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Friday, August 29, 2014

Post-Pittsburgh Thoughts

It's gonna be a jumble - doing this the day after. But, it's a mostly
meaningless 4th game so it'll be interesting to see what of these ideals
they keep to the regular season.

*I liked watching the personnel formations they used with Anderson. I
don't know if there's a reason they simplified a bit with Webb's group,
but DA's had more 2x2 bunch formations and threw in some pistol.
Jerricho Cotchery is the moving piece as the Z receiver, and I liked him
moving in as a wing as he'd done last week to block. Thing is, he does
an OK job of pulling off an inline block. Too bad he hasn't caught
much.

I didn't see much of Jason Avant, who would become the moving piece as
the slot, and they didn't push him much as an outside receiver, but he
has good quickness and did well with the WR Screen. Avant will, since
there's no speedster this year, become the screen component of some of
Carolina's "packaged plays", and that screen was one of them - I saw
that a few times with Anderson, that they ran a few to keep him in shape
on that type play. He has to read the numbers in the box, and choose
whether to go ahead with the run, or go to a pass option. Think of it
as a 'hot read' off of a run play with a safe throw behind it.

*I'm not in love with the idea of Jason Avant being the fleet-footed
part of the Carolina attack, but in general, I still kinda like
Carolina's receivers to be as productive or better than 2013, and
certainly more efficient. The loss of the explosion that Ted Ginn
brought, that might be the bit they've been unable to provide to this
unit.

*Kelvin Benjamin had a tough first quarter. He couldn't come up with a
fade ball that was in his reach and had a couple of other almost-catches
before the 2nd quarter saw him become what he should again. His first
catch was a body-catch. So while he eventually came around and did
Kelvin Benjamin things, it wasn't the same guy who plucked the ball out
of the air with ease; he got outmanuevered on a few balls.

Brenton Bersin, based on formations and usage, appears to be his backup;
both play the X receiver, both are isolated on one side when the other
eligibles are in bunch (3x1 type groupings). Tavarres King didn't do as
much with his opportunities, though there weren't a ton. Philly Brown,
of course, did. If he stays on his feet, he has a score.

I think all of that trio make it, but the problem becomes that Brown
hasn't shown anything as a punt returner. Brown has some jets, so at
least he can provide a situational boost fora play or two; but he,
Bersin, and King probably don't play much actual WR this year.

*I keep getting a good feeling out of this group of TEs. Pete Hoener
has done a good job, as has Dave Gettleman for finding some pieces out
of thin air. Greg Olsen could still lead this team in receiving, and Ed
Dickson looks just fine as a blocker and middle receiver. Brandon
Williams looks like he's worth a lot as a utility player who could be
the #2 next year, and while it's not been with the 1s, he's done a good
job both blocking and receiving. His special teams ability has gotten
better, too; the team will probably dress four TEs including Richie
Brockel, who played mostly FB since the Panthers were short on backs and
had to give Michael Zordich a heavy running load for a fullback.

*Byron Bell doesn't have time to give this team mental lapses at LT.
He's had some great snaps this preseason, and then some nonsense. Garry
Williams looked good before getting nicked, as did Nate Chandler. Chris
Scott remains a guy they're going to rely on, depending on Trai Turner.
Run blocking improved this week, at least.

*There are times you look at Kawann Short and see him be a bigger name
than Star Lotulelei. He showed a lot of explosion in limited time.
Drake Nevis won't make the team and I believe is too experienced to
practice squad, but he could play here if things went differently.

*Wes Horton seems to be the dangle player at DE - he playead ahead of
Frank Alexander and Kony Ealy again, and they do like him. But they
won't cut the latter pair, even with Alexander's suspension. Mario
Addison is a guy they rely on at both end and special teams. I wonder
if Horton stays until Alexander is back; with the NFL deciding that
domestic violence is important after obviously flubbing the Ray Rice
situation, it's hard to say what happens with Greg Hardy down the
stretch.

*The DB situation might be the most interesting part of the game. Roman
Harper was out there for a hot second, and apparently his backup was
Charles Godfrey. So they've shown their hand in being willing to let
him play a little of both. Bene Benwikere started the game as the
nickel. James Dockery got an extended look. If Godfrey's a corner,
Josh Norman is in; if Godfrey's both, maybe Dockery gets in. In the
end, I feel like Dockery is a better overall player than Anderson
Russell. But, they could also try to hold it to 8 players.

*I feel like Robert Lester's being staged to go to IR. Tre Boston
wasn't seen in preseason that I'm aware, so maybe that'll happen there,
too. At least Thomas Decoud looks good, maybe Harper will too. I don't
mind Colin Jones back there in an emergency.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Stop Trading With The Pats, Version 418.2

Tampa got Logan Mankins from the Patriots. In the short term, it looks
better for Tampa. But that's exactly why I'm not worried about it.

Mankins is a name player on the OL, a former first rounder and a decent
player. But he's not living up to his name. At 32 with declining pass
blocking skills, he's not the savior of that OL. Don't get me wrong,
he's an upgrade, but not for as long as you would expect hearing his
name.

First off, again, stop trading with New England. They will tell you
you're getting exactly what you want, with a knowing smile that they're
allowing you to do what they want you to do without a fight. That this
trade happened after the Bill Belichick - obsessed Greg Schiano is gone
is somewhat amazing, because I legitimately believe Schiano would jump
if Belichick asked.

Past that? Mankins as a solid run blocker makes him a modest addition.
As a pass blocker, he's declined, and he'll be paid far too much to
provide the same thing that a heavy-footed draft pick could. You can
find players who can only run block well, for less than the price paid
or the additional cost of Mankins' hefty salary. For that, the Pats
were willing to swallow $4 million this year and $4 million next, just
to get rid of him. They get a savings in his '14 salary to offset this
year's guarantees, at least.

But, what did Tampa give up? A 4th round and a part-time starting TE.
Not so bad on first look.

A 4th does have value, however. And that TE? Tim Wright caught 54
balls and 5 TDs last year, 2nd on the team (3rd had 29 rec, Brian
Leonard; after that it was Tiquan Underwood). He's somewhat slight
(6'4, 220) so he didn't fit into the idea that a TE is an extra blocker
that Lovie Smith provided. Granted, they do have Austin Serafian
Jenkins, a former first round rated TE who's heavy on shoulder and
lighter on athleticism. That's a Lovie Smith TE.

But in a league where throwing a TE out into the slot is a legitimate
ideal, and the idea of what both roles have become are blurred, Wright
was an ideal way of opening up the Bucs' offense. Now, he'll play the
Aaron Hernandez role in New England, an offense that can run 2 TE and
run the ball but not look boring.

The Bucs needed a guard. They look awful there. But they put too much
on it, and won't get enough out of it. Two years down the road, Wright
should have 100+ receptions and 15 TD or so from Tom Brady, and Mankins
will probably be calling it a career.

Stop trading with the Pats, everybody. It will lead to your ruin.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

QB, S Provide Challenges

Bad news - Cam Newton has a hairline fracture in his ribs.  Of course, I'd anticipate him playing against Tampa to open the year, but it might not be pretty.

In the meantime, call him out for Pittsburgh; he was originally slated to play.  Backup Derek Anderson has been very good in preseason but his wife is deep into pregnancy and could deliver this week.  4th QB Matt Blanchard has a concussion.  So Joe Webb, who's made preseason more fun at the very least, is all but guaranteed a job on the 53 man roster (though Ron Rivera's words don't make that permanent, and the team seems willing to pull Frank Alexander onto the roster after his suspension).

Blanchard isn't likely to make the roster, but him not being available to play leaves more snaps for Webb.

Somewhat relatedly, it appears the Bears have cut Jordan Palmer, so Jimmy Clausen is the latest backup to Jay Cutler.  Cutler has missed 13 games over the last four years, not starting a full season since 2009, so I hope the Bears know what they're doing.



Now, to S.

Thomas Decoud?  He's been decent enough.  Blended into the D, hasn't been a drain on coverage.  Depending on the day, there have been times special teamer Colin Jones has been an OK backup, and times he hasn't, but he's only a FS.

Roman Harper, however, we haven't seen.  Backup Robert Lester has been hurt, and he's had his struggles, too.  Anderson Russell, some say he's doing well, but I don't.  Tom Nelson has been playing FS, but he has pro experience.

The team gets Tre Boston back this week in practice, and Boston was a SS at times in college.   But for now, the team is facing a SS situation from amongst the turf-toed grayhair Harper, the enigmatic and limpy Lester, the historically out of place Russell, or the complete unknown Boston.

Or maybe Charles Godfrey.  Who knows.

First Cuts Are In

Tiquan Underwood leads the names of the now-departed Panthers.

An early free agent by the team, Underwood signed a two year deal that ended up being tremendously inexpensive.  A tall blazing receiver with some experience last year in Tampa, he made sense sabermetrically as a good value buy.  But, sometimes your good values don't produce, I guess.

Along with Underwood, from WR comes another set of once-hopefuls - Marvin McNutt was talked up as a potential starter when the team had to have something to say about someone on the roster (Tavarres King appears to be who pushed into that 4th WR role that Underwood would've taken on paper in July).  Kealoha Pilares was a hopeful on the kick return team (and remains one of my favorite schadenfreude stats, from when he led the team in rushing under Rob Chudzinski in a poorly-called Tampa 2012 game).  Toney Clemons was also cut.

Jordan Gay, the guy who missed an extra point and punted for 8 yards, is out.  Prospective special teamer LB Anthony Morales, likely the highest snap count of this list in preseason, is gone as well.

2013 camp favorite Craig Roh at DE was dropped, after having spent all of last year on the practice squad, along with CFL standout (16 sacks last year) Alex Hall.  Fellow former Canadian leaguer Linden Gaydosh was also released.

The team held close on almost all offensive linemen, suggesting there'll be a significant push to play the back of the bench against Pittsburgh - only OT Oscar Johnson has been released.


I believe that a few of these cuts already speak to the depth (WR, especially) Carolina's accumulated, and of course the lack of depth in places like S show the team holding all their cards still.  Underwood's the only somewhat-established vet, and it wouldn't be totally surprising to see him catch on.   I'm not against Roh coming back to the practice squad, but the team already has 6 decent ends they could roster so an extra guy might not be valuable there.

And then it becomes a matter of the practice squad for next cuts, due in a week.  New rules have expanded the PS from 8 to 10, in what should help player development and possibly drop a little wear and tear from the average player.

Relatedly,I really wish they'd push for an expanded active roster.  Going from 46 active to say, 50 plus 5 inactive still lets you stash the injured, but you get play out of your backups in special teams without having to play so many starters.  But, that's not in the current reality.

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Rough One

Cam Newton and the offense struggled a bit against the Pats.  Actually, Cam wasn't bad at all statistically, but too much pressure kept the O from succeeding despite some magnificent Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen catches.  Struggles from the running game caused this to never really have a shot at being a game, and the defense's 3rd down struggles undermined their base defense efforts.

Carolina, who went without a number of starters and then pulled most of the rest by the half (much of the offense took another series), you could somewhat tell wasn't going to win this ballgame.  That's allright.

But, what's currently a 20 point lead and probably climbing?  That might be a wakeup call on the intensity and effort required to win.

After Newton retired for the night, a few guys locked up jobs.  Tavarres King brought in a big 3rd down reception from Derek Anderson; then Brenton Bersin went up top and pulled two of his own down.  

When Anderson, driving and hitting Ed Dickson for a strong gain, targeted Philly Brown for what might've been Brown's lock on a job, Brandon Williams locked his own down.  Williams, yet to catch a ball this game, chased down the interception to save the pick-6.  Anderson's own job, of course, is safe, and he looked sharp out there before the pick.

Brown and Fozzy Whitaker did little to take on the return jobs officially (Brown had a good return rightfully recalled), so that's left up for grabs.

A snoozer in New England, while it doesn't really matter, you can consider to be a lesson learned. Carolina has a change or two left to make, and this will be the likely catalyst to make it happen.


Gameday!

New England at New England tonight, in the last potential chance to see
what the new people have and/or the last chance for some of these guys
to make a team.

Cam Newton and the most established starters probably play no more than
they did v/s Kansas City. Nate Chandler sits for injury as does, I
believe, Trai Turner (who the team wanted to get more reps than the
others), giving Chris Scott and Garry Williams more duty. That more or
less firms up the depth chart, though it may also be interesting to see
if Williams ends up backing LT as well later in the game.

No Charles Johnson again, so it's time for Frank Alexander to make a
case to stay past suspension, and Kony Ealy to show more promise. Mario
Addison and Wes Horton are also ones to watch, of course.

The strong safety battle remains an also-ran issue of Robert Lester v/s
Anderson Russell (the 'two first names' v/s 'the two last names'). They
promise Roman Harper is on his way any day now, but yeah - getting
nervous at SS. They still have to decide who the nickel CB will be,
and who the top outside corner's going to be. Since they'll probably
keep both Bene Benwikere and Charles Godfrey, that outside corner job is
probably for the one remaining roster spot.

Fozzy Whittaker probably has another chance to run wild in this one, but
I don't know if Darrin Reaves is playing. Both have touchdowns this
preseason.

And, of course, the 4th-5th WR jobs are open. Tavarres King and Brenton
Bersin have thrown their hat in the ring - it's now up to those two to
fight for the 4th job, and possibly a last chance for Tiquan Underwood
to make something happen. Marcus Lucas and Marvin McNutt will be hoping
just to catch balls.

Philly Brown remains a major wild card both there and the return game.



Most importantly, I hope for a similar performance as last week, with
the obvious hope that there are no injuries.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bully Nonsense Explains Smith Split

The Carolina Panthers love Steve Smith. Know that all the upcoming Week
4 anymosity is a matter of cognitive distortion. He's respected, loved
in Carolina. I think that you could make an argument as a player that
Smith was worth another year.

It's his mouth that had to go.

There's no doubt that you see the distance between Smith and the
Panthers this week. Smith gave an interview with a local Baltimore unit
that brought up the word "bully". There's no doubt that you could
attach the name to Smith well before now. When he's your bully,
absolutely it's easier to swallow. No doubt it's tougher to know you
have to face him.

While Smith was using the word positively, Panthers coach Ron Rivera
used it in the negative almost simultaneously. Not about Smith,
because honestly, nobody in Carolina is dumb enough to say a bad thing
about Smith even if they mean it. But, about Josh Norman and Kelvin
Benjamin? Absolutely. And the understated idea that it also means
Smith? Absolutely.

Smith bullied corners. He made names of a few, ended a career or two.
It was entertaining, and distracting. Smith wasn't the only one -
certainly, Captain Munnerlyn had scrappiness to him, as did Mike
Mitchell. Defenders need fire more than offensive skill, but all of
them need restraint. In Smith's case, it was too much distraction.
Rumors that he was told to tone it down, and couldn't? Who knows. But
on a team that acts as family, there's not a ton of room for a guy who
wants to bully and embarass a teammate.

Carolina chose more Thomas Davis, and less Steve Smith. Of course, if
it were only so easy (and there'd be a lot more cadavers missing
ligaments) to have more Davis - so they had to choose less Smith.
Certainly, when you read about myths like "the Patriot way" (with a
potential pile of bodies behind that in the last year, and the
always-present cheating allegations), or "the Steeler way" (overnight
the top two on their RB depth chart got busted for pot, somehow,
together), you know that good intentions don't get it done.

It's a tough game. And not everyone agreed with Carolina's ideaology.
Certainly not Baltimore, certainly not St Louis from their actions last
year, or San Francisco. Carolina held themselves in check, even Smith
to a point, against the Rams, who were also an inferior team. Against
San Francisco, arguably better but certainly a lot better when they can
get away with headbutts and their coach being ten yards out on the field
during play, they couldn't. So they learned from it, and acted on it.

For that, Smith is apparently a casualty. A sign to the young guys.
Norman and Benjamin can't do what they did out there last week.