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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Close, But Not Enough

In a game that encapsulated the season so far, Carolina had a shot at the wire and lost, missing on a makeable John Kasay field goal.

Jimmy Clausen and the offense played somewhat well, though it looked like he threw the game away at the end with an interception. A defensive hold and a drive by Clausen at the end of the game gave them the chance to win, in the most exciting game of the year so far.

The defense did fine after giving up an inital 21 point run by Cleveland. Captain Munnerlyn's first career interception, returned for a score, brought them back from the heavy deficit and into winning form, while Cleveland only mustered 3 points in the second half.

Jake Delhomme answered any concern of whether he could've commanded the respect he once deserved here, by singlehandedly letting Carolina in the game with two INT.

So where to go from here? Hard to say. There are no moral victories when you're 1-10, you have no idea if your supposed franchise QB is getting better, and your coach won't return. It's nice to see watchable football, though, and the offense is definitely getting better (if not more consistent). Not coincidentally, the offense gets better with more effective running, which is notable and expected.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Clausen V/S Delhomme - A Cleveland pregame thread

It's been tough trying to figure out what will come of a Panthers game. All previous ideals of a pregame breakdown thread have come with the idea of a win - or even just enough consistency to know what we can and can't do.

But Sunday, Carolina faces it's ex-girlfriend, so to speak. You both wanted to work it out, you both made it last way too long. You could've said years ago that you wore it out, and acted cool about it, but both of you cried about it in front of everyone.

And even if it wasn't right anymore, it hasn't been the same since, has it?

The Browns come in having lost their last two (Jacksonville, NYJ) after an upset win over New England. They're 3-7 on the year, their other two wins coming from Cincinnati and New England.

Delhomme's been more down than up since being named starter, having only started opening day (20/37 for 227, 1 TD, 2 INT) and played in a portion of the Atlanta loss (13/23 for 97, 2 INT), suffering ankle injuries in each performance, the second time having reinjured his after Seneca Wallace took on his own ankle issues. Colt McCoy had been efficient after getting his shot, but hurt himself last week and is out with ankle injury.

With Delhomme back at the helm, look for more protection and less spread. Delhomme will be dumping the ball off fast, knowing that's the way to beat Carolina. Expect that the eventual tone of things will be running, then dumping the ball, and eventually setting up play action to go deep to Josh Cribbs. The various Browns QBs have created the 30th best pass offense so far, facing the Panthers' 7th rated pass offense. There's no doubt that Carolina outmatches their old QB here, and that they know him as well as he does them.

But that's not where the Browns will focus. Peyton Hillis (774 yd , 8 TD) faces Carolina's 24th ranked rush D. Expect a heavy dose, with former Bronco/Saint backing. Oddly enough, Colt McCoy is the second leading rusher - Seneca Wallace their fifth, and WR Josh Cribbs third.
Hillis has taken 62% of rushes, and alarmingly enough, he's also their leading receiver with 40 catches/2 TD.

Former Pat TE Benjamin Watson follows with 36/434 with 2 TD. WRs Chansi Stuckey (31/272 for a blistering 8.8 ypc) and Independence High's Mohammed Massaquoi (19/232, 2 TD) are pedestrian, with Massaquoi having a small height advantage at 6'2. Neither are explosive. Cribbs is - but he's used in a unique manner. He had 55 rushes and 20 receptions last year, Cleveland preferring to use his explosive ability in wildcat and rushing instead of deep (his 6.8 ypc last year was a surprise, but it's grown to 13.8). Without a second TE or a good fullback as a pass threat in their dumpoff-friendly system, the Browns do like to spread a lot, but it hasn't created more opportunities for the receivers, given that their fullback-turned-halfback is their top receiver and the TE is second.

Both McCoy and Wallace had receptions this year - watch for that on wildcat, as well as the halfback pass. Cribbs had 2 passes, and Hillis one. All three connected.

The Browns have given up 23 sacks on the year. Left side of Joe Thomas and Eric Steinbach is still solid against the pass, and they run left more than right, though as most teams they rush toward guard/center more than anything else. Carolina's rush has been inconsistent and underpowered - Charles Johnson has a better chance of pressure facing John St. Clair than Everette Brown or Tyler Brayton have at pressuring Thomas. Rookie Shaun Laovao makes his second start at RG, so Carolina may be able to get more creative with stunts and ends playing inside.

In the end, you'll see a lot of quick balls coming out, mostly to short targets and up the seam on the TE, along with pounding run inside. Carolina, defensively, needs to execute, rather than showing fancy blitzes or tons of extra pressure.

Jimmy Clausen starts his third reign as a starting QB in his rookie season, this time coming back from a concussion sustained two weeks ago against Tampa Bay. That game finally showed some consistency from him, which in true fashion for the modern Panther offense, was lost when he got his head smashed in on a meaningless play.

Clausen must be composed - the Browns have scored 3 defensive touchdowns, and Carolina opponents have scored four defensive TDs on us (two last week). With as small a margin of error as this offense has, they can't possibly afford to give the other team points.

David Gettis is starting to draw coverage, which should be exploited by combo routes with Steve Smith, opening up the elder receiver underneath. Either one can get deep, however, and Carolina will need to test the Cleveland defense deep to stay in a winnable game.

Brandon LaFell returns from a concussion as well this game, putting him outside instead of the tremendously inconsistent David Clowney. LaFell had been somewhat hot before going out - 15 rec, 181 yards and a score in four games.

The focus has come away from Jeff King at tight end, and while Dante Rosario has given way to Gettis as most targeted on 3rd down, they need to use him more moving in formation and working toward the sideline. As well, Cleveland's LBs aren't good pass defenders, and that requires exploitation against a pressure front like the Browns bring.

With Jonathan Stewart returning, Carolina can't let up on Mike Goodson - but may want to pepper him into more passing situations to showcase his hot streak. With Goodson, who isn't all that good an inside runner, Carolina has had a lot of push inside - and that may pay dividends for Stewart as well. They'll need to continue to get that push inside, and will have to do it again without Travelle Wharton at left guard.

Cleveland's defense comes in an uninspiring 23rd overall, and 22nd each run and pass. They're 10th in scoring defense, however, facing the 32nd scoring offense. Running a 3-4, Rob Ryan is running the Bill Belichick derivative defense that Carolina's Jeff Davidson knows well from his time with the Patriots.

Up front, without Shaun Rogers playing, there's almost nothing in the front seven that the casual fan would know. Carolina fans know Scott Fujita, the former Saint OLB that once cheap-shot Steve Smith; the remaining LBs are Chris Gocong, Eric Barton, and Matt Roth. It's an experienced group, led by 11 year vet Barton, but not a flashy one. Backup Marcus Benard has 6.5 sacks, Fujita 3.5.

Safeties TJ Ward and Abram Elam lead the team in tackles, to underline the defensive problems; 3rd is nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin.

Former Eagle and Gamecock Sheldon Brown is their best cover corner, a physical guy who doesn't get fooled often. On the other side, Eric Wright is a slightly undersized liability. Nickelback Joe Haden was a first rounder out of Florida this year, and he's working his way into more playing time by leading the team with 3 INT.

Carolina must retool their return game yet again - Captain Munnerlyn has improved as a punt returner, but with injuries at RB they've used different returners each of the last three games. Maybe they return to Goodson, but Jordan Pugh is out of this game and Devin Thomas was cut this week.

Cleveland uses Cribbs on both kick and punt returns, and he's dangerous enough that opponents often kick away from him. Upbacks have fielded nearly a third of their kick returns.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

v/s Baltimore, Pregame

I can't imagine what to suggest this week - in the event a few people read it.

We're without two linemen, three backs, we've chosen to start a QB who's spent less time in Bank Of America stadium than fans who show up to one game a year.

So what do you do? A Mike Goodson, Brian St. Pierre team is a tough enough team to talk about, I couldn't imagine having to coach it against one of the league's best defenses.

To me, you have to use Steve Smith in the slot, simplify the discussion between he, BSP, and the Ravens defense. Any doubling would have to come deeper, so you have attention on a position that probably doesn't go that deep this game anyway.

With Goodson, I'd run from 3 WR more. I'd screen, I'd use him with toss sweeps (name the last time you saw one from us), I'd draw. I don't know that I'd use him inside more than necessary - realistically it's just not fesible to continue to throw away

Jeff Davidson simply can't go out there with run-run-pass. You may not out-smart the Ravens, but new QB or not, gameplans can't be simplified.

Defense looks like a solid matchup. Pass rush may be underwhelming, against a solid OL, but don't get trapped into overload blitzes like last week - Tampa closed the game screening against some top pressure right into the face of where Tampa had already cleared their receiver for a big gain.

Ravens have had some special teams issues - odd for a coach with special teams experience - and there may be room to make up distance there. It won't matter if the offense doesn't do anything with it however.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Deangelo Williams to IR; His Future?

Deangelo Williams was placed on injured reserve with half the season to go, signaling the effective end of the Panthers' 2010 season.

The season was doomed from the start, apparently, but this seals it - there's no turnaround this year, no miracle at the end of the story. With eight losses and this many people out of the game, Carolina's just playing out the year.

And with that, so is John Fox. There's no realistic way he returns, and just out of attrition there's hardly anyone who would stay as an assistant. Marty Hurney is all but guaranteed to hire the next coach, and should stay on for a while.

But the Panthers have plenty of free agent players, none more paramount than Williams himself.

So pretty much after the NFL locks down a labor deal, Williams will be the next one on the list - one way or another. If there's a franchise tag with the new CBA, and free agency were to start quickly after a CBA signing, Williams would undoubtedly be the top priority.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Clausen Concussed; Talib Is Garbage

Aquib Talib received the final hit of the Buccaneers/Panthers game, from Steve Smith; it came with a Personal Foul penalty.

The hit came at a lower cost than the one that inspired it - Talib's hit on Jimmy Clausen on the QB sneak. Clausen, who took a helmet to helmet hit from Talib, is out with a concussion.

Clausen's head will inevitably mend, but Talib will be an asshole forever. I'm not advocating it, but there may be a cheap shot in the coming year at Talib. At the least, Smith will look to give him the Deangelo Hall treatment.

So, Carolina will bring Brian St. Pierre, the world's oldest practice squad quarterback up, and he may have a shot at starting. It's no Vinny Testaverde story, because much like everything else this year, it's worse than you think it is.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

2011 Early Look: WR

There's plenty of talk about 2011 already - after all, fans want something to look forward to.

Normally, I'd find this awful behavior, but with one win the team isn't helping. With no coach on the roster for 2011 either, the team is leaving things pretty wide open, too. So anything's possible.

So why is it fairly certain that people talking about AJ Green or other rookie receivers have it dead wrong?

It's a mantra I'll beat into the ground all year. We're not young enough in the passing game yet?

If that's not enough, and chances are for some of you it's not, consider this:

*Steve Smith is coming back. Don't pretend he's not.

*Brandon Lafell and David Gettis are pretty solid. Considering they're rookies, they already have more touchdowns (3) than the veteran combo of Muhsin Muhammad and Dwayne Jarrett last year (1 each). They're coming back, the two rooks. That's 3 WR so far.

*Armanti Edwards is coming back, and while there's a chance the next coach thinks he's a QB, probably not. It'd be surprising to see him not grow into a return role of some sort. Edwards makes the 4th WR.

*Remember Wallace Wright? He signed a two year deal, and Fox wasn't the only one that saw promise in him as a receiver. He's an ace special teamer, obviously, and that's valuable, but being an emerging WR doesn't hurt either. If not him, Charly Martin has a shot at it if he can stay healthy (here I am, holding my breath).

So that's 5 to fill a roster with; 6 to bring to camp. Add in Trent Guy, and that's 7. David Clowney and Devin Thomas won't have loyalty from a new staff, but any new player will be the same level player - young but experienced, and relatively cheap at best.

There's no more room for another lanky, inexperienced WR at this point, or time to wait for yet another WR bloom. A top 5 pick needs to be able to produce.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Davis, Moore, and Connor to IR

Why not Jeff Otah while we're at it?

Thomas Davis, Matt Moore, and Dan Connor were placed on season ending injured reserve today. Moore was found to have a torn labrum in his shoulder, having gone down in the first half against the Saints against a strong-side overload blitz that he didn't read.

Connor went out with a hip injury, later found to be cracked. Connor was a nice surprise at MLB, with 47 tackles and a sack in 8 starts there. He made up for the difference in moving James Anderson to SLB, and Jon Beason to WLB. Beason now moves to his more comfortable middle role, and the WLB job was tenatively played by Nic Harris during the completion of the Saints game.

Davis was allowed to determine his own fate, and chose to rest. He'd not practiced and time was running out - after having raced to get ready last year, he hurt himself, and now has sufficient time to rest in a season that doesn't really matter anymore. Mike Cranston, AP reporter, said over twitter:

Chatted with #Panthers LB Thomas Davis here at the cable box. Says it "wasn't worth the risk" try to come back this season

Davis says he was allowed to make the decision, not the team. Acknowledged knee isn't 100 percent

But Davis confident #Panthers will re-sign him. "I've pretty much been assured by them that I'm going to be a Panther"

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Rock Bottom?

It's tough watching an offense this bad. Three quarterbacks, and lost one; three backs, and lost two. 9 yards passing in a half.

It's an offense of tremendously awful proportion, missing its punch and unable to do anything right.

We had a shot the first time against the Saints, so the 34-3 stomping, mostly at our own hands as we consistently screwed ourselves, was a mild surprise. Up until this week, it looked like we were able to try to turn things around, but that's no longer the case.

The season is done, and the rest is a matter of pride.