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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Seattle Lineup

After speculating on the defensive backs, the team answered. They're
not, by any means, related, but at least now there are answers.

Josh Norman is back to starting at RCB, James Dockery is the nickel, and
Antoine Cason remains on the other side. Melvin White is the guy
outside, looking in. About this time last year, he hadn't become a
starter yet, and two years ago Norman was more or less locked in, so
that's the way it goes at that position.

Apparently, the backup nickel has been Colin Jones. The tall, fast
safety has only recently shown up as a safety in preseason, having been
a special teamer only, for most of the time since coming to Carolina.
The team, in turn, took DeAndre Pressley, who is on PUP but can practice
now, and have attempted to train him as a safety.

Andrew Norwell is preparing to be the left guard starter this week.
Amini Silatolu and possibly Trai Turner are out, and Norwell is both
healthy and playing well. The rookie would be the second Ohio State
undrafted to start a game for Carolina this year, along with Philly
Brown at WR (remember back when you'd draft guys like this because they
were from OSU?)


So - Norwell. Unlike Dockery, Norwell hasn't been around that long, so
let's get to know him a bit better. One of various newcomers to the
roster this year with a mullet, the undrafted Norwell is 6'6, 320, and
has an excellent 33.5" arm length and almost 10" hands, for those of you
measuring him like it's the combine. He wasn't strong in his bench at
the time -22 is pretty baseline - but that's the sort of thing that will
benefit him come next year.

He was a three year starter at OSU, known for gritty competitiveness and
punishing blocks, but mostly clean play. He gets his job done, doesn't
miss assignments. I don't know if he's the sort of guy who can drive
block you out of the building, the way that Trai Turner had been billed
(and may, hopefully, become), but he'll get his man covered and at that
point that's an improvement over the spotty play Carolina's produced.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Picking Up The Pieces - Next Man Up

The Charles Godfrey experiment, as I posted yesterday, is over.

And, rook Bene Benwikere, probably the team's best defensive back but
some of that being out of attrition, probably isn't in yet this upcoming
week. Certainly, the rest of the year at nickelback somewhat concerns
the idea that Benwikere will be there to help stop the bleeding.


But, this week that's not likely how it is. Ron Rivera suggests things
"aren't as encouraging" as hoped, so Carolina's dealing with existing
stock. For these purposes, I'll assume that Josh Norman is, in fact,
playing this week. He had been a "healthy scratch" I guess last week,
either the team believed he was unneeded or maybe they wanted another
week to evaluate Godfrey versus James Dockery. Given that Norman had
been a starter for roughly 30 snaps before getting hurt, who knows if he
was demoted - logic might say no, but logic also says you might not
choose to sit a starter that's healthy.


Nonetheless, you don't kick out a roleplayer without some idea who will
replace him. Norman, Melvin White, and Dockery all have most of their
experience outside. Antoine Cason as well, his last stint at nickel
coming from the San Diego days where he had been benched (he had played
inside with Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie outside - when
Cromartie was traded, Cason started outside) by Ron Rivera.

So - will the team move Cason, currently dreadful outside, inside to
start Norman and White? Will Dockery give it a try? Is Dockery somehow
a starter now? That's a separate question, of course - and not mutually
exclusive. Dockery could start and slide inside. Or he's not at all
involved in the game plan this week. Any of this could be true.

In other words, if anyone does know, it's not me. But for right now,
that's what they're working with.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Godfrey Cut; Scott, Maybe Campbell Coming Back In

Former starting safety turned nickel corner Charles Godfrey ended his
long road of recovery with the Panthers, being cut today. Godfrey, a
3rd round pick in 2008, started at safety 2008-12 and the first few
games of 2013 before tearing an Achilles tendon. Replaced at S, Godfrey
was moved to CB, lost the job to rookie Bene Benwikere. When the rook
was hurt, that was Godfrey's place to step up, and it just didn't work.
He played in 82 games, 75 starts. A 2011 extension for 5 years, $25
million came on the heels of a breakout 2010, but it was just too much
money and Godfrey struggled heavily under Ron Rivera.

Godfrey's proration in 2015 and 2016 will count against '15, for a total
of $3 million. I'd assume James Dockery is the 3rd CB next week and
from here on until Benwikere returns. Godfrey had also been depth for
safety, playing a good bit against Tampa Bay, and Tre Boston saw snaps
last week. That likely left the team with no necessity for Godfrey.

It's also likely a message to the defense, that the current state of
things has become unacceptable. The Benwikere part of the DB gamble has
been a success; you could argue it's the only one. Thomas Decoud and
Roman Harper have had some moments, but not a ton; Antoine Cason is
giving up way too much right now.


To fill the spot, the team has signed Chris Scott, a 2013 starter who
had been re-signed to the practice squad. The team has also worked out
Bruce Campbell, Jordan Gross' backup the last few years at LT. Hard to
say if their intention with Campbell was to work him out for the current
vacancy taken up by Scott, or if he may also join the roster as needed.
The team seems to have issues at both guard and tackle (with injury
and performance).

GB Aftermath

I just don't know what to do with this team.

Honestly, for the last few days I've been trying to pretend that game
didn't exist. I don't want to acknowledge that this team is this bad.
You could tell, once a rare INT by Aaron Rodgers was nullified by a
penalty by Luke Kuechly of all people, followed by the offsides
penalties, that Carolina wasn't in this game. A quick score followed,
and once the offense went three and out, you could tell it couldn't
carry the defense. The rest is just a detail. Kuechly getting
erroneously thrown out of the game, just whipped cream on a vomit
milkshake.

Upside? Greg Olsen, Kelvin Benjamin, and Brenton Bersin got some fun
stats. Jonathan Stewart survived a game. Maybe more help is arriving,
depending on the health of the already-departed versus what's going on
with the OL right now (yikes).

So, I'm fairly jaded right now. I'm already in an awful mood when the
team doesn't perform, and then I stew in the discussions with others.
I'm fairly certain that the average blame situation is 100%
prefabricated, recycled content. Jumble your favorite blame entity with
appropriate action words. In losses, the vague "adjustment" shines as
a clear variable of undetermined content that turns a loss into a win.
Thank God no one's started the 30 carries = win bandwagon yet.

I can't blame one guy. I get that Ron Rivera and Cam Newton are
lightning rods in a storm. I'm not happy about this any more than they
are or the average fan is. But I swear to God I read someone recently
suggest in all caps to bring back Jimmy Clausen and he looked serious.
Because if one thing's failing this team, it's the passing game, right?

I don't know. I'm a cathartic-minded complainer too. I'm fairly close
to ready to give up on this defense. I did have worries that they'd
give up 30 points, and sadly that's more the norm than not now. I'm
resigned to the idea that this is how it is now, until they can regroup
after the year with some growth and some better ability to be physical
without these awful interference rules.

Nonetheless, we're just playing out the year. I'm not giving up on
them, but at 3-3-1 leading the NFC South appears to be a mere
technicality. At the least, there are wins to be had in division, and
the team might get hot at the end. It's possible 8-7-1 could win the
division, leading to a very friendly away game for some 11-5, 12-4
montster to clean Carolina up. If the defense plays the way it should
instead of the way it has, and the passing game can carry the O until
running backs and linemen get right, maybe they can steal an extra game
or two before getting similarly bulldozed by an overpowered wildcard
team.

And that's the best case, I guess.

But, one game at a time. On to Seattle, I guess. Ouch.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

GB v/s CAR - Pregame

I'm short for time and underprepared this week, so it's a cliff's notes version of a game that Carolina's going to have to efficiently play offense to win on the road.  

Long story short – wins at Lambeau field are hard to come by (55 with a chance of rain isn’t the worst in the world for weather), and Carolina’s struggled with good QB play. Aaron Rodgers might be the best quarterback around right now.   Green Bay’s got an atrocious run defense (31st) but has somehow bolstered its pass D to 5th with turnovers, so you have to be careful where you pick your spots.  They're still a 3-4 base/2-5 nickel, playing mostly two-gap, but they've moved to some four man fronts with injury.  The front is sagging in pass rush, so Cam Newton will have time, but he has to continue to make good decisions.   

As well, the weak spot right now is against Clay Matthews' side; Julius Peppers', side remains tough to stop. They have massive inconsistency inside with BJ Raji out, as well.  Green Bay likely gets that and will send out some run blitzes, but that's part of the issue, Green Bay gambles a bit against the run, notably with SS Morgan Burnett, their leading tackler. AJ Hawk remains inside at LB, and rook Ha Ha Clinton Dix has been active from the other safety spot.  But, the middle sags.   If Jonathan Stewart can stay healthy, he and Newton should have a good day running.  

Sam smith is out, so that at least helps the Carolina passing game.  Kelvin Benjamin, if he can pull out of a minor slump (and assuming he plays), is a good matchup - so is Greg Olsen.  Dom Capers still believes heavily in quarters coverage (four man deep coverage) so you can still abuse them a bit at the 15-18 yard mark, where the Panthers work best.   Carolina is likely to extend the field horizontally with some spread, and given that and quarters coverage, there should be room to run if Newton takes off. 

Carolina’s success in non-losses has come with a positive turnover differential.  Green Bay’s pass defense is good at picking the ball; Aaron Rodgers has gone 170 pass attempts without a pick (week 1).    Carolina's defense has to be the differencemaker in what will otherwise be a high scoring game.   Aaron Rodgers takes some sacks, but he doesn't throw the ball to the other team at all (one this year, on a tipped ball, that otherwise would double his 170 attempts without a pick) and he can move.   He's deadly right now. 

And while his wideouts aren't as deep and experienced as before, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson are still under-rated, sharing 12 scores already, and rook Davante Adams looks to be the guy to hurt you underneath them; Andrew Quarless isn't as fleet footed as past Packers TEs but can still be that big body box out guy.  Playing without Bene Benwikere this week means that Charles Godfrey has to be on his best game.  Honestly, nothing on third down defense worked last week. 

Green Bay's running game is good because the pass sets up the run, and because that offensive line is one of the best.   Eddie Lacy is making poor decisions back there, however, so he's hitting at closer to 3.8 ypc.  This is where Carolina has to be patient.  Don't go for the kill shot, let Lacy screw it up.  Control your gap.   Don't give up a big play trying to get two yards on a loss.  


 So, that's what I see.  Carolina's going to put up offensive points. Defensively, hold onto your hats.  Who is this team anymore?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Life Without Kelvin Benjamin?

Kelvin Benjamin has a mild concussion, sustained on a hit by (who else?)
Cincinnati LB Vontaze Burfict. He'll go through the concussion
protocol. My guess is, if he doesn't practice Thursday or Friday, he
won't be seen this weekend.

I have some concerns in that, in my view, Benjamin sustained the
concussion mid-game and played through the end. I don't want Benjamin
to miss time but, no matter how 'mild' it seems, I wonder if he
should've stayed out. I wouldn't expect him this week against Green
Bay, which is a shame. Green Bay's an excellent offense and terrible
defense, and that leads you to the thought that a lot of points are
going to be required for Carolina to be competitive.

So, what happens with Benjamin out?

My guess is, obviously you'll see Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant, but
in similar amounts to what they've been using. Per
footballoutsiders.com's handy snap count chart, we've seen Cotchery on
exactly 2/3rds of potential offensive plays, including time missed.
Avant, 55.7%. Both have missed a game. I would expect both to start,
but extrapolating out, each will come out and each will play about 75%
of snaps. There will be times, of course, that Brenton Bersin will play
with both of the above, but I imagine he'll get some time at Benjamin's
spot with one of the vets out of the game, too.

Philly Brown responded when elevated earlier this year, and you could
see that being a possibility, too - mix in a fair amount of Cotchery at
Benjamin's X receiver role and add Brown in at flanker more. The two
young guys have averaged 5 snaps per week the last few, the majority of
Brown's 82 total snaps coming in his one start, and Bersin earning 42
snaps across the six games. They've both fared well in that time, so
they should be up to an additional challenge, but they're roleplayers.

They each do well at their portion of Benjamin's workload, so far, in
the same way that Mario Addison is a decent rusher and Wes Horton is a
decent run player, but the combination of the two is what makes the sort
of threat that requires extra gameplanning.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Vontaze Burfict Got Away With It

Cincinnati LB Vontaze Burfict was fined $25,000 three days after a game
where he was fined for a personal foul against Kelvin Benjamin (new
info: KB has a concussion), and was caught twisting the already-ailing
ankles of Greg Olsen and Cam Newton.


The fine, which came without suspension, is a triflingly small amount
for a player who makes over $4 million a year. It's a tenth of a game
check, a minor nuisance for a known dirty player.

The league recently fined Niners QB Colin Kaepernick $10,000 for wearing
the wrong brand of headphones, and last year got Newton for a similar
equipment brand 'infraction'. This Burfict game barely ranks ahead of
those infractions for punishment* - providing furthering proof that the
league is protecting the shield on concussions, not actively involved in
player safety. Burfict had already been flagged for a personal foul,
and is known for a malicious intent at times. That he did this on the
field, dead ball, twice should assure all involved that it's not a
mistake, it's not an accident. This guy is attempting to hurt people.
It's stupid, and it's reckless. It's disappointing.


*it's worth noting, I guess, that personal fouls often draw files of
$8250 when justified, so at least the NFL believes this is a bigger deal
than that, and a bigger deal than headphones, but transitively, they
care more about headphones that personal fouls.