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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Carolina's Offense Shoulders Burden

For this team to win Sunday, it must limit all possible mistakes and score points slowly, methodically, and consistently. It keeps Peyton Manning off the field, it keeps ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney guessing instead of tearing Vinny Testaverde in half.

That's all going to start up front. Carolina's #7 in the league in power situations, but has also struggled in getting backs stuffed (#24). Part of that may be testing the edge - the Panthers rank 4th in running off left end, but have breakdowns off left tackle. It's also been inconsistency, and the Panthers can't afford that much breakdown and stay in this game. The Panthers must run consistently, even if down by a touchdown or more, to stay in this game.

Coincidentally, the Colts are 30th defending off left tackle, and average elsewhere. They're 14th in per play average, 19th per game. Up front, Freeney and Mathis are light, and can be run on; rookie Ed Johnson (6'2, 295) is the beef, and can be suckered into physical confrontation. Raheem Brock (6'4, 273) is a one gap penetrator, and you can't let him slip a block, but shouldn't be a concern otherwise and should be easily moved with or without combo blocks. MLB Gary Brackett (5'11, 240) is a good tackler, with enough depth and range on his drops to not be abused, but not special in coverage. Rob Morris, now at SLB, is still a bit stiff but solid in a lesser role.

Marlin Jackson (6', 200) is a solid downfield cover man who struggles to play it safe enough to stay within the scheme at times, but has shown to be the less picked on corner as the Colts build leads. This should be a safe place to get Steve Smith touches, nonetheless. Opposite him, Kelvin Hayden (6', 195) leads the DBs in tackles, but is a contain style corner. As for the last few weeks, it's hard to see what Carolina will throw in at 2nd WR. The Colts are solid covering WRs downfield, however.

As well, the Colts are very good at pushing defenders out toward the edges in pass coverage - and even do a solid job on slot WRs- but don't cover the TE well. Playing 2 TE, including two on one side of formation, makes the safety be clear about its intentions. Isolating a 2nd TE in motion out of formation onto a small defender in space is often a good way to get a short first down. Setting two TE on one side of formation creates intentional imbalance, good for the counter game and playaction game, but also very good for drawing underneath defenders toward one player to leave the other open. In this respect, you'll see more Christian Fauria, but I'm also hopeful to see some Dante Rosario in the offense.

specifically, playing with the TE means playing against, and possibly away from, Bob Sanders, the midget sized, oft-injured superstar SS. Sanders makes plays, and is the difference in the Colts' back 7 being solid. Testaverde needs to pay most attention to Sanders floating around if he's looking downfield (and has enough time to do so).

Beason-bolstered Defense Faces Biggest Test

Carolina's defense, facing a few middle-of-the-road offenses in weeks past, has gotten back to form with the help of a little extra attention from John Fox and replacing James Anderson with Jon Beason, will face its biggest test of the year in the Indianapolis Colts. A nearly flawless quarterback, a top receiver, a great young back and TE, and a strong offensive line give the Panthers a challenge at every position.

Marvin Harrison won't suit up, which is a gift to Carolina, but Reggie Wayne has proven the better receiver for this year. Wayne (6', 190) isn't a weakness in any area - he's a great deep receiver, he makes plays short, and he goes over the middle without fear. Without Harrison in, it may be best to play a fair amount of man coverage in a 2 or 3 deep shell, and it may be worth keeping either Ken Lucas or Chris Gamble directly on Wayne every play - pick of the two, have him study nothing but Wayne, and stay with him. Carolina has inexplicably struggled to cover the #1 receiver in 2007, where pass ability had been at a premium for the defense in years past. Stopping the Colts means staying on Wayne every play as much as possible.

Backup/slot WR Anthony Gonzalez steps up to start this week, a rookie who's unassuming and a bit pedestrian, but will play a solid complimentary role to Wayne. Since Gonzalez is a slot guy, they may use combo routes on him to keep him in his strengths, so whoever draws Gonzalez needs to play solid contain corner instead of trying to make things happen. Gonzalez won't beat you deep with elite speed, but is quick in routes and crafty.

TE Dallas Clark is quickly becoming a playmaker in lieu of the injured Harrison - Clark leads the team with 6 TDs, and the team may bracket him with Thomas Davis and Chris Harris. Clark isn't exceptionally tall, so he's not a big matchup problem if you can be physical off the snap and stay with him, but he's elusive, compact, and quick. The Panthers have been a lot more solid in zone this year with Beason and Davis underneath than in years past as well, but can't just let Clark drift into open spots.

Joseph Addai, as well, has been a threat receiving, and the Panthers must be aware of the screen game and not get upfield too fast. Backups at RB and TE aren't specifically threatening.

Peyton Manning calls the plays, which gives a unique sense of tendency that makes him harder to study on tape. It's much more of a reaction than a situational playcall. You can't effectively blitz him - Manning led QBs in completion percentage and TD percentage against the blitz, was 4th least sacked against the blitz, and was 2nd best in INT percentage against the blitz. His QB rating facing the blitz was 124.5 for 2006.

so how do you play him? Disguising coverages, a Fox staple, doesn't really work that well; he knows how to read a defense. If you can get solid pressure up front, you can get a sack - but he's only been sacked five times this year. Manning is slightly worse away from home, and on grass, but still above average.

LT Tony Ugoh is a gametime decision, and that helps. Backup Daniel Federkeil is a converted DL from Canada, a 2nd year tackle, which should help things if it comes to pass. Ugoh, a top 50 pick this year, is a big, physical pass blocker and solid run blocker. Mike Rucker won't simply be able to blow by him, and Ugoh is too strong to walk directly back to the QB. The best choice may be to stay at home, play the run first, and take a few chances as they show up.

Inside, UNC alum Jeff Saturday is solid, mistake-free, and a good run blocker. Pushing Kris Jenkins on his nose might solve two problems - keeping Jenkins from jumping offsides and challenging Saturday right on Manning's viewpoint. Converted OT Jake Scott has been solid at guard, but can be walked back a little bit - get on his outside shoulder and drive - but he and Ryan Lilja have been certainly more than solid inside.

RT Ryan Diem has been very solid and should be receiving more Pro Bowl cred at this point - he gave up 2 sacks last year, one so far this year. A matchup one on one against Julius Peppers, coming off a 1.5 sack performance against AZ, should be a good one, and one Peppers will need to win. Peppers may need to try various bullrush moves to combo off onto other moves to get free. The team may also use the one-on-one to attempt a slant or two inside with Thomas Davis.

The Colts' running game is stellar - and that's been the difference between having an all-world offense for years and wearing a ring right now. Ranking 6th in the league running, the colts' OL is tops in the league running in power situations, rank lowest in stuffed plays, and have the highest ranking in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Line Yards. They also run a significant amount of plays outside - 16% far left, 20% far right. A lot of their inside yards (the team has a big dropoff between outside plays or inside plays, to off-tackle plays, where they barely register) come on draws. Playing outside contain, playing pursuit, and playing solid fundamentals will limit this, but the Colts are very good in the run game right now. Also, in goal, the team has taken to quick snaps to sneak it to Manning, and it's produced 2 TDs in 6 games.

The Panthers' defense must be flawless, and past that, they need to keep the Colts' O off the field at every opportunity, and if it were at all possible, force the Colts to play from behind. The Colts aren't much easier to stop one-dimensionally, but it keeps them from getting an early 7 point lead and grinding the ball at you for 45 minutes while you watch helplessly.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Testaverde Starts; Harrison Out; New Captains

Vinny Testaverde continues his post as the 10th starting QB in franchise history this week*, starting against the Indianapolis Colts. John Fox announced the post on Friday, stating that David Carr wasn't 100% and that this was a game-to-game decision.

A Carr loss this week, after a Testaverde win that made the nation take notice for Testaverde as much as anything else, would be disastrous for the young QB, and the team seems to have a lot of confidence in Testaverde after the win.

As well, it appears that both Dan Morgan and Adam Seward are out for the Colts game yet again. Nick Goings is out for the year - doctors apparently deeming his concussion fairly severe and being cautious with him (possibly to set a precedent for Morgan). Replacing Nick Goings on the roster is former Redskins/Lions LB Donte Curry (6'1, 240), a former special teams captain that should dress this week to cover kicks. Curry has played in 78 games, starting 12 (10 for Detroit in 2002). Curry was first or second in ST tackles in his five years as a Lion, and a ST Captain in 2006.

No word on other inactives, but 3rd QB Matt Moore should be declared an emergency QB this week, as opposed to last week when they activated all 3 at the expense of another active roster player. This may give WR Dwayne Jarrett a shot at dressing for the second time this year.


Marvin Harrison will likely be out for the game, the Colts' receiver having not practiced this week. Reggie Wayne will undoubtedly be the team's chosen receiver this week, with 2nd round pick Anthony Gonzalez moving from the slot if Harrison doesn't start. Aaron Moorehead, who took a lot of snaps from Harrison last week, is also ailing with a back injury, but did practice Friday. Last week against the Jaguars, Harrison played 40 snaps, carefully placed in certain situations.

New Captains
With Jake Delhomme out for the season, and Nick Goings going on IR as well, the team announced that two new captains would take their place: OT Jordan Gross and K John Kasay. No word as to how or why the pair were selected, though it's likely they were the next highest vote receivers on offense and special teams. To this point, I've seen nothing out of Gross to suggest captainship, deferring to Mike Wahle's battle-tested nature and his calling of the players-only meeting. Kasay has been a captain many times, including Super Bowl XXXVIII.

*If you're counting at home, don't forget Matt Lytle against St. Louis in 2001, or Randy Fasani against Tampa Bay in 2002 (a franchise-worst 0.0 QB game rating), no matter how much you want to do so.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Carr Questionable: 3x "What To Expect"

David Carr is officially questionable, and after one practice will sit again until gametime to see where his back feels.

Playing Carr, with only this week before the bye week, may or may not be a good thing, so they might go with the backups. So what can we expect to see, with each QB? Other than needing to rely on defense and the running game, here's what to expect with each QB in:

With Testaverde in: Initial theory would put Testaverde, a slow QB 21 years ago and slower now, in shotgun. However, Testaverde isn't a fan of the 'gun, as he says it's just something to take his eyes off the defense. He'll see plenty of rush, and plenty of blitzing, so the screen game needs to be there. The quick passes will get out, so we'll see a lot of slants, crosses, and a lot of working the middle of the field, something we haven't seen much with Carr. TE and FB stop routes will keep drives alive.

With Moore in: Moore was efficient in Dallas' preseason, going 21 for 29 and a score, and was efficient as a collegiate player, going a streak of 7 games without an INT despite having the propensity to throw an odd ball up there. He will probably not see much shotgun, unless the team puts him in shotgun with max-protect (two backs or a back and a TE), but will probably see some spread offense (easier to read the defense, less blitzers, and so on), and will most likely see some bootleg and sprint pass-sprint draw action to help move the pocket. Not the fastest QB at 4.8 (40), he still has quick feet and can run, and getting him out in space keeps blitzing lessened and forces the D to guess a little more with the pass rush. It's a bit much to expect a QB draw or two scripted, as the team won't try to get the QB hit too much. Whoever does play, will have to stay healthy as possible so as to not lose a 3rd QB for extended time.

Nonetheless, Moore is as poised as possible for a rookie in the pocket, and will see some delay safety valve action for the young QB on 5 step drops. When David Carr entered the game in relief, he received deep balls, sideline balls, and safety valves, and don't expect that Moore will receive much different. They may motion players in or out of formation to create looks and tip the defense's hand more (critical for a young QB).

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Vinny Testaverde Added

Partially for his experience, and partially just knowing the Pats'-based offense we're running, the Panthers have added former Buc, Cowboy, Jet, Pat, and Brown/Raven Vinny Testaverde to play quarterback. The 43 year old former Heisman winner is 3 years older than coordinator Jeff Davidson; QBs coach Mike McCoy was a freshman in high school when Testaverde was coming out from the University of Miami; that year, Testaverde's Heisman year, was the year that rookie WR Dwayne Jarrett was born. Testaverde ranks 6 years older than the next Panther, John Kasay; a year younger at 36 is fellow former Patriot Christian Fauria.

Testaverde has 20 different seasons with a TD pass, a record; if he throws for one with Carolina, 21 seasons. Testaverde has had more pass attempts than the entire Panthers franchise.

And if David Carr's back doesn't respond, it's even money that the team will use Testaverde in the Arizona game this week, if they go with experience instead of the athletic but green Matt Moore.

v/s Saints, 10/7 and Jake Delhomme's career-ender

Carolina squeaked it out against New Orleans, playing mediocre football against a mediocre team to set up a game-winner from outside 50 yards for John Kasay. Extending his lore as the only significant kicker in team history, Kasay won it.

David Carr was, at best, average. Only one drive sustained, not much happening deep, but efficient and generally accurate. His play was marred by a back injury caused by spastic running outside the pocket, where Carr is often proficient and often deadly - to himself. If you're going to run, run forward. Relief QB Matt Moore chucked up the longest pass of the day, and then almost gave a TD to the Saints if Mark Simoneau doesn't drop it.

The rest of the team was, at best, average. A defense that made a couple of plays, an offense that made a couple of plays. That's it. You can point to a handful of plays that helped us tremendously, but on average spirited play that amounted to nothing.

The Upside
  • John Kasay still has it.

  • Beason, apparently a natural inside, is gaining experience and confidence. He looks like he can play inside well, sifting past blocks and getting to the ball, and making plays in space. With Dan Morgan and Adam Seward both slowly nursing back toward health, it should be interesting to see what happens.
  • Davis looks very good in coverage at this point at SLB. Playing the TE well the past few weeks, he made a big pass breakup on Reggie Bush to setup the Saints settling for the FG (eventually blocked). He also came from behind and made a stuff on Bush on a lead play; Davis has 5 stuffs and 2 passes defended this year.
  • Chris Harris' INT was heady, but his pass defense showed a great break on the ball and a good play made that will go overlooked. Harris' two plays, even though he's had some tackling issues and some agressiveness issues, were big parts of winning.
  • Deangelo Williams is looking better returning kicks. Had he not let a short ball roll to see if it would go out of bounds, his averages would be higher than Goings' or Robinson's.
  • Williams and Foster are averaging, together, 105.3 yards per game on the ground.
  • The team genuinely looked to be having fun in the second half, but that was only worthwhile because we did have one good drive to bring us back, a couple balls bouncing our way, and then the late FG.
  • The offense isn't where it should be. Very little interesting going on right now, and it looks a lot more like the Dan Henning offense with more I-formation. Where are the TE combo routes, the WR combo routes? Why aren't the screens working? Why can't we run the ball well enough to make the attempts worth it?
  • This team doesn't seem like it's turned around yet. This wasn't a convincing win, just a win, a win against a bad team that was good last year.
  • Jeff King is only in the game part of the time as a threat, the rest of the time not doing much at all. Keary Colbert showed some spark toward the end of the Saints game, but not much up to this point for he or Drew Carter.

It's up to Carr at this point, with Jake Delhomme on the shelf. Delhomme, the team's only meaningful quarterback since 2003, is gone for the year, having surgery on his elbow due to ligament separating from the bone. He's the first starting quarterback in the history of the league to have "Tommy John" surgery, which features supposedly stronger connections which may enhance Delhomme's arm, and give the rest needed rest (a forearm injury nagged him in 2006, noticeably better after his rest during the thumb injury). Rehab is about a year, putting him back during training camp 2008.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

attempts at a v/s NO writeup got eaten by the login screen, so screw it, I'm not writing that again. Spread the ball, pound between the tackles. Execute on D. Win.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Excuses, Excuses

Illness, activity outside this blog, a vigorous work schedule, and celebration each have taken me away from adding to this space in the past week and a half, which has been a disappointing span of days.

Sitting at 2-2, the team's lost Delhomme, Morgan, and the rest is uncertain. The only knowns? We can beat really bad teams, and everyone's angry. Leading the way? Kris Jenkins again, blasting the team as a whole. Mike Wahle called a team meeting, players - only, this afternoon. At heart? Execution, playmaking, and figuring what type team this year's unit will be.

After a tumultuous two weeks, it's nearly impossible to say.