Originally posted on Fox Sports Carolinas  |  Last updated 11/8/11
The Panthers have 65 penalties this season, fourth-most in the NFL. As the Panthers prepare for the second half of the season, coach Ron Rivera wants his team to cut down on its penalties. That's pretty far behind the league-leading Oakland Raiders, who have been penalized 84 times for 730 yards, but still not where Rivera wants his team to be. Rivera made reducing the team's penalties a point of emphasis on Monday as the Panthers begin preparing for the second half of the season. However, Rivera added that as a rookie coach he's often put at a disadvantage with officials. "I do feel that as a first-year coach, you're not getting the calls you would like to be balanced out. That's just kind of the way it is," Rivera said Monday. "We'll go through it and as we become a team where people tend to pay a little more attention to us and respect what we do, hopefully we'll get some breaks." Rivera said that is simply his opinion. "That doesn't mean I'm right," Rivera said. "I do think that sometimes certain things happen, certain coaches do get a little bit more towards their way." NOTES Coach Ron Rivera said a major point of emphasis for the Panthers will be improving the return teams in the second half of the season. The Panthers are 29th in kickoff return average (21.0) and punt return yards (5.5). Mike Goodson began the season as the kickoff returner, but has since been replaced by rookie Kealoha Pilares. Armanti Edwards, a former second-round pick, has been the punt returner throughout the season. "I'd like to see us improve in terms of our return game," Rivera said. "This is really the first opportunity Kealoha has had to be a kick returner. It is a little bit of a work in progress, but he is a former running back who became a wide receiver and has tremendous run-after-catch numbers. We knew he can run with the ball. "With Armanti, we saw what he can do in the preseason. The other part of it is that guys have to block, have to give them a chance. We're not necessarily always doing the job." When the University of Charlotte 49ers debut their football program in 2013, they'll play their home games on McColl-Richardson Field. It is named after two key Charlotte-based financial supporters in Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl. Richardson and McColl have teamed up before. Carolina's stadium is named Bank of America Stadium. "It is quite an honor to have my name associated with such a good friend and wonderful academic institution," Richardson said. "Hugh and I both feel that UNC Charlotte is critical to the future of the Charlotte region. College football will be an important component in student life and will help the university create stronger community ties." The Panthers will make a decision Tuesday on whether to bring cornerback Brandon Hogan up from the PUP list. PLAYER NOTES CB Captain Munnerlyn has had a solid season as the No. 2 cornerback. The Panthers threatened to upgrade that spot in the offseason but it never happened. It will be interesting to see if they make this position a priority next offseason. PR Armanti Edwards is really struggling to find running room and is averaging just 5.5 yards per return. That's all the former second-round pick has been doing since he hasn't played any receiver. RB DeAngelo Williams has received a lot of criticism for a down year, but the reality is he's doing his job for the most part. He's averaging 4.8 yards per carry and has only carried the ball 75 times, including just once inside the 10. RB Jonathan Stewart appears to have become Carolina's goal-line back as the Panthers look to take some pressure off Cam Newton on the goal line. Stewart has run for 2-yard touchdowns in back-to-back games. DE Charles Johnson leads the Panthers with seven sacks this season, but will have to make a strong push to receive Pro Bowl honors as there is some stiff competition in the NFC. REPORT CARD AFTER EIGHT GAMES PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus - Cam Newton has been a welcome addition to the Panthers' passing game, which ranks fifth in the league. Newton is on pace to throw for 4,786 yards and 22 touchdowns. He's displayed outstanding leadership on the field and great pocket presence. His ability to read defenses has answered some questions critics had about him. The beneficiary of all of this is veteran wide receiver Steve Smith, who had 918 yards and four scores at the midway point of the season. Legedu Naanee hasn't been a big factor in the team's passing game, but third receiver Brandon LaFell is developing well. Carolina's tight ends have been as good as advertised. Greg Olsen is on pace to catch 60 passes for 718 yards and eight touchdowns. Jeremy Shockey has been a solid contributor as well. Stewart has been a surprising addition in the passing game and is third on the team with 23 receptions for 292 yards. The offensive line has done a good job with their blocking. They've allowed 17 sacks, but some of that has been Newton trying to elude defenders and making plays instead of throwing the ball away. RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus -- For those who still think of the Panthers as a running offense, think again. Sure, at some point they will go back to running the football, but right now the coaching staff feels it's necessary to develop young quarterback Cam Newton. The Panthers gave DeAngelo Williams a 41 million contract this offseason, but he's on pace to carry the ball just 150 times for 726 yards and two touchdowns. Jonathan Stewart is on pace to rush for 654 yards and four scores. Newton is certainly stealing some carries from both players and if he doubles his first-half production will finish with 638 yards and 14 rushing touchdowns, which would be a new NFL record for quarterbacks. As a team, the Panthers are averaging a respectable 129.6 yards per game on the ground. PASS DEFENSE: C-minus -- Captain Munnerlyn has done fairly well as the No. 2 cornerback opposite Chris Gamble in the base defense. The problem for the Panthers has been when opponents go to multiple-receiver sets. The Panthers are 31st in the league in third-down defense. Opposing quarterbacks have a 97.1 rating against the Panthers. Carolina has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 63.4 percent of their passes with 10 touchdowns. The Panthers have only four interceptions. Carolina is getting a strong pass rush from Charles Johnson, but need others to step up in the second half of the season. RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus -- The Panthers lost free-agent defensive tackle Ron Edwards on the first day of training camp and linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis in the first two games of the season, so defending the run has been a struggle for the Panthers. Matt Forte ran for 205 yards against them and Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Turner also put up 100-yard games. They're allowing 4.6 yards per carry, so this part of the team needs to improve. SPECIAL TEAMS: F -- They've just not got it done in the first eight games. Carolina has allowed two punt returns for touchdowns in close losses to Arizona and Chicago. Kicker Olindo Mare missed a chip-shot field goal against Minnesota prior to the bye week that would have tied the game with 26 seconds left. And Carolina's return teams rank among the worst in the league. The Panthers are averaging just 5.5 yards per punt return and 21 yards per kickoff return. By contrast, opponents are averaging 15.3 yards per punt return and 28.3 yards per kickoff return. COACHING: B-minus -- The new coaching staff has given the fans reason to be excited and you have to believe if the Panthers didn't have as many injuries they would have won more games. But already five starters are on injured reserve and that's not easy to recover from, particularly when you're coming off a 2-14 season. Still, the Panthers have been competitive in every game. Now they just need to learn to finish.
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