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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Barron, Benjamin, And Other Philosophy

At one time, I had some legitimate concerns of the Tampa secondary.
Coming into last year, they had a growing Mark Barron, a Nick Saban
disciple for a Bill Belichick disciple (with the clear connection that
Saban is, in fact, a Belichick guy himself), 49ers alum Dashon Goldson
at the other safety, Darelle Revis at corner to go with 2nd rounder
Johnathon Banks (a guy I'd liked in Carolina because of his length).

Two pieces are now gone, with Goldson too expensive to cut and Banks
struggling in year two. Tampa's a mess and the secondary is a fair sign
of that. Barron was shipped to the Rams (which might be a good fit, but
I don't see St. Louis as somehow a Mark Barron away from an exceptional
defense right now) for a 4th and 6th round pair of choices, a far cry
from his value of being top ten overall.

Barron's a guy whose career I'll always follow. The heavy rumors right
before the fifth pick was in was that Carolina wanted Barron or Kuechly.
As is fairly well documented here, I had some issues with Kuechly at
that pick. In my mind, the needs were OT (Riley Reiff, I guess), DT
(and they suffered another year there, where Fletcher Cox, Dontari Poe
were both actually pretty good up to this point in time), CB (I wanted
Dre Kirkpatrick, and had stumped a bit to get up a few spots to get to
Mo Claiborne, a move Dallas made (and wasn't worth it). I remember not
feeling like the DTs were as solid as they could be (they were) and
spent tons of time arguing about the potential v/s production on guys
like Quintin Coples (who I fully assumed was the pick) versus Melvin
Ingram, Dont'a Hightower, or Courtney Upshaw. The tackles have been
more valuable, of course. Coples went next, and Chandler Jones has
probably been more productive than the field than this group.

Either way, Carolina hit the jackpot with Kuechly and apparently
wouldn't have with Barron, now a castoff and just not very good in
coverage.

It's not lost on me that with Barron being shipped out of division that
Carolina has safety troubles, too. Obviously, there have been times
that Roman Harper and Thomas Decoud have had struggles. Tre Boston has
barely played, and gave up the game winner last week. Robert Lester
comes and goes from the roster. Charles Godfrey got cut, and went to
the Falcons quickly after.

They've gotta get their story straight soon at safety. The one year
deal experiments have been interesting, but let's start investing
something real into the job.



Now, to Kelvin Benjamin. KB recently stated he had lagged in his
workouts (the magical 4.61 number) to drop to Carolina. It's got some
plausibility - draft slotting at this point matters only tangentially to
pay after the top 10 (and that magical fifth year option). I don't know
if Benjamin is that slow or not, as he's beating guys on go routes
(coincidentally, PFF says Benjamin "has been targeted on "go routes" 17
times which is the most in the league. He has only converted six into
catches, but that also leads the league as well as his three touchdowns
on go routes. He has 148 receiving yards on those six catches.")

When Benjamin supposedly blew off a meeting/workout with a team, it felt
a bit like a ruse. Either a plant story by a rival player's agent, or a
strategy to not be picked by that team. For what it's worth, Jon Beason
supposedly tanked a workout with the Pats after stating he didn't want
to join them.

There's also ample reason to suggest Benjamin and Carolina really did
have it in for each other and they kinda colluded to make it happen.
Interesting, either way.

So, Carolina's had odd circumstances across each of their top picks in
the last four years. Cam Newton bubbled to the top because there wasn't
Andrew Luck; Kuechly, a matter of circumstance possibly when another
Saban DB tricked a team ahead of them; Star Lotulelei a phantom heart
issue; Kelvin Benjamin, possibly agent draft voodoo.

Oh well. Can use all the help we can get. Someone go plant Cedric
Ogbuehi with a Manti Teo story and let's finish the job.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

New OT; New/Old Safety, Old Safety New Falcon

Robert Lester's back, possibly this time for more than a few days.   Chase Blackburn goes to IR, having sustained a knee injury, leaving the team a little short at LB.

Charles Godfrey's now a Falcon, presumably as a safety.

OT Mike Remmers is a Panther now, having come from the Rams' practice squad.  Remmers was an undrafted out of Oregon State in 2012 and has bounced around.  To make room, Darrin Reaves is waived, and hopefully he'll make it past waivers to the practice squad.

It's a mess.  I don't remember this many roster moves in a year in a while.  I don't have exceptional worries of Godfrey being a Falcon,  Yes, he knows the team, the personnel.  The Falcons face Carolina twice a year - at most, you're changing some on-field calls by the offense and defense so there aren't any keys telegraphed.  And, of course, Godfrey isn't very good.

Lester teams with Tre Boston and Colin Jones to give a bit of an uprising at S.  Jones was seen playing some nickel last weekend, Boston was on the field the last few weeks, and now Lester's out there.

Can't Give Up Now

There's no doubt this is the hard part of the season. There's no doubt
that having RB and OL injuries and deficiencies has hurt, and the
defense decided to have an identity crisis for a while.

The hope is, that's all temporary. The expectation is, losses count as
a loss, and it doesn't matter how some of them were disappointments at
the last second (like Seattle, still fresh in their memory) or blowouts
(the other three losses). They all count, they all sting.

But now's not the time to give up. Now's not the time to dread. It's
not time to tank for draft position (no Suck for Luck, but I guess if
you were to captain such a thing, maybe Squirrely for Gurley? Nothing
rhymes with Ogbuehi). With 3-4-1, Carolina's still leading the
division, which means a draft slot of 21. That's next April (May?
Maybe they'll pin it back to August if they keep it up), not now. Now's
what everyone's been waiting for, so let's not piss it away.

With New Orleans coming (and coming off a big win, in what could be a
letdown game for them, hopefully), this is going to be a decisive game
toward the division championship. Both teams have had some issues, I
don't think you get to .500 or worse by being perfect.

But, moving forward Carolina has to get back to basics. Control the
line of scrimmage with the run and work toward the strengths of some of
your young linemen. It's a lot easier to have, say, Trai Turner and
Andrew Norwell, blocking what Rob Ryan throws at them against the run
than what they'll see against the pass. That'll make use of these
backs that act as if they're going to be healthy.

Massive Disappointment - SEA v/s CAR aftermath

This is what happens when you come away with field goals against a good
team.

Carolina held the lead essentially all game, and gave it away at the
last second.

I was hoping, at minimum, to get Seattle held to a field goal, but
Russell Wilson hit TE Luke Willson for a TD (over top of rookie Tre
Boston in man coverage) with time winding down.

If this had been a win, there would be much to celebrate - Jonathan
Stewart made it through game two in a row, and looked like a fairly
powerful runner again. Despite massive OL injuries, the running game
had a little promise. And the defense, the defense was what it used to
be (though the use of Luke Kuechly as a move-around piece had some
negative effects; while I liked that Thomas Davis had his day (10
tackles, and a couple massive hits) playing the pursuit role, I felt
like Kuechly was misused on run blitzes. Nonetheless, sure, the D
played very well.

The OL, not so much, and that impacted Cam Newton. And while this was
the first time in a while I really didn't like some of the things Mike
Shula was trying to pull off, I can see some of the necessity. For
instance, we can more or less agree that a screen on 4th and 22 from
your own endzone isn't smart, but after you take two sacks on 2nd and
3rd down I don't know what you can do. There's no good play for that.

That's not a fingerpoint at Shula, or at Cam (who had somewhat minimal
time throughout the day, but absolutely no time at all on that last
drive). I'm not your "someone must pay" guy. My initial reaction after
the game, and at a few times this year, was to point at John Matsko, the
line coach. But given that he has at times almost nothing to work with
(two undrafteds played at least half the game, of which Andrew Norwell
played a full one and David Foucault played both tackle spots for the
other half), I'm having a hard time owning that with hindsight, too.
Clearly, David Gettleman underestimated the struggles involved in Byron
Bell and Nate Chandler's growth, and that's been an issue. He had a
few things keeping him from doing what was necessary there, too (I still
feel like James Hurst would've been a smart pick later in the draft).

Not unlike with Kuechly, I felt like Greg Olsen was used oddly. They
have used him at fullback before, but I felt like he wasn't pushed as a
downfield threat as much this game. He had one catch, far off his
normal pace.

Nonetheless, they came up short. They came up short in the redzone,
with three field goals and a fumble. Kelvin Benjamin had some great
catches against Richard Sherman, but if he makes the TD catch, this is a
different game. If Carolina got a TD on the fumble drive, or at least
another field goal, then Wilson is driving downfield, down by 16-6, not
9-6. That's a different game.

Every play counts. I can't be disheartened seeing them hold Seattle to
13 points, except there weren't enough points for Carolina. I have to
love how the team drove downfield with the Seahawks defense, except in
the redzone. I have to love how the defense played, except for the last
drive. They put most of a game together, but failed to finish it.

But, against a pretty solid team, hopefully there's some good to come of
this.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

v/s Seattle, Pregame

Seattle has a tough team that feels it's being held down.  Stylistically, this is Carolina playing itself in some ways.

Their OL is much more expensive (if Ryan Kalil wasn't the center, there would be nothing but undrafteds on Carolina's OL, where Seattle has spent big) but it doesn't perform that well.  That doesn't faze Russell Wilson (who will have a homecoming of sorts, because NC State fans claim him hard - yet he voluntarily left their team, so he had his best year at Wisconsin and is from Ohio, but have it your way State fans), who deals with pressure exceptionally well.

And, they have to stop the still-shifty Marshawn Lynch, though it's hard to say how he'll be - there's reports he's unhappy with the Percy Harvin trade.   Therefore stopping the run probably becomes harder than the pass,  Already 29th in pass yards, missing Harvin is essentially an afterthought,  22 receptions for 133 yards and a score (6 yard average) isn't exactly powerful.  The remaining Doug Baldwin has 23/310 and a score; Jermaine Kearse becomes the other starter and has 14 receptions.   Lynch, in the passing game, is essentially the target now too - 3 scores there, neck and neck with Baldwin's production otherwise.

But, that's not to take away from Wilson.  He's efficient, he doesn't turn the ball over, he gets you yards (he's 2nd leading rusher, 3 scores), he takes you down the field.  In the passing game, I'd almost run man with a free safety, to be able to assign a guy to Wilson and to Lynch.  It might also best fit the re-addition of Josh Norman (though, double moves are worrisome) and the movement to nickel of a non-nickel player in James Dockery.

Their defense?  Carolina has to put up points.  Low scoring games the last two have narrowly gone to Seattle.  Get points where you can.

Inside, hard to say, they don't have as tough a front as before, still featuring Brandon Mebane (who's been decent, but not as good as I'd imagined), and the luck of having Michael Bennett.  But they ditched a lot of last year's rush (and edge defender Red Bryant to take away some situational run D), they still expect Bruce Irvin to play a lot of LB, and they're without Bobby Wagner.  Brandon Browner is gone.  So there are some things that aren't what they were last year, defensively.  

Ditching those rushers has left the rush anemic at best - worse than Carolina's somehow faltering DL. They're still 6th in rush D, but the pass D is just pedestrian.

It's coming cross country, traditionally very tough on the visiting team, but that hasn't fazed Seattle in the last two trips to Carolina.

If this Panthers team doesn't figure out how to do things the right way, it's going to have major issues. It's nearly impossible to forecast a win or loss, or even a level of performance, when it varies so greatly week to week.  They could decisively beat the defending champs, or get embarrassed at home.  I have no idea what to expect.

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.