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Friday, September 12, 2008

Carolina Pulls Off Big One

The Panthers went into San Diego and pulled off a feat not many teams inthe NFC had - beating the Chargers at home. The Chargers had been 7-1in the last two years against the NFC, and were 9 point favorites,besides being considered a playoff lock and a Super Bowl possibility.So, leaving San Diego 1-0, without Steve Smith, was a huge win.

Since it's already Thursday, and everyone's already put out analysis, let's hit the highlights.

The winning play: Dante Rosario, on what became a flag pattern out of a5-wide, all-go shotgun play. Rosario got behind the MLB in the back ofthe endzone and just went up higher than anyone else. NFL.com has agreat feature in their video section analyzed by Steve Mariucci.

The Drive: Carolina made it happen mostly with in routes to thereceivers and out routes to the TE and backs. Time management wasn'tthe greatest, and Delhomme was in danger of losing the game twice onshort plays that came down at :06 and :02 respectively, that could'velet the clock run. However, the team went 68 yards in 2:27 to setup the TD.
Delhomme was 8 of 11 for 68 yards on the drive, for a 118.75 rating.

Rosario's coming out party: Rosario has definitely become one of thePanthers' favorite targets, leading the team with 96 receiving yards andmaking Sportscenter's Top Ten twice, for the TD and for a leap over achargers defender in the open field. Notably, Jeff King hasn't receiveda target since Rosario returned to the field.

Second Half Adjustment: Carolina had success running the ball early, and received criticism for going away from it, despite controlling the line of scrimamge. But the deeper story was not controlling the clock - a scoring drive of 7 plays, 16 yards on the ground and a FG was a bright spot despite its lack of length, but the team fumbled a first down away on the next drive and failed on two other third downs in the half before the final, winning drive. That drive was ten pass plays in a row, and before that the team had run 10, and passed 7, in the half.

Jake's first game back: Delhomme was slightly erratic to start, and hada couple deep balls that looked to lack velocity. But he comes togetherin clutch situations, still had tons of zip on the passes to thesideline (as hard a pass as any to throw) and finished with the gamewinning TD - and could've had a 2nd if the ball hadn't been dropped atthe goal line by Brad Hoover. Delhomme was (23 of 41) for 247 yards for the day, for a 82.1 rating.

The Busted Play - Carolina set for 4th and goal from the 1, and wentinto playaction. The playaction worked, and the Chargers were caughtina run blitz; Delhomme had enough time, but had odd options - Jeff Kingwas streaking right but wasn't looking; Geoff Hangartner was eligible tothe left but double covered. Brad Hoover was option 3, and whilecovered, had a shot at catching the ball and didn't. Meanhwhile, thetwo best receivers on the field weren't out for patterns: Rosario waslined up at FB and faked inside to block, and Williams was the RB thatwas faked to.

The Rookies: Jeff Otah was overpowering in the run game and locked ontothe smallish pass rushers of the Chargers. Jonathan Stewart waseffective as a backup but lacked power in the short yardage game.Charles Godfrey got burned for a TD on a busted coverage- welcome to theNFL, rook. No other rookie played.

The Stand-ins: Hangartner was good in relief of Wharton for the rest ofthe game, Jeremy Bridges was solid at RT for Otah until he returned.The receivers bumped up a spot each, because of Smith's suspension, andeach had solid games.

The Injuries: Otah, Wharton had undisclosed but minor knee injuries.Leading tackler Na'il Diggs and leading receiver Dante Rosario both hadminor foot injuries. It's not certain whether Rosario hurt his footsingle-handedly stomping the Chargers.

Grades:

QB - B+. Delhomme was great considering his maladies, average overall.His completions were sparse for a while, and he missed on a deep route to Muhammad, but was efficient and made the bigtime throw at the end.

RB - A. Both RBs were dynamic against a bigtime defense. Neither Williams nor Stewart broke long runs but were well above productive,finishing at 4.5 and 5.3 yards/attempt respectively. Brad Hoover picked up a 1st down and got three yards to spare on a short conversion. The backs took hardly any of the load in the passing game, however.

WR - B+. Muhammad was effective on short routes. DJ Hackett fumbled, and that was costly, but broke a slant for a 37 yard gain. Dwayne Jarrett was effective in 3 receiver sets.

TE - A+. Jeff King blocked well in run and pass protection. Dante Rosario caught the gamewinning TD and led the team in receptions andyards.

OL - B+. The line had good success running and Delhomme was hit threetimes, sacked once. Ryan Kalil had a few high snaps in shotgun.

DL - Phillip Rivers had some escapability, forcing the DL to miss on 2sacks, and the one scored was on a blitz. The running game starts upfront, and the DL was able to hold its own against the big Chargersline, especially Maake Kemoeatu aligned as a NT.

LB - B. Tomlinson was held to 33 yards in the first half. Na'il Diggs was the star of the group this week, finishing 2nd in tackles with 8, a sack, and a QB hurry, but was burned on a long play to Antonio Gates. Davis defensed Gates well, finishing with a defensed pass.

DB - B-. Chris Harris had 9 tackles and a key forced fumble. Chris Gamble scored on that fumble recovery, held Vincent Jackson to 3 catches, and Ken Lucas held Chris Chambers without a catch - the only catch was on rookie Charles Godfrey, a 44 yard TD.

ST - C. Kicking specialists were good - Kasay kept us in the game withpoints, Lloyd kept the ball out of Darren Sproles' hands, and Baker wassolid. Stewart was average as a return man, and Lewis was awful.Coverage units were solid.
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