It is still astounding to me that the Carolina Panthers led the NFL in scoring in 2015, considering that they did it without their #1 wide out Kelvin Benjamin. It would have been one thing if the points per game stat was inflated by a few huge wins, but what is most striking to me is the CONSISTENCY of the Carolina Panthers scoring success throughout the season. It is pretty remarkable, and I thought it might be worth digging into and doing some comparison with past seasons.
2015 Carolina Panthers points scored and allowed:
Only in the first quarter of the season did the Carolina Panthers average less than 30 points per game. The consistency is striking. For twelve games in a row (from game 3 to game 14) they scored at least 27 points – and that included their toughest stretch of the season – the “murderer’s row” stretch against Seattle, Philly, Indy & Green Bay.
Just look at that again. It’s AMAZING:
- Only in 2 games (their 2 losses) did they score fewer than 20 points.
- only in 4 games did they score fewer than 25 points
- In 10 games they scored at least 30 points
- In 8 games they scored at least 35 points
- In 3 games they scored at least 40 points
I thought it would be interesting to compare those numbers with previous Carolina Panthers’ seasons.
What I notice from the table above is that the sheer number of games where they scored at least 20 or 30 points, while both franchise records, isn’t too far above several past seasons’ achievements:
In 2005 the Panthers scored at least 20 points in 15 games, only two fewer than in 2015.
In 1999 (only an 8-8 season), the Panthers scored at least 30 points in 8 games, just two fewer than the 10 games which achieved that feat in 2015.
It’s fun to note that in Cam Newton’s 5 seasons as a Panther, the team has had SIX 40+ point games, equaling the combined total for 40 point games during all 16 years prior to Cam. (In 16 years pre-Cam, the Panthers averaged one 40 point game every 3 years. With their 2015 success, Cam is averaging better than one 40 point game per season.)
What really got my attention in looking back at the 2015 season in light of Panthers history was the right side of the table and the consecutive games streaks. This is where the 2015 Panthers blew past team history out of the water. Previously the longest streak of consecutive 20+ point games was 9 games, in 2005. The Panthers smashed that streak with the 14 consecutive 20+ point games in 2015. The team’s average 20+ point games streak over its history is five games per season. Consistency in their offense and scoring production has not really been a trait the Panthers are known for. A game in which the offense clicked and put up dozens of points was often followed by a game where the team couldn’t move the ball. 2015 shattered that stereotype and historical pattern, and if the Panthers can continue this kind of scoring consistency in 2016 and beyond, special things are going to happen.
While interesting, those numbers and streaks of 20, 30 and 40 point games are only part of the picture in analyzing the Panthers league-leading scoring in 2015. Here’s a look at the scoring data (points scored, points allowed) and offensive and defensive rankings (by points) for all 21 Panthers seasons:
No Carolina Panthers offense had previously ranked higher than 4th in the league in terms of scoring, and there had been only five prior seasons where the Panthers had a top-10 scoring offense. Measured by points, the Panthers offense typically ranked in the bottom half of the league (17th).
In only three prior seasons (1999, 2008, 2011) had they ever scored more than 400 points in a season, (while in double that number of seasons – six – they FAILED to score even 300 points in a season. OUCH!) 500 points for the Panthers in 2015?!?! Without Kelvin Benjamin? Really?! YES!!!
The Panthers 500 points in 2015 was nearly 170 points above their per season points average.
How did they do it? Here’s a glimpse. (most stats from PFR)
- Led the league in Red-zone scoring efficiency
- Led the league in TDs: 1st in rushing TDs (19); 2nd in passing TDs (35)
- 2nd in % of drives (42.9%) resulting in a score
- 2nd in rushing yards (2282)
But the Carolina Panthers defense played a key role in their scoring success too:
- 4 pick sixs (tied with 4 other teams for the league lead)
- led the league in average starting field position (their own 31.3 yard line) due primarily to short fields from turnovers
- led the league in take-aways (1st in interceptions, 2nd in fumbles recovered) and in turnover differential
- led the league in net points off of turnovers (116 total) with a league best 148 points scored by their offense thanks to turnovers forced by our defense versus only 32 points (2nd best) allowed by their defense following Panthers’ giveaways. [Our points off takeaways and our net points off of turnovers were higher than any other team’s totals for these stats from 2009 – 2014, based on Sporting Charts data]. [In their 6 prior seasons from 2009 – 2014, they averaged 73 points per season scored off of turnovers and an average -3 net points off turnovers (i.e. they gave up 3 points due to our turnovers more than we scored following opponents’ turnovers]
Interestingly, two of their three previous highest-scoring seasons (1999 and 2011) were not winning seasons for the Panthers. Our defense in those seasons was near the bottom of the league (26th and 27th) in terms of points allowed.
So here’s the takeaway (pun intended!) from this article: No matter how good an offense is at scoring, it means little if the defense is giving away points. (See the New Orleans Saints for further evidence!) High-flying offense is exciting. Historically stingy defenses are impressive. But combine the two as they did in 2015, (and also in 1996 and 2005) and you have a recipe for winning.
Hopefully they mastered that recipe in 2015 and will continue perfecting it in 2016….
In my next season-in-review post I’ll look more closely at the defense and some additional stats related to their league-leading performance in forcing turnovers and capitalizing off of them.
If you enjoyed this detailed analysis, I’ve been able to write a few “season-in-review” entries you may also enjoy:
- A review of the Panthers roster week-by-week, including season snap totals for each player.
- A look at red-zone scoring percentage – comparing 2015 and 2014.
- A look at the Panthers’ record at home versus away.