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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Underdog Panthers Keyed By Their Own Underdogs

Not a lot of time to write lately, and still getting fully caught up on gametape (I viewed the Bucs game live via tweets from LaGuardia, but it was worth it).

Carolina should've clearly won by more than two points against a bad Bucs team.  Carolina fully controlled this game and simply didn't throw points on the board.   What's most interesting about this run of two wins, however, is that it seems powered by the underdogs - not the guys you'd expect.  

Andrew Norwell and Mike Remmers have become good enough linemen that the line's just not a liability right now (though, they haven't faced a top tier line yet).  Both have far exceeded expectations and have likely staked first claim at their respective jobs for 2015.

And is that Roman Harper living up to Ron Rivera's praise?  Yes, yes it is.  The least likely of the three DBs brought in this year to be good, Harper's seen his play uptick after Thomas DeCoud was benched - I figured, of them, DeCoud would be good and Harper might be a role player by now.

Derek Anderson's a guy I'll throw in there, too.  Efficient until the red zone, Anderson has beaten the yips on being blitzed well enough that it might no longer be a huge detriment to his game (and it was his worst issue, in my opinion, late in Cleveland and in his AZ time).

The team didn't get a hand from the Bears, who laid down for New Orleans in the worst way possible.  Badly enough that now Jimmy Clausen's their starting QB, which is odd.  Jay Cutler's not great, and he might be locker room cancer at times, but he's been an average QB.  You don't bench for average.

So now, Carolina has to hope for an Atlanta win so that a week 17 win over Atlanta would matter; but, before that, you have to hope for the win over the Browns.   The fear, in my mind, is that with Johnny Manziel's fame and disappointing debut, that he doesn't become an underdog himself.  He has that on his side at some point - that same Tim Tebow "he wants it more" narrative that I'm sure is entertaining if he's your guy, but otherwise is a nuisance.  I really don't believe either player "wants" to win so much more or that either is exceptionally talented.  It's not fair to put Manziel on the Tebow path, but to this point he doesn't even seem dedicated, much less ready.

Otherwise, the Browns are just OK - great OL, good pass defense, awful run defense.  They're an oddly stoic team setup to pass without the mentality to do it well, and Brian Hoyer had a better release so the OL doesn't look as great now.

Have to take this one against 7-7 Cleveland for the rest of the season to matter.  If not, that's fine too, a 7-8-1 Panthers team doesn't deserve the playoffs more than an 8-8 Saints team.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Cam In Accident, Not Seriously Hurt

I haven't had time to do much with this last game - really neat, hope
it's a good sign and not an anomaly - just haven't. I'd like to break
down the contributions of some of the youth soon.


But, for now, some serious news from Charlotte as Cam Newton has been in
a car accident. Supposedly not at fault, a car pulled out in front of
him; he pulled himself out of his truck, but was put on a stretcher
because of the nature of the accident. The accident isn't expected to
be serious, but was in noticable pain after crawling out from the
overturned truck.

He's staying tonight for observation. No clue what will happen this
week, but just thankful it wasn't worse.

(update- Newton has two transverse fractures, same as Tony Romo had;
Romo missed one full week (two weeks timespan), so Newton won't play
this week, minimum, possibly two. Derek Anderson likely to start, with
Joe Webb inevitably becoming a quarterback again)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

New Orleans Pregame Philosophy

You and I both know New Orleans well, so this is a mini-State of the Union type thing.  We know the Saints game is going to be ugly, at New Orleans.

First off, it's time to stop worrying about playoffs.  I still see things suggesting they can still make it, at 7-8-1. Without going full-on Jim Mora, I do hope they can even find a way to win a game.  Running the table is not realistic.

On the back end of it, stop worrying about tanking.  This isn't the NBA.  You want to win.  The difference between a few of those picks, they probably don't matter so much.  Carolina's crappy.  They'll have a good pick whether they go 4-0 to end, or 0-4 (I have them 8th now, more than good enough to get scrappy OT Brandon Scherff of Iowa, or possibly even Andrus Peat of Stanford/Cedric Ogbuehi of Stanford...possibly the choice of the three).

And even with a higher pick, nothing's guaranteed.  You'd have guessed that Jadaveon Clowney was the top pick of the draft, it just mattered when he'd come out.  7 tackles and zero sacks later, his rookie year's been a disaster.  Nothing anyone could've done, it's just how it is. 31 teams cursed their luck that second the Texans had the choice of Clowney or someone else.  And he provided almost nothing this year.  You just never know.

The rest of the year isn't for draft picks, or for playoffs.  Right now's to determine, what happens from here?  Is the staff fired, do the players start to scatter because they don't fit scheme?  Do you shoehorn in a WCO for the offense, or a blitzy Rex (or Rob?) Ryan scheme in on D?

The players, depending on who you talk to, aren't buying in as hard.  Some say the vet cuts are that they're not only not buying in, they're being vocal in the other direction (citing Roman Harper as a flagbearer, Cason and Avant as flagburners).  No idea if it's true.  If Rivera's lost the locker room, that's kinda tough.  That was his strength.

I don't have good answers as to whether Rivera is 'it' - his conservative nature has returned, I don't know why the defense isn't better - it's slowly creeping back to the median (17th yards and pass, 20th rush) but 29th in D. An offensive revival is essentially guaranteed, it's just whether Rivera goes (and his defense with it).

But that's determined in 4 weeks.

There are some positive things out there.  Not enough, but a few.  Josh Norman and Bene Benwikere might be the outside corners of the present and future.  I'd like to see something good of Boston, too.  Carolina needs to have at least one safety stay around for more than a year.  Getting something positive out of Norwell at G might make up a bit for the lack of evaluation you'd have gotten out of Nate Chandler through the end of the year at RT.

Pair that with some better Cam Newton play, and you might be in business for momentum for next year.

I don't expect a win.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Post-MN, Youth Movement

I don't know if Ron Rivera will be here next year.

But, he or whoever else is in charge of the store, will get a hard look
at the youth in the meantime.

Carolina, who probably didn't deserve to win anyway, lost 28-13 by
stalling twice in the redzone, scoring on a 40 yard bomb you'd best find
called a prayer to Philly Brown, and letting Minnesota have two good
offensive drives. It would've been a close, winnable game, if not for
the two blocked punts.

So, Monday? Apparently being responsible for a touchdown gave you a
good chance of being shown the door. Ben Jacobs, backup linebacker and
special teamer, owned his miss, and stayed. Jason Williams, same
general role, didn't, and he's gone. Antoine Cason gave up an easy
touchdown, and he's gone.

Not long after the Jason Avant cut, chronologically.

So, it's a youth movement. Carolina technically no longer controls its
own playoff destiny, though at 3-8-1 it's impossible to say they deserve
otherwise.

You could see it on the field last week as well - Thomas DeCoud was
pulled, and Tre Boston played the rest of the game until he tweaked his
ankle (he should play this week). Boston playing serviceable safety
would go a long way toward solving the position next year, where DeCoud
and Roman Harper I just can't see being around. They'll need at least
one guy there, but Boston showing out could keep it from being two.

Bene Benwikere became the left corner fulltime, an upgrade from his
nickel job by about 25 snaps, soon after. James Dockery has played some
nickel but they do still like Colin Jones there. I still believe
Melvin White can be a good player. Anything coming of these guys,
especially with Josh Norman (stupid jawing aside) playing excellent
corner right now, could help mend an awful secondary.

Kony Ealy got more time (and almost finished a sack that went to Luke
Kuechly). There's no doubt that his growth could hold off a long-term
pickup at DE.

Andrew Norwell and Mike Remmers have another start on the OL, too.
Philly Brown continues his role playing an increased load against fellow
rook Kelvin Benjamin. If Brown starts, that's five rookies starting on
offense, and two on defense.

Yikes.

But, what's the worst that will happen? They'll lose? That's already
happening.

So with an undeniable eye toward the 2015 draft at that point, and yet
more youth coming there, these games have become important for
completely different reasons. So, I guess they're preseason games now.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Stupid Fan Tricks, MN Preview

There's been a groundswell of stupid fan activity, and while players reacting to it will inevitably get theirs right or wrong, I don't know why fans are so awful.

Exhibit A:  Charles Johnson. Tweeting about the Ferguson situation, a 'fan' felt the 'right to correct Johnson, by telling him to shut up and play.  I don't know that twitter affects football performance, or that somehow Johnson must be a fully brooding, locked in a room thinking about football every second sort of player.

Johnson didn't take kindly to it, and fired back.  For what it's worth, Johnson shouldn't do that, but it's poor that he has to be held to a higher standard when it's not his fight.   The guilty fan also got rid of his tweet, presumably noticing the attention it received in a short time, and worrying of being branded racist.

Inevitably, Johnson will have received a reprimand, but Ron Rivera spoke about it in a recent presser, stating that Johnson was speaking of something positive in his initial statement, and that should be respected.


Exhibit B:  Matt Kalil.  Not having a great season on a not-good team, Kalil plays for Minnesota, this week's opponent.   Undoubtedly there are higher expectations for Kalil, a top 5 pick who's still finding his way.  Kalil shouldn't respond to fans, either.

But what kind of idiot fan trash talks a massive player who's within arm's reach?

Johnson and Kalil don't line up across from each other unless Johnson flips sides (for what it's worth, if he rushes from RDT, then it's Charles Johnson v/s Charlie Johnson), and hopefully if that does happen, our Johnson gets the better of that deal.  But they both have their run-ins with fans this week.

So, for me, I just don't understand the motivation of 'fans', or even just random people, to outright berate people they supposedly support, and in such a handy format?  Accessibility doesn't preclude common sense.

Carolina plays Minnesota at MN at 1.  It'll be cold, and you can use various past metrics to suggest failure (Carolina playing in the cold, Ron Rivera playing off the bye, a non-winning streak that's the longest in the NFL right now).  I don't know what to think - they're due, they should play good defense in the cold, MN doesn't scare me, but it matters what Carolina team shows up.

MN, missing Adrian Peterson, is helmed in the run game by Jerick McKinnon, and rook Teddy Bridgewater throws to the aging, dying to be a Panther in the offseason Greg Jennings and the young Cordarelle Patterson.   They run the ball well, and that's about it.

Defensively, MN is at the cusp of the top half of the league, and 7th in pass yards. Everson Griffen is their best rusher (9 sacks) but rook Anthony Barr is more potent as a rush guy on 3rd down after standing up against the run.

Would be great to get a win.  No idea what to think.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Avant Out; Chandler to IR, Part Two

Vet WR Jason Avant was cut, Nate Chandler is on injured reserve.
Nothing's changed since the last time I've said that.

The loss of Chandler at RT and his future development/evaluation remains
the bigger hit to me. It's remarkably intriguing that the names to
possibly replace him include the recently deposed because of injury
Amini Silatolu, and the tremendously mediocre Chris Scott. But it's a
funky experiment, and a letdown, that all this is happening when the
line was just starting to work.

But, the fan community remains at a full froth about Jason Avant.

First off, I wish Jason all the best. It must be a hard roller coaster
he's on - on a losing team, in the decline of his career, coming off a
Philly at Philly homecoming for him that did not go well, and a week
later he's cut. He made sense here - slot guy, leader, good hands,
good routes.

I didn't see enough separation, and if you're a conspiracy theorist,
absolutely. That sounds like a team line. I had worries as far back as
the drafting of Kelvin Benjamin that, now with those two vets as the
roleplayers, Carolina was surprisingly duplicative. If Cotchery was the
X (split end) receiver, the possession guy, then there's room for Avant
to be the slot, the part timer. With KB a stalwart split end himself,
Cotchery becomes the Z, the move guy, more often the same type role as
Avant.

Again, Ron Rivera's got issues if he's suddenly noticed that Cotchery
and Avant are more or less the same guy. His words about separation are
legitimate, and most teams do have more speed at the Z than Carolina can
throw at you (having Philly Brown out there does, in fact, fix that).
Still, in a world where the team is throwing more short routes, it would
make some sense. They're not doing that, certainly not the team that
took a ton of deep shots against the Saints. They're less efficient at
getting to manageable 3rd downs and less efficient at picking them up,
so some of that's on the team design. What they intended to do with
Avant made sense. What they were doing with him in games made less
sense.

I know it's a nuanced argument to make, one that those burning torches
on this one won't want to hear, but I do hesitate to carry the team line
on this one. I do see the media pushing that this is definitely not a
spiteful cut, and I don't fully trust that, but I do believe in what the
team's trying to do regarding separation.

I guess it's just where - I don't know. Jason Avant isn't sacred. A
little of this feels like Steve Smith resentment. I can't do anything
about that for the average person reading this. But just the same as
he's not sacred, he doesn't deserve to be the rope in the tug of war
over what's going on with Cam, the OL, the offense, either.

I'm reading David Newton's blog post, stating cutting Avant was the
right choice. It's fairly well done, and Newton doesn't just copy the
same article the way the others do. But if you'd told me before
yesterday, they were going to cut Avant? I don't know.


There's a precedent for this type thing, to quell the conspiracy
theorists. Geoff Hangartner was cut in the start of camp 2013. I knew
Hangartner was underperforming, he'd had a decent '11 at the last second
and so he got the rght to struggle through '12. They let him go,
beloved by teammates that he was, because as long as he was there, the
others couldn't get reps. It's an odd dynamic. It's the same dynamic
as this. Why not just demote Avant?

For that matter, Brown had 7 for 66 against Pittsburgh in week 3. Sure,
there were injury weeks in there. But, you could conceivably have
gotten Brown more reps before now. You could get them with Avant
inactive, if that's helpful.

Rivera disagrees - and that's his choice - stating "when you have
veteran guys who play a lot in front of younger guys that have
potential, sometimes you stunt their growth". He knows more about
player development than I do. I'm OK with that. You could inactivate
Avant, which I guess costs you a younger player who you can elevate.
Avant wasn't going to be here next year, given that he isn't now.

It does make me wonder, if he's not, why not start feathering in other
players? Sure, Ed Dickson finally had a nice gain the other day, but
Brandon Williams is the guy who should be in that role next year. Let
him be there now. Same for Roman Harper versus random warm bodies.

So, I don't know. I think the angry mob, looking for a sign of Ron
Rivera's demise while hoping for just such a thing, found a potential
symptom and ran with it. Ron Rivera's quite conservative on the average
day, and so he's definitely not the "fire anyone that pissed me
off!!!1111" type guy. Those two entities, they'll probably disagree on
that type reaction. I don't believe the team is 'lost' and it's their
job to play through it all no matter what. I'm growing impatient of
failure myself, so while I can't blame all of the offense on Mike Shula
or Cam Newton, or Rivera for that matter, it's not good enough.

I don't think that's what's happened here. But, while Rivera's choice
for the pre-field goal offense is a valid but conservative choice, the
concern that Greg Olsen, Avant, and others had mentioned, that was valid
too. Obviously if Carolina stays on the throttle, they have a better
shot at a first down or touchdown, at the expense of clock stoppages
that could benefit Atlanta. I know if they'd run it at least once or
twice, as needed anyway, that a misfire on 3rd down as Newton had
through the first three quarters? That would've gotten criticisim in
other directions.

So, I don't know. I feel like this is somewhat a situation of
channeling the want (and based on viewpoint, need) to suit the
situation. On its own, I don't find panic in "someone said something
about the offense" as much as the offensive consistency itself.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Jason Avant Out; Chandler to IR

Vet WR Jason Avant was cut, Nate Chandler is on injured reserve.

Avant had 21 receptions and a score, for 201 yards. He was a slot WR on
a team that essentially already had a duplication in Jerricho Cotchery,
along with Greg Olsen being a guy who plays out as a slot TE about 50%
of the time (based on last year). Ron Rivera singled that out, stating
that Cotchery, Avant, and Brenton Bersin were too similar (being too
similar didn't keep Cotchery and Avant from being signed around the same
time, for what it's worth).

The internet is abuzz about Avant having criticized late-game
playcalling, suggesting that's the reasoning for dropping the veteran.
At this point, both that reasoning and the official one - to get rookie
Philly Brown more reps - make sense. You could argue that dropping a
critical vet sends a message, or it suggests the team has been 'lost'.
Carolina has precedent for dropping a vet, possibly for shock value, in
Charles Godfrey earlier this year.

That's all speculation. You could also speculate that Rivera has given
upon the season and wants to evaluate the available youth - of which
Brown is definitely a valuable piece. He's the small guy of the group,
the deep threat, the shifty guy who can fill the Ted Ginn roles (which
is to say, he's most valuable at the WR screen/end around/go route
stuff), the fabled undrafted Victor Cruz to the first round Hakeem Nicks
of the Giants' championship era (there really can't be a worse two-time
championship 'dynasty', but at least they took two rings from the Pats).

If you want to make that "giving up on '14" thing, which I don't know if
Brown versus Avant gives less of a competitive difference at this point,
that would be a mixed situation - it suggests Rivera has longevity (I
believe he does, to a point), but losing vets like Avant would be a
negative toward that. You'd also want to start talking about Brandon
Williams, for instance.

Avant gets paid for the rest of the year, so it's not the worst thing of
all time for him, but he certainly has to figure out what's next in his
career, if anything.

Andrew Brandt, who's gained a bit of traction on the internet as the
front office type insider (outside the ESPN brand of buying essentially
anyone who's out of football and has a recognizeable name), said today -
"The business of football at work today: unless player is special no
tolerance for rumbles of discontent. So many players, so few jobs."

But, WR are always the focus, the lightning-rod.

Losing starting RT Nate Chandler is a bigger deal. Avant was a
roleplayer, Chandler a starter, and at a worse position (it's also
unlike the Godfrey cut, where the position itself was also in turmoil -
WR is going to be okay). Avant's third, sometimes 4th WR type role
meant 375 snaps - 55% of snaps. There was some injury there (Benjamin
has played 84%, Cotchery 71%, Brown and Bersin about 12% each).
Chandler as a starting player would be expected to play the whole time.

And, unlike Avant, there's nothing behind him. You have Canadian
project David Foucault, recent signing Mike Remmers, maybe moving a guy
like Andrew Norwell outside. Tackle depth has been tremendously bad all
year - no one could really compete with Chandler or Byron Bell, so they
fought each other to see who'd be on what side. Garry Williams, who I
can't remember staying healthy into October since 2010 - predictably
went down early again and couldn't contribute.

Chandler, of course, had his best game of the season (PFF +3.2) right
before getting hurt. It's a torn meniscus, for what it's worth.
Chandler signed an extension this year, the injury shouldn't keep him
out through camp next year or anything. But, with Bell a free agent (and
at this point, don't call us, we'll call you), and nothing behind them,
Chandler's an incumbent next year. So you don't even get to evaluate
him.

So, I have no clue what they'll throw out there at RT. We can argue
all day over whether Avant was cut for performance or for criticism,
whether Ron Rivera's lost his team, all of that, but it won't matter at
all without a right tackle.