.
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