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Sunday, September 26, 2010

V/S Cincinnati, Game Three

Looks to be a very wet home game, featuring the first start for would-be franchise player Jimmy Clausen against a top Cincinnati defense.

On paper, Cincy is clearly the better team. A top CB duo, a solid pass rush, two good posession receivers, and a hard-nosed, second chance RB to go with Carson Palmer at QB. It's a lot to deal with, a playoff level team.

But playing without mistakes (especially at QB and CB), there's room to attack. Steve Smith might have to be a decoy, working the edges underneath him and feeding the backs and tight ends.


As well, Pacman Jones is out, so they need to spread and run, spread and throw, and just force them to put as many DBs on the field as possible.

Most of all, the Bengals aren't great at stacking the run, much less without 8 in the box. Carolina probably can't keep them out of stacking the line, but they can still run.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

V/S Tampa Bay, 9.18.10

So how does Carolina turn it around after an embarassing two score loss against the Giants?

Run.

It rarely fails, in recent Carolina history, that after a disaster, they find a way around re-controlling the game. So watch for third down, and occasionally first down, passing. Watch for a pounding running game otherwise, even if it's not working. There's a need to force the defense back into defending the run first, followed by dictating that pace with more running. Without DT Louis Leonard, and watching a defense that tired quickly without offensive success, the concern of continuing to give the defense a long day isn't something they can afford.

On defense? Contain, stop the run, and that's about it. Josh Freeman is a concern to get out of the pocket and was their second-leading rusher last week in the win against Cleveland. They don't have a go-to receiver - everyone had about 4-5 receptions for around 30-40 yards - Kellen Winslow would be, but he's not the player he should be. There are often seams in the Tampa-2 scheme for a TE. Carolina gave him 3 catches last year in their first meet, 4 in the 2nd. Mike Williams got the bulk of the targets, attempting to make him Antonio Bryant before the knee injury, but he's not that heavy a threat.

Carnell Williams can be, but he doesn't seem to have the heavy burst you might anticipate from his past. Carolina should stay hard on the run, especially if Tampa attempts to match our game pace, but it shouldn't be a heavy challenge to contain him.

If Carolina does set the pace, gets a few good returns, and can force Freeman into mistakes like last year's 5-int debacle, this should be easy even without a reliance on any level of passing.

Since the game is upon us, the rest will be brief - Aqib Talib and Steve Smith will be a good matchup. Everette Brown and Greg Hardy get more playing time with Tyler Brayton banged up, the young right side of the line gets a chance at redemption, and David Gettis looks like he'll get time over Brandon LaFell. Dwayne Jarrett likely starts.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

v/s Giants, 2010 Season Opener

Carolina goes up to open the new Meadowlands, just as they helped close the last one. Unceremoniously dropping the Giants 41-9, Carolina has to go back up there again (they seem to be required at least one trip there yearly, somehow, and were treated with two trips to the Jersey swamp/landfill/wasteland last year).

So what went so amazingly right for Carolina last year, and so terribly wrong for NY? It seems as if both teams have fixed that - Carolina gutting its passing attack, having gone without a TD in preseason after scoring tons of points to close out 2009, and the Giants bringing in new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell (and LB Keith Bullock) to mend their defense.

Giants Defense v/s Panthers Offense

Giants finished 32nd in preseason defense (meanwhile Carolina finished first), going without numerous players for injury. That won't change this week, being without CB Aaron Ross. Watch for Carolina to spread the weakened Giants secondary for quick completions.

The Giants' DL, once its strength, looks to be in flux. After spending big on Chris Canty, they only got a half year out of him. NT Fred Robbins is gone, weakening the interior run defense. OsiUmenyiora's now just a rush specialist, having given way to former LB experiment Matthias Kiwanuka. The Giants dropped to 18th in sacks last year, with 32.Kiwanuka had 3 sacks, Umenyiora 7, Justin Tuck 6, and the Giants didn't really look to improve on that, having not added anything. The Giants don't blitz a lot, and they will have to pick and choose where they use Keith Bullock - the aging newcomer is still somewhat agile, but they'll need him in space.

Watch for Jordan Gross' attack of Umenyiora and Kiwanuka, as the NFL's new referee alignment will undoubtedly cause more holding calls (while we're at it, Carolina false starts a lot early in the season, for some reason). Right tackles haven't faced the same scrutiny, so Geoff Schwartz may get by with more against Tuck, which is a good physical match between the two. If Schwartz can keep Tuck in front of him, he can anchor and keep penetration away. Tuck generally only uses moves when he's leveraged a side of a lineman.

Carolina's got its line back together - or what's left of it. Jeff Otah will miss the week, and probably next, recovering from a knee injury. He and Keydrick Vincent, now a Buccaneer, are supplanted by the former 7th rounders Schwartz and Mackenzie Bernadeau, each of which started all preseason. The pair helped with Jonathan Stewart's record breaing day last year, though for this game, Stewart will be seeing his first real action of the year. He'd missed all preseason with residual pain from his achilles procedure in the offseason. Steve Smith follows that same storyline, having broken his arm in this game last year (and then again, famously, in a flag football match). He, along with about 3 lbs of metal holding the arm together, will step back to the field for the first time since.

What will Matt Moore need to do to succeed? The team's his now, and it's not time for his usual December outburst. So, look for some easy completions sprinkled in with the runs. It's not that Moore is a rookie, of course, but passing success hasn't existed this preseason. Watch for plenty of playaction and possibly screens, watching for the smallish Giants line trying to get to the young QB. With the new attention put on the passing game, it might be easiest to spread on passing downs and get easy completions against a banged-up Giants secondary.

For all the attention Steve Smith attempted to get drawn away from him by lobbying for receivers (and the inevitable influx of guys that came in), Smith still has a bulls-eye on him. Corey Webster will be on him all day, as will FS Kenny Phillips. Carolina will have to find ways to get him open, but if Smith is in vintage form, he'll be ready to abuse anyone he can, including SS Michael Johnson.

Brandon Lafell looks to be the starter opposite Smith, drawing former USC CB Terrell Thomas. Lafell has a height advantage, but the physical Thomas is still 6'. Lafell will have to use veteran wiles as a rookie to box out Thomas. Inside, Bruce Johnson will probably be the nickel, the 5'11 sophomore going against the hapless 6'4 Dwayne Jarrett.

There should be room upfield for the tight ends, where Jeff King works crossing or Dante Rosario upfield. There's usually space for the backs at the perimeter, and middle screens work well as well.




Giants offense v/s Carolina defense

Eli Manning has missed the last few weeks, rehabbing a nasty head injury that was caused by miscues on the field. The whole offense had problems in the preseason, and Carolina brings a lot of pressure that may exascerbate that.

(The Giants') Steve Smith will be all over the field, likely being drawn by Chris Gamble. But the Giants move him around - the experienced Gamble will be fine against the more physical Hakeem Nicks if he comes to that side, where a more physical Richard Marshall shouldn't struggle with either receiver unless it's a double route. The problem will be with Captain Munnerlyn, a solid nickel corner that doesn't seem to challenge the ball enough. Watch for Marcus Hudson in the box in some nickel sets, if the Giants get down. Last year, Manningham led the team with 6 for 87, Smith had 7/10 with a TD, and Nicks had 6 for 44 underneath.

Carolina's cover 2 scheme isn't going to be a radically hard scheme to figure out for Manning, but the man-technique played against his receivers will keep short completions from coming open, and the zone will allow those guys to get help. Manning will have to work the middle of the field, where his receivers should be solid, but aren't gamebreaking inside. Ahmad Bradshaw isn't a dangerous receiver, nor is FB Madison Hedgecock.

The Giants have gone with a more finesse approach running, having benched the less consistent and efficient Brandon Jacobs for Bradshaw. But will Bradshaw, a slighter back, find his 4.8 ypc number stay as a feature? Jacobs, for his part, has pouted about the demotion and may not make the most of his backup opportunities. Carolina is a light front, but fast, so they're less susceptible to more Bradshaw carries (something he hasn't shown he can hold up against).

Up front, the Giants return the same line that gave up four sacks last year (Beason, Johnson, Peppers, Brayton). Diehl is a solid LT, McKenzie a slightly below average RT with some run blocking ability. Diehl will face Brayton, with a very liberal dose of Everette Brown against the pass. Carolina has 19 sacks in preseason, leading the league (along with overall defense). Inside, it looks to be a rotation of Louis Leonard, Ed Johnson, and Derek Landri facing the solid run blockers of Chris Snee, Shaun O'Hara, and Rich Seubert. But Carolina's guys will be fresh; the Giants trio is aging, and hasn't shown as much pop. Beason, now at WLB, should have no problem pursuing; it'll be up to the rest of the back 7 to make sure not to overpursue, not to get caught in playaction, and to not get caught rushing hard against the screen. Otherwise, this is a fine defensive unit that should have no problem containing the Giants under 20 points.

Overall?

What happened last year only creates a trap game for both teams. Carolina could get the best the Giants offer, or the Giants could be over-emoted and play sloppy and overaggressive. Both teams have looked rusty. It's impossible to really know what will happen in a charged game full of possibility, but if Carolina continues to impose its will in the run game and on defense, there should be no problem having a shot at the end.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Full Practice Squad

Following the leaked announcement of WR Trent Guy's addition to the practice squad yesterday, we'd heard nothing all day. Today, all eight are filled. Returning from this week's cuts?

Guy, DT Corvey Irvin, FB Rashawn Jackson, LB Sean Ware, CB RJ Stanford, and RB Josh Vaughan. Added to that are two guards from other teams - Dan Santucci (Bengals 7th rounder in 2007) and Shawn Murphy (Dolphins 4th rounder in 2008).

Murphy (6'4, 319, Utah St), son of former Atlanta Brave Dale Murphy, is 27, having taken three years off to do mission work, playing at Utah State after a stint at Dixie State Junior College. He's not the most athletic player, and doesn't have game experience, but has solid inline strength and has been noted as having good fundamentals and smarts.

Santucci (6'4, 300, Notre Dame) is listed as a guard but played center recently as well. He was recruited to Notre Dame as a defensive tackle, and moved over before the start of his junior year. Many news outlets keep showing him as a 2009 draft pick, but he was drafted in 2007.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Roster

Here's the current roster, along with my picks for active in bold:

QUARTERBACKS (3):

Matt Moore, Jimmy Clausen, Tony Pike.

RUNNING BACKS (5):

DeAngelo Williams, Tony Fiammetta, Jonathan Stewart, Mike Goodson, Tyrell Sutton

OFFENSIVE LINE (8):

Jordan Gross, Travelle Wharton, Ryan Kalil, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Jeff Otah, Geoff Schwartz, Garry Williams, Tim Duckworth

TIGHT ENDS (3):

Jeff King, Dante Rosario, Gary Barnidge.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6):

Steve Smith, Armanti Edwards, Brandon LaFell, Charly Martin, Dwayne Jarrett, David Gettis.

DEFENSIVE ENDS (4):

Charles Johnson, Everette Brown, Tyler Brayton, Greg Hardy

DEFENSIVE TACKLES (5):

Louis Leonard, Derek Landri, Nick Hayden, Andre Neblett, Ed Johnson.

LINEBACKERS (7):

Jon Beason, James Anderson, Dan Connor, Jamar Williams,
Eric Norwood, Jordan Senn, Nic Harris.

CORNERBACKS (4):

Chris Gamble, Richard Marshall, Captain Munnerlyn, Robert McClain

SAFETIES (4):

Charles Godfrey, Sherrod Martin, Jordan Pugh, Marcus Hudson.

SPECIALISTS (4):

John Kasay, Jason Baker, J.J. Jansen, Todd Carter.
I picked what I figure to be the active roster for opening day *in bold*. Of course Otah eventually elevates, and the Norwood v/s Senn thing matters as to how hurt Senn is this week. Same for Sutton v/s Goodson, and it's possible Hardy doesn't dress for another DT.

Final Cuts Are In; Analysis

WAIVED:

CANTWELL, HUNTER QB LOUISVILLE
CRUMMEY, ANDREW G MARYLAND
CULBERSON, QUINTON LB MISSISSIPPI STATE
GUY, TRENT WR LOUISVILLE
HISATAKE, RAY G HAWAII
IRVIN, CORVEY DL GEORGIA
IVY, MORTTY LB WEST VIRGINIA
JACKSON, RASHAWN FB VIRGINIA
MOORE, KENNY WR WAKE FOREST
PETROWSKI, JAMIE TE INDIANA STATE
(INJURED)
SAVAGE, DANTRELL RB OKLAHOMA STATE
STANFORD, R. J. DB UTAH
TYLER, TANK DL NORTH CAROLINA STATE
VAUGHAN, JOSH RB RICHMOND
WARE, SEAN LB NEW HAMPSHIRE
WILSON, C. J. DB BAYLOR
WITHERSPOON, BRIAN DB STILLMAN


TERMINATED VESTED VETERANS:

MOORE, ERIC DL FLORIDA STATE
PETITTI, ROB T PITTSBURGH


INJURED RESERVE:

DAVIS, C.J. G PITTSBURGH
FRANCISCO, AARON SS BRIGHAM YOUNG
ROBINSON, DUKE G OKLAHOMA STATE


It's tough to see Robinson go on IR. Apparently he'd played with a torn MCL, and with Otah already hurt there was no room to wait. CJ Davis had a shot at making the roster, but was hurt also - that leaves Tim Duckworth on the roster (for now, I suspect, but maybe not terribly long), and the OL sitting at 8 players.

Francisco was waived, he won't spend the year on IR. Fellow vets Eric Moore and Rob Petitti were let go, Moore having excelled but without room. Petitti just wasn't good enough.

Carolina kept 6 WR, including all three draft picks - Armanti Edwards, Brandon LaFell, and late riser David Gettis. They also kept Charly Martin, apparently taking up the Wallace Wright role. This, everyone, is why you have depth - a guy you picked up late last year who's actually a great fit for what you want, who wouldn't have sniffed the roster otherwise.

CJ Wilson didn't make the cut, having never been surpassed by Robert McClain but not outlasting him in cuts. Of all the cuts, Wilson's the most surprising - I'd felt that both this and last year, he was a better corner than Captain Munnerlyn.

Tyler's cut was most surprising to most; to me, it's somewhat surprising, but more surprising that both Hayden and Neblett made it. Hayden was better than Corvey Irvin, but that said more of Irvin.

There's not a lot surprising of the cut LBs, but Nic Harris and Jordan Senn both did make the roster, a pair of smaller WLB types that have speed, but might never last from scrimmage. These are special teams moves, undoubtedly. This pair, with Martin and backup SS Marcus Hudson, will undoubtedly be active and make up our special teams core.

Speaking of special teams, Todd Carter made the roster - Carter's a solid kickoff guy, but unspectacular. Think Rhys Lloyd 2009, not 2008.

So, of 2010 draft picks, all but RJ Stanford made it. Andre Neblett becomes a rare UDFA to make a John Fox team. Meanwhile, 2009 takes it on the chin - Corvey Irvin not sticking, and Duke Robinson out for the year after not being able to seize the job.

85% rule might keep rooks

The collective bargaining agreement, as it currently stands, states that rookies who were drafted get a divided portion of the salary of any other drafted rookie that's cut.

So, that may have saved Tony Pike, if nothing else. As well, it might cement David Gettis over a vet like Charly Martin.

Meanwhile, a veteran's contract, like Aaron Francisco's, would be guaranteed if he's there week one, costing a cut of (for instance) Jordan Pugh double anything that could be saved - once for the disbursement of his salary, and twice for the inability to cut Francisco after week one to save anything.

They'll probably still have to choose between RJ Stanford and Robert McClain, unless they do something crazy like put CJ Wilson on IR for a concussion (and Wilson is far and away better a corner, and I'd argue a better cover man than Captain Munnerlyn). The 85% rule may keep either or both ahead of veteran Brian Witherspoon, a solid cover man and return man (but not so fantastic at either that he has beaten out other vested players).

They shouldn't have a problem keeping most of the rookie draft picks anyway - only Armanti Edwards, Pike, Gettis, and the above pair of corners aren't second string, and the first two are safe for now. Gettis has earned the right to stay, even if he doesn't dress.

But, when it comes down to whether he stays or a Kenny Moore, a guy he's outplayed, with Moore earning more and 85% of Gettis' salary going to someone else's pockets? It looks clear what the team will choose.

Pike Over Cantwell; Ivy, Petitti cut

Carolina released Hunter Cantwell, having effectively chosen Tony Pike as the 3rd QB. Some media reports are calling it "no surprise", though Pike was never ahead of Cantwell. Cantwell started camp as the #2 QB, and now it's a matter of whether or not he'll go to the practice squad (or want to go, given he may have other options).

Pike does make more sense to keep - he's the more pedigreed player, with longer playing time in college and at a higher success rate. Both players, as spread guys, have a long way to go, and the team's willing to wait apparently, already having Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen to develop.

There's always the chance Pike is staying since he's a tradeable commodity, but his 10/18 for 44 yard performance isn't the stuff of legends either; you'd be trading a 6th round pick away for, most likely, a future late round pick or first crack at a player who'd otherwise go to waivers.

Backup MLB Mortty Ivy, far and away the team's slowest LB and not a great fit for the defense, was cut. Ivy was on Carolina's practice squad last year, and may return. Carolina has no one to back Dan Connor at MLB, though some have suggested Jon Beason has a little ability there in a pinch.*

Rob Petitti, famous for having been considered one of the top OTs coming out in 2005 only to go from potential franchise left tackle, to overweight, underwhelming right tackle in the 6th round of that year's draft. He looked like he had a chance as a Cowboy, having started that year at RT as a rookie, but was cut the following camp and has been with four teams since.

*He may have made All-Pro there two of his three years in the league. I'll let you know what I find out.

Don't Hold Your Breath: Veteran Help

Plenty going on right now about veterans that have been available or will be available, and let's make this clear. They went young for a few reasons, and those reasons won't change.

Now, if they come in under need and don't elect to replace, for instance, an ailing DT with another guy who almost made the roster the first time, that's when you might see a vet. After the start of the season, a veteran's salary is no longer guaranteed.

So, keep that in mind in week 2 when they go get a veteran backup center.

Post-Pittsburgh Thoughts

What an awful game offensively. I know, nothing in a 19-3 preseason game four is going to be that pretty, but Carolina did very little offensively all preseason. I can understand part of it - as I can seeing no starters out there -


As for starters, the entire first team defense minus the DTs sat. All four of the potential starting DTs did play, pairing Louis Leonard and Ed Johnson, versus Tank Tyler and surprising riser Derek Landri, each pair working through the third quarter. If I had to guess, it's Leonard and Johnson starting, but if all four are active it won't matter, they'll rotate. Of that group expected to make it, Tyler was hoped to start; Corvey Irvin was counted on in the top four. Neither hope accumulated.

Irvin played a good part of the 3rd Quarter in at defensive end, a mismatch for him apparently made to allow him to be on the field. Meanwhile, at that point, hopeful practice squadder DT Andre Neblett was out there, giving up less ground than former third rounder Irvin. For whatever reason, Irvin just physically isn't there yet.

On O, Brandon Lafell didn't play at WR, while Dwayne Jarrett was seen trying to get under a deep ball in the third quarter. That apparently settles that question - so if Jarrett isn't starting, the next question is whether he sticks. Kenny Moore played late in the game, and is in deeper danger than Jarrett, with Charly Martin having made a convincing special teams argument and David Gettis and Armanti Edwards both flashing skill.

The only offensive starters to play were Geoff Schwartz at RT (where he'll apparently open the season as Jeff Otah is slow to return), Mackenzie Bernadeau (starter at RG for now) at center, and Tony Fiammetta at FB.

Backup FB Rashawn Jackson didn't play due to injury. Will he make the practice squad? Probably, if he can be healthy. In the meantime, pinball back Josh Vaughn had to play in his place at backup FB, with Fiammetta being pulled early. Since Dante Rosario had come out of the game, and essentially plays enough snaps to be considered a starter (he played about half of the team's offensive snaps last year, and led the team in Tight End yards/receptions), so no reason to use him there.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh had Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, and others out there far too long on offense; then, apparent starter Byron Leftwich (thanks to the Roethlisberger suspension) hurt his knee. Pittsburgh even had ace safety Troy Polamalu out there, and Rosario had a great grab over him.

Undaunted by the far-out-matched, out-talented matchups, the Panthers didn't let up early, forcing three and outs against the first team Steelers offense the first series - and scoring sacks (Greg Hardy, Derek Landri) versus a first string line. Pittsburgh eventually built a lead - running behind starter Rashard Mendenhall far too long against guys who probably won't have jobs with Carolina in a few days, then giving way to Mewelde Moore, a former starter for Minnessota.

Meanwhile, Hunter Cantwell barely generated anything, going an efficient but ineffective 6/9 for 36 yards. Tony Pike was 10/18 for 44. In comparison, the most interesting slinger was Armanti Edwards, who took wildcat snaps on plays that generally did nothing - but looked fun. Two fast, accurate passes from the lefty were thrown, with one connecting for six yards and one going incomplete, and the running was nothing at all - two runs, the longest of which lost a yard (followed by a FG attempt by John Kasay that hit the goalpost, a time you can definitely say the yard would've made a difference). Handoffs were no better.

But, it was fun. The polarizing Edwards actually looked solid as a receiver, and OK at his chance as a kick returner. The punt return job looks to be Captain Munnerlyn, the kick return job is Tyrell Sutton or possibly Mike Goodson, and none of the three logged significant time at the task in preseason. Maybe one day soon, that's Edwards' job, but not for now.

Based on what I saw of a dreadful 2nd string offensive line, Garry Williams might get another shot, but Rob Petitti might only be saved by the Otah injury for now. Duke Robinson hasn't improved from early camp, where he impressed, but suddenly now stands as just a guy - maybe next year, then. They'll probably not keep a full compliment of 9 guys from this current group - they would seem to want to cut an extra guy, and pickup a fresh backup elsewhere.


There's plenty of panic on the offense, and not without reason. But without some key players, and without their traditional gameplan, it did look disjointed for a reason. The challenge is the old idiom "practice how you play", and if things are this dreadful in week one, things will snowball quickly.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pittsburgh Pre-game

I've been mired in sick baby land for a while, and missed the NYJ game for a trip to LA. Having laid down on the job for some of the most critical football that won't count, I gotta start back somewhere.

So, keep this in mind.

Jake Delhomme started his march to the Super Bowl in a game like this. 11 for 11, 121 yards, 2 TDs late against Pittsburgh in the final preseason game. If not for that, Chris Weinke would've been the backup in 2003.

So - who needs to step up?

*WRs
David Gettis has another shot at maybe making the team. Kenny Moore has to show he can be good enough to make it. Charly Martin might have a shot at taking on that special teams role if he can play this week.

*CB
Brian Witherspoon has to eclipse CJ Wilson, and that probably doesn't happen. He does return kicks, but Wilson might be fighting for Richard Marshall's assumed vacated spot next year. Similarly, Stanford and McClain, our late round pair, are probably interested in gaining employment, too. And they've earned it - there's just not that many spots.

*QBs
Tony Pike and Hunter Cantwell are similar guys - Cantwell has more experience here, but played less in college at Louisville; Pike had a great year with Cincinnati, playing two years. Both guys came from spread offenses and neither should play this year. Still, a cheap developmental backup is a need, and both fit. Both are worth it. One has to step up and earn it.

*DL - Corvey Irvin has to show something to make the team. He has the potential. Derek Landri needs to maintain his spot wit good run play, but he should be in. Nick Hayden has to grow into something he probably isn't. Anyone else - Eric Moore included, despite his 3 sacks - has to go above and beyond to make the top 53.