John Fox? Really?
These were the words from a friend when he heard that the Broncos had agreed to terms with John Fox to be Denver's next head coach. I must admit that my own reaction was somewhat similar, given the fact that I had never paid any particular attention to John Fox's career with the Panthers. My image of Carolina is one of a team that is perpetually near the bottom of their division and rarely among the better teams in the NFC. What I have found since Fox became one of the Broncos' head coaching candidates is that my perception is not completely accurate. In Fox's nine years with the Panthers, they finished in first place in the NFC South three times, in second place twice, third place twice and fourth place twice.
The question then, becomes how have the Panthers stacked up against the rest of the league with John Fox at the helm. After the jump, we'll take a look at some answers to that question.
When we look at the Panthers' year-by-year record we find:
|2002||7-9||Panthers had gone 8-8, 7-9, 1-15 in 1999, 2000 and 2001.|
|2003||11-5||Won division. Beat Dallas, St. Louis & Philadelphia to win NFC Championship. Lost by 3 points to New England in the Super Bowl.|
|2005||11-5||Won division. Beat New York and Chicago before losing to Seattle in the NFC Championship game.|
|2008||12-4||Won division. Lost to Arizona in a divisional playoff game.|
We see that Fox led the Panthers to three winning seasons, two .500 seasons, three 7-9 seasons and one 2-14 season in nine seasons. Overall, not the greatest record, but not the worst either. What is a little disconcerting is the roller coaster nature of the Panthers' season records: a winning season one year, followed by a .500 or losing season the following year. It would be worth further research to discern the reasons for this pattern.
Another perspective on Fox's success can be found by looking at how Carolina has stacked up against the rest of the NFL in a variety of categories. The first set of statistics looks at the following categories: Win/Loss Percentage (obviously the lower the number, the higher the Panthers were ranked in the NFL), Take Away/Give Away Ratio (lower numbers represent more take aways than give aways), Points +/- (the lower the ranking, the more the Panthers outscored their opponents) and Yards +/- (the lower the number, the more Carolina outgained their opponents).
|Year||Record||Win/Loss %||Take Away/Give Away||Points +/-||Yards +/-|
As with the Panthers' win/loss records, we see something of a wide spread of rankings. They have fallen in the top ten in some years, but in the bottom ten in others. It is hard to tell from these just where Fox will lead Denver.
A second set of statistics are the Panthers' offensive rankings. We will look at three offensive categories, each with a set of statistics:
Overall Offense: Yards, Points, Give Aways. Please note in Yards and Points, the lower the number, the better Carolina did, in Give Aways, the higher the ranking, the less they gave the ball away.
Fox's offense has not consistently been high in most categories and we can see a steady pattern of improvement, followed by a slide, followed by improvement, etc.
Rushing Offense: Yards, Touchdowns, Yards/Attempt and Fumbles Lost. In Yards, Touchdowns and Yards/Attempt, lower numbers are better while the reverse is true for Fumbles Lost.
The Panthers seem to have made strong progress in rushing offense. Overall, however, their performance in these areas was as up and down as the rest of the statistics we have looked at above.
Passing Offense: Yards, Touchdowns, Interceptions, Net Yards/Attempt. In Yards, Touchdowns and Net Yards/Attempt, lower numbers are better. In Interceptions, higher numbers are better.
During Fox's first years, the Panthers passing game appeared to be steadily improving, before beginning to slump during the second half of his tenure.
A third and final set of statistics are the Panthers' defensive rankings. We will look at three defensive categories, each with a set of statistics:
Overall Defense: Yards, Points, Take Aways. Please note, the lower the number, the better Carolina did.
Fox's defense appears to be fairly consistently strong. It was often in the top ten in key categories. One question that does arise is: Why did the defense start very strong, then gradually decline?
Rushing Defense: Yards, Touchdowns, Yards/Attempt and Fumbles Recovered. Please note, the lower the number, the better Carolina did.
Once again we can see how Fox's defenses were strong in the early years, but not so strong in later years.
Passing Defense: Yards, Touchdowns, Interceptions, Net Yards/Attempt. Please note, the lower the number, the better Carolina did.
The Panthers' passing defense rankings show the same kind of up and down patterns as the rest of the rankings during Fox' tenure.
Overall, these rankings show a team which has averaged being in the middle of the league -- sometimes excelling, other times lagging behind. What I found encouraging was the improvement in Fox's first year. Carolina had ranked in the bottom five in nearly every offensive and defensive category in the league on their way to going 1-15. Fox was able to get them into the top ten in nearly every defensive category. This is precisely the major type of help the Broncos need.