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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ravens Game Aftermath

Carolina got pushed around in their third preseason game, closing the gap late in the game but giving up touchdowns on two of the first three posessions. The offense didn't bring in third down conversions, and failed to keep pace with the Ravens. Some impressions:

First Defense

The Ravens threw so much early, it was hard to get a good feel for how bad our run D is. But we got plenty of markers to work on pass defense. Chris Gamble was the worst offender, having trouble with the jam and at times playing off much further. Neither looked comfortable, and it's not like Ravens WR Derrick Mason is an All - Pro.

Julius Peppers had some great plays, chasing Joe Flacco from the other side of formation to the sideline; his jump in the air froze Flacco to get Tyler Brayton a sack. Nick Hayden and Marlon Favorite didn't fare terribly poor - Hayden wasn't thrown around as much. But the Ravens didn't run a lot, and when they did, they had success.

Gamble's struggles hid the other three in the secondary; Quenton Teal didn't stand out, but didn't hurt either. Same for Richard Marshall. Nickelback CJ Wilson had a pass breakup. Dante Wesley, as the fourth CB, had a tipped ball interception.


Still missing Jon Beason, the D is flowing to the ball very well but doesn't finish. Have they learned to run to the ball? Yes. Have they learned what to do when they get there? No. Thomas Davis and Beason should make a difference, with the hard hitting pair as good of defenders as any; Peppers usually steps up after preseason's over. And who knows, they may figure out how to get Chris Harris to start lighting people up like the old days.

First Offense

Jake Delhomme is stepping up in the pocket well, and throwing with good velocity. Not as many arc balls. But sometimes when he sidesteps, he's still not throwing with his feet set. He finished completing 11 of 16, 180 yards. He struggled on third downs, though, and most incompletions were on balls he was forcing deep or forcing into coverage.

Mike Goodson, as the unlikely starter of the 3rd game, did well with 11 rushes for 52 yards, catching 3 more for 26. He's shed some problems with dropping the ball, and looks darty. He also had some good runs brought back. But is he an adept inside runner? Not yet. Decori Birmingham can do it all, including block and run inside, even though he doesn't have major league speed or burst; if Jonathan Stewart can't make it onto the field, Birmingham's a good third option. Otherwise, he won't make the roster.

This was the first game for both Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad involved. Each got 4 targets, each had two receptions; Muhammad's went for 51, Smith's for 37. He also had another 25 yard play pulled back because Smith got a little exuberant with a stiffarm which turned into a facemask. Kenneth Moore, playing over Dwayne Jarrett, had 3 receptions for 40 yards. Jarrett didn't enter until the 4th quarter, when he finally caught his first ball of preseason for 10 yards.

Carolina pushed TEs up the field - Jeff King had a 31 yard catch, and Dante Rosario a 25 yarder. Rosario also had a great shot at another deep ball, coming from the FB position to get a Delhomme target that was broken up. I'm not sure if this is the pair that will go forth, but the Gary Barnidge noise has slowed considerably for now.

First OL did well - pushing a big front for positive yardage, and giving Jake Delhomme time to pass. Delhomme was sacked once, with Keydrick Vincent having struggles with penalties and giving up the one sack.

Special Teams


Rosario had a tackle here, and a good block. He's continuing to be the upback with Goodson. Of the three players who had tackles on ST, he's the only one who should make it. Jeremy Leman had no tackles, but two assists.

Jason Baker punted well, but had a net under 40 yards due to coverage issues.
John Kasay hit two FG, including a 50 yarder.
Rhys Lloyd's promises of better kickoffs were on the mark - he's driving them into the end zone again. 3 of 4 in the endzone, the other at the 5; 2 of the 3 in the endzone were touchbacks.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Lombardi on Blue Chips

Mike Lombardi recently rated the league's Blue Chip players, and in his estimation Carolina is one of the more blessed teams, not one of the least. The former Oakland personnel man, who had been and is again a commentator for the league, rated Carolina to have as many as any in the league: six.



RB DeAngelo Williams, WR Steve Smith, DE Julius Peppers, MLB Jon Beason , LT Jordan Gross and CB Chris Gamble; he felt that RT Jeff Otah and DT Damione Lewis "almost blue".



It's absolutely impossible to argue against the blues, though of the list Chris Gamble is of the least accolades. Sure, Deangelo Williams hasn't garnered a Pro Bowl either, and he hasn't done it as long. But leading the league in touchdowns is a tremendous feat, one that should've gained him a Pro Bowl. Gamble's recent ascension into the best of the DBs for Carolina happened mid-2007; it was complete by late 2008, with Gamble getting a huge extension and Ken Lucas being cut. But Gamble isn't yet an elite playmaker, and we'll see how his physical style works with the bump and run coverage of the cover 2. Is a physical corner a good fit for



The other four? Indisputable. Pro Bowlers, and amongst the best at their positions. Gross has the most to live up to, to stay in that group, the others are almost perennially great.



That second group - "almost blue". There's no doubt that Jeff Otah is on his way to greatness, if he can continue to produce the way he did in 2008. The only thing that puts him above fellow young linemen Travelle Wharton or Ryan Kalil is his dominating size (which always suggests potential), and the idealism that OT is a tougher position than the others. Otah is more irreplaceable - tackles really are more important. But is Otah physically better? That's not a slight to Otah - Wharton and Kalil were huge last year for Carolina.



Also, is Lewis a dominant player? Of anyone on this list, Lewis is the least dominant; for a top pass rusher, he doesn't have a ton of sacks. He's a former top 15, of a big college program. We absolutely have to have Lewis right now, and he's a great fit for the new defense. Will the new, penetrating defense help Lewis' game? Hopefully. But without a legitimate starter opposite him, will it matter?

Meanwhile, Thomas Davis looks like he's on the fringe of the best in the league, and there's no doubt the scheme will benefit Davis, and therefore the team. It's my contention that losing Davis to bide time in the Julius Peppers situation would potentially wreck the defense.



The Chris Harris of 2007 and early 2008 would be in this list - we're just waiting for that player to return. Clearly, the team feels like Everette Brown and Jonathan Stewart are this type player, but let's let time cycle through on these guys.



So what does this mean, in the long run?


*Carolina's drafted well. Lewis is the only player of the eight players mentioned that has ever played for anyone but Carolina. All of them, of course, have been acquired by Marty Hurney and coached up by John Fox. They've made some mistakes, but this is remarkable.


*all but Lewis is under 30. Steve Smith is 30.


*the team can obviously use all the development they can get, but the need for stars is essentially over if they can keep who they have. The team needs strength, roleplayers, and a full roster. Right now they essentially have that outside DT.


*No bluechip QB. Jake Delhomme has never been that guy, and never will be. I don't think a John Fox QB ever could be, save one of the absolute best. There were 7 bluechip QBs; there were 2 bluechip backups. There aren't a ton to go around, and the Panthers aren't going to be that team for a while. The backups are no less blue collar.


*Does Steve Smith look like a John Fox guy to anyone? Not really. He's a hard worker and a gritty guy, but in the end he's the type star Fox would never let go because he's the type guy he'd never go get.


*Gross and Gamble were heady signs last year; looks like the problem with the cap will continue to be a problem when Davis becomes a free agent, along with Richard Marshall. Julius Peppers probably makes it back onto the franchise market. The team won't have enough money to do it all. They want to keep Davis more than Marshall, but will they get either? Davis, in this defense, should be a star, but it's hard to say that will help him stay.


This isn't an All-Pro or Pro Bowl type accolade, of course. There's no "you were the third best, so you almost get in". There's no numbers game. It's individual recognition at a team level.











As an aside, it's fantastic how blogs are. I found this blog, on a blog. Not only that, it was a blog of a fan, blogging about a blog of a writer, blogging about Lombardi, a commentator. It's interesting that blogs are no longer opinion - they're a cascading wave of thought, slowly adding thought to someone else's idea (if adding anything at all). Interesting, just as much as it slowly loses its commentary power to twitter.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Dolphins Game Aftermath

First, injury situations:

  • Jon Beason came out of the game in the first half, replaced by Dan Connor. MRI results weren't released by the team; Chris Mortensen from ESPN suggests it's a MCL tear and he'll be out 4-6 weeks, but Mortensen said that before any MRI. Beason believes it a sprain and he'd only miss 2 weeks of preseason.
  • Charles Godfrey broke bones in his hand. He was replaced by Quentin Teal. (Update - Godfrey had surgery, Fox states he's day to day. Would definitely miss the next two games, and is being replaced by Kevin Kaesviharn, former Bengal and Saint)
  • Jeff Otah went down, came out of the game to be replaced by Geoff Schwartz, and later re-entered the game. No tests were done, Otah is presumed to be fine.

Observations: Jake Delhomme looked sharper this week, hitting most of his targets. Only Mike Goodson's swing pass to the left flat was high, and was caught. Delhomme looked more in a rhythm, hit numberous receivers, and finished 5/7 for 47 yards.

The tight ends had a great game. Contrary to last week, Gary Barnidge didn't start; all three players got time with the first offense and Dante Rosario responded well, with three big receptions for 54 yards, and a good downfield block that helped spring Deangelo Williams on his TD run. Compared to last week, Rosario was brilliant - last week Rosario gave up a sack in pass protection and was fairly poor in overall play. Jeff King and Barnidge each brought down two balls, on out routes.

Matt Moore got the 2nd QB role this week, showing poise in the pocket and gunning downfield. One pass should've been intercepted (but wasn't), but Moore showed a willingness to make things happen. He needed to dump the ball off more to keep drives alive, which is where Josh McCown thrived, piloting a long scoring drive but not making any plays against the third string Miami defense. McCown was 7 for 12, for 61 yards, where Moore was 4/9 for 41.

Mike Goodson had 8 carries for 23 yards, at times looking explosive but not having a lot of success when not running outside. Goodson took the punishment and didn't lay the ball out, which was a start, but he needs to hit the hole faster and run inside better to remain a bigtime contributor.

Not much stood out at WR. Without Muhammad or Steve Smith, Dwayne Jarrett and Kenny Moore started; Jarrett failed to get a target. Ryne Robinson was the 3rd WR and got a few looks, but failed to do much with it. It's hard to remember much that happened with the WRs that was positive, with Ryne Robinson's 1 catch for 15 yards leading receivers.

The first offensive line blocked well, giving the QBs time and Deangelo Williams space to run; Geoff Schwartz didn't give up much run blocking but pass blocked poorly in relief of Otah. Schwartz, who came from a pass-first offense, still doesn't have quick enough feet to play RT on his own at this level.

Everette Brown collected another sack, on another fast outside move that batted the football away from Chad Henne. This time, however, instead of battling another rookie, this was Pro Bowl OT Jake Long. Brown didn't give up much to the powerful Brown. Hilee Taylor was all over the field but struggled against the run; Charles Johnson showed awareness and strength, not giving up much against the run and getting a good hit on Henne, but against backups Johnson still should be playing at a higher level.

Nick Hayden had a couple good pass plays, almost blocking a pass and getting near the quarterback twice. He has a good first step, knows what to do with his hands. But against the run, he won't just take the contact, and easily seems to vacate the hole he's supposed to cover. He doesn't look like he gains leverage well. Marlon Favorite does a much better job holding the point of attack but has no penetrating moves or ability, has a slow first step, and doesn't get off blocks well. Corvey Irvin looks solid but doesn't stand out right now, being beaten out by a former 6th rounded and the rookie undrafted Favorite.

James Anderson made plays this week, leading the team with 8 tackles. Last week got him press, but this week he actually made things happen, and laid some hard hits. Landon Johnson played while coming back from injury, but didn't impress. As always, Dan Connor made some punishing hits, including one to Ronnie Brown that ended up pushing Brown to the sideline to rest. Jeremy Leman looked off-cue this week, still looking like a heat-seeking missile but not pointed in the right direction.

Despite the mid-week comments, Dante Wesley played at corner. He was unremarkable there, which beat CJ Wilson who gave up a number of plays. Sherrod Martin looked solid late in the game tackling but gets turned around on his receivers somewhat often.


Carolina plays Miami again in the regular season, primetime November 19th at home. Carolina has never beaten Miami, and will get a great chance here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Favorite Upgraded; Wesley Moved

Marlon Favorite was rewarded with a solid game against NY, and Nick Hayden given a demotion, with Favorite working with the first unit so far this week. Favorite, undrafted out of LSU, is the better run defender.

Still nothing on a potential trade, which at this point should be considered a necessity. With a strong runstopper starting, Favorite can be a good backup; Corvey Irvin can be a good backup to Damione Lewis. It's not ideal, but it's a start, and it's better than we have.


Dante Wesley was moved to free safety, in a move many had expected many times over the 7 years Wesley has been with Carolina. Wesley failed to play the ball in the NY game despite having a good shot at it a few times; the younger corners played better. Wesley, likely to be a gunner on special teams if he makes it, would also be the most experienced player at corner or safety depending on which he settles in at.

At safety, Charles Godfrey and Chris Harris are entrenched, and Quentin Teal has impressed at backup FS. Wesley's move probably doesn't endanger either player, but may put some doubt into Nate Salley's future if the team only keeps 4 safeties.

v/s Giants 8/17

Carolina's first unit took a hit, came out clean, and had a lot to work on.
  • Jake Delhomme started shaky, missing on a few out routes. He finished stronger, and was 5/9 on the night for 38 yards. Missing out on Steve Smith, Delhomme hit Gary Barnidge twice and Kenny Moore for 17 yards on his longest play. Most of Delhomme's successful routes were facing the quarterback or crossing, and were the safe route option.
  • Dwayne Jarrett only caught one ball for 3 yards; Muhsin Muhammad was shut out. Moore, playing the slot, impressed on his two catches.
  • The first line helped the ball upfield on the run, but Jordan Gross gave up a sack against Osi Umenyiora. It's just a practice game, but Gross needs to earn his money.
  • Barnidge, starting at TE, looked like an able player, but caught 2 passes for only 8 yards. Neither ball did he get upfield, he just fell. He also looks too tall to be in a 3-point stance comfortably, and didn't do well blocking. This is still likely Jeff King's job.
  • Deangelo Williams showed tons of speed and some great moves, fantastic to see given the lack of Jonathan Stewart.
  • Nick Hayden got tossed around by the 2nd string guards starting for NY. He didn't keep contact and didn't hold his gap.
  • James Anderson made two big plays, starting at WLB and recording a sack while also blocking a punt that went in for a safety. However, he wasn't blocked on either play, and didn't do much else.
  • Jon Beason showed why the Panthers need a better option at DT when he got blocked outside by Tutan Reyes. Beason can take on blocks somewhat well inside the tackle box, but shouldn't be asked to take on guards in space unless he can slip behind them.
  • The entire first defense showed signs of poor tackling, including veterans Chris Harris and Chris Gamble. While many plays the D swarmed to the ball, a tactic that will work for them, it didn't happen often enough.
  • Charles Godfrey reacted slowly at times, and had more mental mistakes.

The nickel defense showed up as:

Peppers at left end, Everette Brown to the right; Damione Lewis and Tyler Brayton at tackle. Beason and Anderson at LB. The DBs stayed the same, though Marshall came inside and CJ Wilson was in on the outside.

Backups:

  • Wilson looked solid, but reacted slowly to a few passes.
  • Quentin Teal was fast to react, got up in run support quickly, picked a pass off, and picked up a half sack. He looks to have the backup FS spot well in hand again this year.
  • Dan Connor again performed very well. He may not have the elite speed of Beason or Thomas Davis, but he could ably play in this league. In this scheme, speed is critical however. It's hard to say whether he'll be able to start at SLB in the future, but Na'il Diggs is entrenched for the time being.
  • Jeremy Leman led the team in tackles and was very aggressive hitting. He filled the run very well. Can he play the pass? That's the thing to develop. He looks like a keeper, however, and a cheap keeper.
  • Marlin Favorite played the run well with the second team.
  • Everette Brown used the spin move far too much, and was handled much of the night, but showed the telltale signs of the potential he was drafted for. While many pundits pick on Brown's size - and he's not going to get any taller - he did show a lot of ability against the run, power against tackles laterally, a somewhat solid bullrush, and a speed move that earned him a sack.
  • Charles Johnson, who was expected to vie for a starting role in Brayton's spot, was thoroughly unimpressive as a 2nd string left end.
  • Captain Munnerlyn was underwhelming returning the ball but played solid cornerback.
  • Dante Wesley, as always, has the ability to play with most players, but has no sense for the ball.

  • Mike Goodson made a quick impression starting what will most likely be a tumultuous career with Carolina - he quickly busted two big plays, ran well inside, caught two balls for first downs, fumbled twice, scored once, and was penalized for taunting on a rule that went into play when Goodson was still in high school. He has tons of burst, good hands, but runs high and obviously needs to protect the football.
  • Josh McCown started well, including a solid rollout to hit Moore for 10 yards, and looked sharp on his passes. He finished 3/6 for 28 yards, however, and threw an interception trying to force a ball into Dante Rosario while covered and fumbled away another ball.
  • Geoff Schwartz gave up an easy sack, and while he dominated at times against the run, failed to show quick lateral movement.
  • Matt Moore was daring in his throws, going downfield and finishing 4/7 for 43 yards, but fumbled away a ball. He has an arm, and can be efficient, looking more able than McCown.
  • Jason Chery dropped an early ball that would've given him a leg up on Moore, who had received the slot role with everyone rotating around for Smith's absence.
  • Larry Beavers showed tons of speed on his one catch for 25 yards.
  • Hunter Cantwell has a lot of zip on his passes. He threw the passing game's only score, and followed it with a 2-point conversion to Andrew Davie. He missed his first four passes, however and only succeeded when he went into 2-minute drilling - where he was 4-4, 67 yards. He also had a 21 yard scramble directly after the two minute warning, giving him three different plays over 20 yards on his 5 play, 88 yard, 1:24 drive. Of course, he finished the night coming back down with the rest of the Panther quarterbacks, fumbling the final play of the game, this one for a touchdown.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Corey Williams Possible?

News erupted over the internet that the team was looking at DT Corey Williams (Browns) over the weekend, with Marty Hurney himself scouting the Browns/Packers game. So let's look at the possibility:

Williams, a 2008 franchise player for Green Bay, had 7 sacks each of those two years and flourished in the open one gap scheme of the Packers. He was traded to Cleveland for a second round pick, and given a 6 year, $38.5 million deal with $16.3 million guaranteed. Their return on investment? 1 sack, and learning Williams is a bad fit as a two gap 3-4 tackle.

So what does that mean?

  • Williams won't be cheap if he comes, but the 2nd round and $6 mil a year pricetag also won't be reflective of what he'd get here.
  • As a bad year brings stock down, and Cleveland has changed GMs, the new staff may be less inclined to make up for the past regime's mistake. A 2 isn't a likely asking price, but a 3 or less should be in play.
  • $8 million was paid out to Williams last year; $6 million this year in combined bonuses. Those don't carry over to the Panthers if Williams is traded, so that leaves a $24 million, five year deal.
  • $1.7 million would need to be cleared for Williams' salary in 2009; however, since the team hasn't renegotiated with Williams, they could guarantee all but $500k of that salary and spread it over the remaining five years. That would give him a $740k cap hit.
  • Williams has a 2010 salary of $4.2 million with a $1.7 million roster bonus; they could easily guarantee that roster bonus to spread it over the next four years, without going heavily in debt for the future.

Williams is a solid penetrator and a good DT for beating single blocks, but is outclassed in the 3-4. Carolina would have a hard time affording the loss of a 3rd round pick when already without its first; the team has done well to build through the draft and this would hastily neglect that option. However, it's a choice the team must make, potentially impacting the franchise for years to come.

Can the team afford three expensive DTs next year in the face of having to pay Julius Peppers high dollar money? Can they afford to not get younger and faster at DT this year and in the future?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

X to Z to X to Z - the Muhsin Muhammad Story

In the wake of the Steve Smith injury, Muhsin Muhammad has moved over to the split end role in the offense. The split end, or X receiver, typically lines up wide left and on the line (i.e., unable to go into motion), a role Smith has had since 2002 when he became a starter.

Muhammad started out at the X, and started there from 1997-1999. He earned a Pro Bowl berth in 1999 in the role, but had to move over with the injury to Patrick Jeffers in the 2000 preseason because Donald Hayes only knew the X role. As Hayes was allowed to leave before the start of 2002, Smith assumed the role, leaving Muhammad as the Z receiver. As the motion receiver, Muhammad made his money taking shorter routes and going into motion, which by 2003 included blocking down on linebackers. In a memorable play in the 2003 playoffs, Muhammad caught end Leonard Little off guard, knocking him to the ground despite a 45 lb difference in weight.

When Smith broke his ankle in the first game of 2004, Muhammad moved back over - to facilitate Keary Colbert, his backup. Muhammad, back at the X, earned another Pro Bowl berth, then took the role in Chicago. This year, the move is again pushed by a Smith injury, and a backup acclamated to his own role. Dwayne Jarrett gets the start as the Z receiver, for the time being.

Luckily, long term Smith should be back. It's an unlikely move, but if Muhammad flourishes in the role, the team may use Smith at the Z to put him in motion to eliminate doubleteams. The move would free up Smith on motion plays, and command a heavy shift in the defense when he comes across formation. Either way, Muhammad will be ready to move.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Smith Injury

Steve Smith injured his shoulder in one on one drills v/s Chris Gamble Monday. X-rays are negative,so there's no structural damage, but it's currently being considered a sprain that would keep him out for a minimum of two weeks - and likely out most of preseason as a precaution.
Preseason impact: Dwayne Jarrett's time has come. Jarrett most likely starts in Smith's place, even though he traditionally backs up Muhsin Muhammad. Jarrett hasn't done much since being a 2nd round pick in 2007- arguably the most disappointing of a draft class that has a Pro Bowler and up to three potential starters already. Muhammad himself may not play, so Jarrett will likely be the most talented receiver out there for Carolina in preseason.

Ryne Robinson looks to play the 3rd receiver role, and would take deep balls and set plays that Smith would run. Robinson, coming off a torn ACL, has plenty to prove as well - he's got competition for the slot role, the 4th receiver roster spot, and for the kick return job. Kenny Moore and Jason Carter are the other alternatives, and likely the players who would play with Robinson on the second team.

And, in what will likely be a recurring theme in the next few years, Mike Goodson is a wild card in the mix - he's been practicing as a slot receiver and may get work at receiver in preseason. However, with Deangelo Williams facing a minor toe injury and Jonathan Stewart facing a minor Achilles issue, both will likely see minimal snaps in the opening preseason game, so Goodson would see a lot of work there.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Starting defensive tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu was carted off the first practice of 2009, tearing an achilles tendon without being under contact. Kemoeatu, who played in 14 games and the Cardinals playoff game, had knee issues late in the season, but was in good enough shape
The team was already thin at defensive tackle, and lacks many options:
Darwin Walker is still available, and he has experience with the team from last year. But he wasn't active every game, has some durability issues, and with the coaching/scheme changes, much of the familiarity has expired. Kindal Moorehead is a free agent after a year with the Falcons, but local media sources suggest Moorehead is going to have back surgery and won't be able to play this year.

Larry Tripplett has experience with Ron Meeks. Brian Young was a starter with the Saints until recently. Other veterans like John Thornton lack the run stopping ability needed. The team may end up looking to 3-4 teams for players with nose tackle experience, if the team wants to continue to play any odd-gap 4-3 (with one nose tackle and one under-tackle).

Internally, the team has rookie Marlon Favorite of LSU and 2008 6th round pick Nick Hayden in the queue. Hayden (310) and Favorite (317) are the two larger DTs in our scheme, splitting first team duties in the aftermath; 340 lb Lonnie Williams was fourth string in camp before the injury. Hayden has two games' experience, both of which he struggled in - the other two have never been rostered for an NFL game.

Rookie Corvey Irvin may end up moving over, but he fits better in the Damione Lewis role. Overall, the Colts' history under new Panthers coordinator Ron Meeks suggests smaller defensive linemen, so the team may not seek a space-eater anyway, but the team needs to have at least one experienced run-defending option on the roster soon.