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Friday, December 28, 2007

v/s Dallas, Heartbreak In A

The Panthers never should've had a shot - the run game completely collapsed, the team didn't keep consistent drives, and the defense tired. But the Panthers were in the game down to the last drive, and could've stolen the game if not for a few awful calls.

It's clear that Drew Carter was interfered with. It's clear that the Steve Smith catch was, in fact, a catch. Two feet down, a butt down, elbow down, and then a player comes in and knocks the ball out? Awful. Then again, if Jon Beason doesn't twist Terrell Owens' ankle, it could've been a rout.

The team fought throughout the game, and with another solid outing by Matt Moore, stood at the verge of basic competence on offense. The defense made plays, including another game changer by Thomas Davis, and kept us in range. Fighting through games like this shows the necessary improvement to keep parts of the staff intact, though had there been fewer blowouts early in the year, there'd have been no reason.

Weis Update:
Rumors abound that Charlie Weis will be fired from the Notre Dame job after a disappointing season. While new Dolphin head honcho Bill Parcells will keep his eye on Weis, the theoretically deposed star would probably want to take it easy for a year and reap some of the rewards of the contract he earned.

Unless Weis actively held an NFL job as a necessity, chances are he'd take a year off from coaching. Whether he'd help good friend John Fox and protege' Jeff Davidson as a consultant, is hard to say, but he wouldn't likely come on staff even as a personal favor to Fox.

Atlanta Update:
The Falcons have talked with Marty Schottenheimer regarding their coaching vacancy, and with GM Rich McKay on the way out, Chargers Assistant GM Buddy Nix might be the other side of the pairing. Nix, by account of Chargers GM AJ Smith, was close to Schottenheimer. Smith himself warred with Schottenheimer.

Marty wouldn't be an awful fit for the Falcons, and is a tough nosed, conservative coach whose teams play hard. Whether he can strike gold again or not, I wouldn't say, and his coaches are scattered across the league after his departure, forcing him to hope to draw big names as coordinators again. Without lucking into a big back, and with the defense lacking the huge names to make a Kurt Schottenheimer look good, the years worth of roster turnover getting to that point would be after closing the window on what they do have.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

V/S Dallas 12/22

In recent weeks, the Dallas defense has struggled up the middle, and that's been key to their recent struggles. Losing against Philadelphia and nearly losing to Detroit has shown some chinks in the armor that Carolina can exploit.

Detroit employed a spread attack that could still hit up the middle - exposing the over-rated Terrance Newman and Anthony Henry combo and taking them out of 3-4 personnel, leaving 6 blockers on 6 defenders. As well, it left limited-range safety Roy Williams with more responsibility. Williams won't be dressing for this game, which is undoubtedly an advantage for Carolina.

As well, a Detroit team that came into the game last in the league in rushing put up 152 yards against Dallas, and 39 points overall. Dallas is still #2 in the league in run defense, but gave up 6.5, 5.4 and 5.0 yards per carry in their last three games.

Most 3-4 teams are two-gap - play your man, go playside to flow toward the ball and take up space - as opposed to attacking one gap. Because of Dallas' move to a one gap 3-4 this year, they became much more attacking - it also has the propensity to leave holes, missed assignments become bigger, and the size of the defense becomes less advantageous. As well, the Cowboys aren't that big up front. If Carolina was more physical, for instance, this would be much more viable. Nonetheless, getting them into a four-man front and making them defend the run from it would be a win, situationally, and the Cowboys just aren't made for it. Demarcus Ware is too small to go against an NFL tackle from end, and Marcus Spears is too big to be effective rushing outside.

As well, the 3 WR attack would allow for the team to keep a TE in, still leaving the option of 7 blockers if the Cowboys did try to bunch back up. The downside will likely be Carolina having that much success from 3 WR, given that they've only had one productive receiver- Steve Smith. Drew Carter likely starts this week, and Ryne Robinson and Dwayne Jarrett gives some different looks, but there's not a lot of consistency here. The Panthers aren't as fluent in the spread formations as the Lions or Eagles.

Of course, doing this also assumes a few things of the Panthers- execution, namely. Being able to block Ware and cover Owens, Witten. Staying in the game and fighting it to the end. It wouldn't hurt to have some help from Romo getting pain in his thumb, or just getting a few good hits on him. Nonetheless, the Panthers can hit the Cowboys where they're vulnerable.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Atlanta has further woes and more coaching ramifications

It looks like a slowly-gelling Panthers team, probably intent on keeping John Fox, may have done its best work to keep the coach, and will reap rewards regardless of what's necessary. Rumors and hopes of Bill Parcells or Bill Cowher have already been ferreted out by division rival Atlanta. Having already been told that Cowher "is committed to a two-year hiatus", a plan that may or may not be true, the Atlanta Falcons turned their thoughts (and, more importantly, money) on Parcells.

Parcells would head up the entire football operation as an executive, assumably running all personnel, hiring all staff, picking the next coach. Supposedly, last night left Parcells with a likely contract signing, having agreed in principle. This morning, when the team followed up to get it official, Parcells said he had reconsidered a previous offer from the Miami Dolphins.

Either way, this looks to leave two GMs out on their asses - Randy Mueller, certainly expected to be deposed in Miami, and Rich McKay in Atlanta. Atlanta may keep McKay now, so he can hire the next coach, although his handy-work left a successful-turned-weasely Jim Mora Jr pining for college coaching while still a head coach in the NFL, followed by Bobby Petrino leaving during a season. Not a stellar record, though Mora did work out for some wins.

To complicate things, Wayne Huizenga has put the Dolphins up for sale, and in the same week took the team off the table a day before landing Parcells.

Meanwhile, with the college situation being screwed up by Petrino and Nick Saban, veteran assistants Russ Grimm and Ron Rivera look to be two hot names. Both are a year removed from their greatest successes for teams, both moving on this year. Neither can really draw from their old or new staffs for planning their own staff. Grimm, held back by the Steelers being in the playoffs, won't have that problem in Arizona; Rivera's chargers will be in the playoffs (though not expected to stay long).

The Cowher situation won't stop hanging over Carolina's head, however; supposedly, Chris Mortenson believes that Cowher would come back for Carolina, this year or next; Cowher's availability continuing to be what it is, Fox would have to be better than his 2007 year to not be fired if Jerry Richardson could contact the former Steelers head coach early. This year, the Falcons seemed to have the chance to trump any moves the rest of the NFL looked to make, though the end result leaves the Atlanta Franchise no less lost than it was for months.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Big Win, and What It Means: v/s SEA, 12/16

What a fun game out there, with Matt Moore taking charge. Very little scoring, but he was effective. Did well on 3rd down, did well overall. He always talks about being jittery, but never shows it. Still, the rookie had thrown 3 INT in 20 attempts, which is concerning even after his solid play this week.

He's the only live arm left; Vinny Testaverde is used up, David Carr is a quivering, shell-shocked mess. He should start the last two games, though the games don't get any easier from here.

Still, a top flight defensive performance and a stable quarterback have given us a home winning streak (at 2 games) and a little confidence. Seattle's not a terrible football team. Haphazardly putting together far-fetched playoff scenarios in mid-December certainly beats putting together battle plans for clearing out the staff.

As well, solid spot-time work from Ryne Robinson was good to see; it was magical seeing Thomas Davis make what became the game-winning play.

It appears that John Fox is, in fact, safe for the upcoming year, though expect a few more changes. Jeff Davidson and much of the offense will have earned a reprieve, though it's uncertain if the other recent changes (promoted OL coach Dave Magazu, promoted TEs coach Geep Chryst, or title-added QBs coach/passing coordinator Mike McCoy) will continue in their current roles. Jim Skipper is safe; Richard Williamson is assumed safe and tenured, but at age 66 may be leaving soon. Defensively, it's hard to see much happening; only the defensive line has underachieved, largely due to unknown issues with Julius Peppers; that coaching spot, manned by Sal Sunseri, could see movement but Sunseri was an original hire in 2002, and a guy who has worked with Fox for years before that.

Undoubtedly, despite a bit of improving play, it looks like the consensus is that Danny Crossman should go; improvement or not, the Panthers aren't even average in most special teams categories, and the move might have to be made. Another past staffer and a player under Fox (University of Pittsburgh), Crossman has sentimental ties to Fox.

Sentiment increases that Marty Hurney shouldn't be safe, crediting a lack of talent overall and veteran acquisition in the 2007 free agent period as a primary part of failure. With that said, a solid draft (on paper still, as of now) helped, and watch for the team to spend to bolster the team's talent and become more competitive. As it looks right now, expect a veteran acquisition at WR, keeping Jordan Gross, a shakeup on the DL, and some work at guard. It seems like offensive tackle is already the expected need for the first round of the draft, as obvious as in 2003. DT could creep in there, depending on (or independently of) the status of Ma'ake Kemoeatu, with the other two DT free agents. Free safety has to enter into the situation, but with this staff, it's hard to say what will happen.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Disappointment; Coaching Carousel Spins Already

Needless to say, the Jacksonville game was embarassing. Losing to a rival program, with a rival coach, and right after the first feel-good win in a while? It hurt. Worst of all, we had the rallying cry of Vinny Testaverde finally squashed, possibly for the season. Vinny had the propensity to make a few awful throws, but this week he was ridiculous. Things were going to only get worse after Testaverde couldn't hit Steve Smith on a short screen to the right, without throwing high and wide.

With the somewhat surprising (and douchebaggerizing) resignation of Bobby Petrino to go back to the college ranks (not addressing the team, and barely noting to his coaches), the NFL coaching carousel begins. Brian Billick, Cam Cameron, Mike Nolan, assumably Scott Linehan, and certainly our own John Fox are in danger.

Interesting names on the Falcons' coaching staff:
Mike Zimmer, former Dallas DC and Atlanta DC; if a team needed a defensive coordinator, he'd be an interesting name behind Mike Nolan; LBs coach Brian Van Gorder, former UGA defensive coordinator and Georgia Southern head coach would certainly do well continuing to coach linebackers. Hue Jackson, Atlanta's OC, would be a good WRs coach option.

One other interesting name: Karl Dorrell. While Dorrell might stay down in the college ranks, he's a good name for any staff putting together a good offense, having the pro experience as a receivers coach and a college background as a coordinator. He has experience with the WCO, as well. He's expected to be a position coach if he comes back up, but he's a quality name.

This is mostly to speak in generalities - Richard Williamson has a job here if he wants it.

As for the Falcons' vacancy? Some suggest Mike Singletary will interview. Some push Jason Garrett. Another media source pines for John Fox. There's always the Cowher and Schottenheimer rumors.

My money's on Garrett. He's young, he's successful, you can feed him a young QB, and to me, he lacks credability, organization, experience, and would be a failure. So, please go to Atlanta, Jason Garrett.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A Win Cures All Ails - Well, Most

Talk of next year has waned, giving way to actual football again - what a difference a week makes. And at the stadium, despite an unruly crowd, there was still a crowd. And when it had things to cheer, it did. When it needed to make noise, it did - I guess the people who wouldn't come to a December game are the ones who sit quietly anyway.

Now, instead of weighing the Cowher v/s Schottenheimer sides, it's more along the line of "how much better shape we'd be in, if we'd just won Atlanta." It's progress, for now.

It was a good game, if sloppy, for a home win, the first in a calendar year. Testaverde made a couple bad decisions, but still came out ahead and ran the offense fairly well. Deangelo Williams made some plays in an extended role, and various players came up with big plays on defense - Beason, Davis, Gamble, Rucker, Marshall, Manuel.

But 8-4 Jacksonville is another matter. While turnovers are possible, they're not especially likely either - the powerful Jacksonville rushing game has only 2 fumbles on the year, and while backup Quinn Gray has thrown 5 INT in 96 attempts, David Garrard has only 1 in 238.

Which leaves the offense needing to score points entirely on its own against the 7th ranked scoring defense. It gets better, though - they're 27th in passing yards.

still, a road game v/s a playoff-likely team isn't the best timing for a Panthers team suddenly filled with hope, and the schedule only gets more brutal from there.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Testaverde to start; This is the beginning,or the end

As the single most winnable game remaining for the year, and with Carolina riding a 5 game losing streak, this is either where we turn things around to try to make the rest of the year respectable, or things start to look so hopeless that nothing will save things for quite some time.

Vinny Testaverde starts, amidst some hope for the interception-prone Matt Moore (who has 3 INT in only 22 attempts), which is for the best. Testaverde is the best hope to win a football game, and this team needs a win a lot more than it needs to see whether an undrafted player unlikely to be on the team in two years is "the future".

SF is soft up front- Frank Gore's support is gone, the line is awful and soft. They're 30th in yards, and in the 30s in most offensive categories. The X-factor is Trent Dilfer, who's put up 250 yards and 2 TD in the last two games (one of which, however, also had 3 INT). Alex Smith had struggled in the year as well, and the team just hasn't been what it was last year. Gore is a solid back, and extra attention must be placed on Vernon Davis since the SF receivers are so pedestrian. The 49ers' line is also bottom quarter of the league in pass protection, but blitzing Dilfer isn't the way to go.

One way to turn things around that hasn't been mentioned enough (thanks, Rich): New management with the existing coaching getting just one more chance. In the event that Jerry Richardson determines that the product on the field is because of inferior talent and not coaching, or that the offensive coaching would benefit from a more realistic situation to be evaluated, Fox would be expected to make minor adjustments to the staff (ST coach, namely), and the front office would be revamped.

In doing so, the ideal would be to either replace Marty Hurney, or bump him back down as a coordinator of services by hiring a Vice President. As VP, this person would be responsible to Mark Richardson and Jerry Richardson, whereas there's not a clear dichotomy between John Fox and Marty Hurney. If Fox were to be in danger of losing his job, he doesn't have to report to Hurney; Hurney, as a facilitator, essentially reports to Fox. While he had a hand in hiring Fox, Hurney's role isn't clear and doesn't hold any power. Because of that, Fox essentially had no checks and balances.

This person, besides having the ultimate power in the equation, would have one year to evaluate Fox and, if necessary, hire his replacement.

VP candidates: The big name is Bill Parcells. He would bring immediate excitement, a name, and certainly a good record of personnel evaluation. He's a figurehead, but a figurehead with responsibility that always runs a fair organization. Whether his people skills would be as desireable as an executive is hard to say, and whether he'd draw unnecessary attention to a coach (or away from a coach) would be dubious at best.

Nonetheless, it would be interesting, and when there's a lull, Jerry Richardson tends toward making things interesting. Parcells as coach and GM is harder to say, and at 66 he'd have to come with the guarantee of an heir-apparent for both positions.

Another VP candidate would be Ron Hill, current NFL VP/football operations and former Atlanta VP; Tom Heckert, Philadelphia GM.

GM candidates to keep an eye on: Hill; Reggie McKenzie, director of pro personel for Green Bay and former NFL player; Charles Bailey, Jaguars director of pro personel, former asst. GM in New Orleans.