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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Reply To Bill Barnwell



 
As time goes on it does get tougher to defend Marty Hurney, and to be honest I don’t find myself well equipped to do so.  I’m largely ambivalent to Hurney – who’s served this team well at times, and whose decisions have cost the team at points.  

Barnwell was on record the day after the Giants debacle, which is the worst time to get your franchise evaluated.  Fair enough, that’s what you get for laying an egg, Carolina.  But, there’s a massive chasm between the idea that Hurney keeps this team from ever being successful – remember that while far too long ago now, 2003-2005 wasn’t anything to sleep on, and most would consider 2008 successful as well.  His/his team’s decisions aren’t always top notch, and success since 2008 has obviously been elusive.  But to suggest it’s impossible for the team to succeed under Marty Hurney is to suggest they haven’t had success – they have.  They haven’t had sustained success, but before this past week, most would suggest Carolina is nonetheless on the rise. 
 
Here are a couple quick points to consider:
*the team is 100% in accord on what to do on team matters.  I do believe that Hurney and Jerry Richardson had a plan for 2011 – Richardson himself laid out much of this plan based on both his words and Jordan Gross’ statements.  I don’t take it lightly, nor do I excuse Hurney, Richardson, or anyone else for overspending in 2011.   But Richardson definitely hated being called cheap, and he sent out some contracts as statements.   Regardless of whether you prefer to ‘blame’ JR, or Hurney, the end result is they both wanted to retain Charles Johnson, Deangelo Williams, and they wanted to do right by their other players. 
 
*They paid a premium on a free-for-all free agency that hurt them – a problem of circumstance because of the FA period, and a matter of pride that they weren’t going to let players get away.  They continue to make prideful statements of not allowing players to leave- that they wanted to stay. The lockout, and preparations for the lockout, kept them from making players like Jon Beason, Williams, Thomas Davis, Ryan Kalil paid at a high level earlier – 2009, 2010, when contracts would obviously have been cheaper. In retrospect, 2011 for most teams was cautious, not extravagant.  2012’s contracts have massively escalated from 2011’s, so at the very least, either the cap will have to go up or the entire league has it all wrong longterm.
 
*I will wholeheartedly agree that some of the contracts, like Davis’, were negotiated against no one.  To keep Davis was 100% correct, if sentimental. Did he need that much guaranteed, or in total salary? No.   They overpaid.  Many of the other high contracts were based on franchise level amounts, even when not negotiated against.  Could they have just tried to match or slightly beat the other best offer?  Maybe.  For that, you have to be willing to let the guy go, and Carolina was a lot more highly invested in keeping their own than other teams were.
 
*It was vital to keep Charles Johnson.  This might be sentimental on my part, too – the team wanted to keep Julius Peppers and couldn’t, and while Johnson isn’t Peppers, he was still a top rusher. If it were me, in a vacuum where no one worries about perception, I’d have had a hard time keeping Williams at that money.  I’d have been more bullish, waited for the market to set the price a bit more, since Williams could be lost.  It’s nice to keep him, but having Jonathan Stewart, acquiring a midlevel backup is just fine and certainly more fiscally smart.   To work with that, a new player on defense at that same price range – or two at $5 million per season each – would be a wiser use of that money.  I won’t argue that with Johnson, who when healthy has been very valuable – and five mediocre ends isn’t the same as one very good one.
 
*The ideal of a teamwork decision is critical to their process – which is why Richardson has a legitimate say, why Rivera has a say.  Why Don Gregory has a say and before him, Tony Softli and Jack Bushofsky had their say. It’s why 2009 and 2010 were so disjointed – John Fox started to have less say as it was clear he was being moved out.  Again, in part because of the lockout and the issues that were coming up.   If the argument is that Hurney needs a strong head coach?  Possibly.  Of course, every team wants a good, able head coach, and the team philosophy is to work together, not for Hurney to lord over a coach or his scouts. 
 
Where I lay a lot more blame is Hurney’s track record on “need” positions – CB and DT have both been more or less neglected over the last four years, and the more invested of the two – DT – has so far seen no better out of the 3rd rounders put into it than the waiver wire and undrafted counterparts.
 
The bottom line?  The entities running this team do get sentimental.  It’s to their detriment.  That, plus the lockout that Richardson more or less led, hurt his own team coming into it, and going out of it because of the contract situations they had to deal with.   I don’t ‘fault’ Hurney or Richardson exclusively, or Rivera – who entered into the job knowing the blueprint.  They have an approach as a team, and as a team, they’re average.  It will take a more catastrophic event than failure to shake up this team – and I think this fanbase owes its team more than to wait for the inevitable with Jerry Richardson.  As owners go, he’s not bad.  And not unlike with Hurney, Rivera, or the departed John Fox, there’s room for improvement, but it could be worse.  I think in the end there’s just an overstatement of how good this franchise is, or should be.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Football Hangover: V/S Giants, Aftermath




There should be a Thursday night mercy rule.  The NFL could easily impose some form of situation where the integity of the game is compromised to the benefit of the losing team when the score gets over 20 points.  Sundays, you have the day to compose yourself.  Thursday, you’re going to have to go to bed with that game on your mind.  It ruins your Friday, as I can attest.  You get the added bonus of waiting 10 days for the other shoe to drop, so you can either get the dread of seeing them fail again, or redeem themselves to make you wonder why they couldn’t have pulled it together before.

Coming in, there was hope: leaving this, there’s not much. And I don’t honestly want to process what it all means right now.

There are plenty that do – that want to figure it all out right now, based on this one game.  For me, coaching moves are taken care of in December, at earliest.  I don’t know what this game means for Ron Rivera.  But, I know that I can’t get past last night, and I’m not going to sit there and worry about who might be a hot head coaching prospect in 2014 or whether or not to cut Jon Beason in 2015.

Carolina hasn’t looked good in prime time since a meaningless 2009 game against Minnesota.  I don’t know why – just as I don’t know why this team is so moody.  I don’t have good answers right now, and anyone certain of those answers have questions I honestly don’t trust.  I know I expected more, and I'm disappointed in what was left behind after those expectations waned.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

V/S GIANTS - Pregame










V/S GIANTS  - Pregame

Short week this week.  NY comes off a win against the Buccaneers, and Carolina obviously a win against New Orleans.  Last time these two teams met was the season opener in 2010, and while one has won a championship in the meantime, both teams look radically different.  For NY, some key elements are there – Tom Coughlin’s still a red-faced jerkbag preaching control and discipline while often missing out on his own message; Eli Manning is still the QB, skirting the lines between high second level QB and “just good enough”.  But the days of elite defense and a power running game have started to fade, and the team is more pass-centric (put up the divides on run/pass compared to a few years ago).   This makes the Giants at times more potent, but also less efficient and physical.

The Giants are deliberate – they rarely run trick plays, they take mostly calculated risks; they rely more on talent than scheme.  They rely on guys who fit their system more than adaptation to their talents; you have to prove yourself before they fit to your abilities.

First round pick RB David Wilson fumbled on his second carry in the season opener and didn’t see the ball after that: he’s got 5 total carries for 10 yards. Ahmad Bradshaw had carried most of the load (half of the 44 carries; Andre Brown has taken 13 replacing the departed Brandon Jacobs). They’ve run half as much as Manning’s 83 attempts – this just isn’t the same physical team.  Last year, they ran only 42% of the time and that’s contunuing into this year. Bradshaw was still showing he can carry a heavier load, without Jacobs aboard; he ran for 659 yards at 3.9 per carry and 9 TD last year, though Jacobs had similar stats.  FB Henry Hynoski is not a run threat and doesn't play that often.

With Bradshaw out, the Giants become more one dimensional.  They don't have much of a power threat without Wilson taking many snaps so far - it's hard to say how far that continues. 

RT David Diehl is out - but he may be one of the more overhyped linemen in the league, even with an offseason of statisticians tearing him down for being awful.   Chris Snee has earned a solid reputation, but he’s never grown into the killer guard that some expected.  David Bass is an equal in the awkward last name category, but hasn’t grown into the center he could’ve either.  To the left, Will Beatty is marginal, a 2nd round pick from Connnectibut in 2009 that's yet to really come into his own, but did a solid job giving up 3.5 sacks in 10 games.  Sean Locklear likely moves to RT, the aging NC State and Seahawk relegated to being a backup so far this year.


The pass offense for NY is where things happen:  The Giants are 24th in the league with 88 yards/game rushing, but 1st in pass yards at 348.  Manning is an accurate passer who doesn’t get flustered by pressure and gets the ball out fast.  He’s throwing at a 62.7% completion percentage, and a 91.6 rating (4 TD/3 INT), more or less all on par with his nearly-5000 yard effort last year.

Despite the absence of Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz can still be deadly.  He leads the NFL in targets even with Nicks healthy so far, and has 237 yards receiving and one score.  The Giants don’t move their WR around that much in base, but Cruz played 63% of his snaps in the slot and 3rd WR Domenik Hixon plays mostly on the outside, not unlike Mario Manningham did last year; while Captain Munnerlyn has been better as a nickel, Cruz is a lot to ask of him.   2nd round rookie Rueben Randle barely plays so far and isn’t a threat yet, but probably plays on the outside with the injuries.

The Giants’ acquisition of Martellus Bennett at TE has given them a big target in the middle to go with their aces outside. Bennett will never be fast or explosive, but he’s physical and much larger than anything in the back 7 for Carolina.  He leads the Giants with 2 TD, bringing in 9 passes for 112 yards. 2nd TE Bear Pascoe is mostly a blocker, as is rookie 4th rounder Adrien Robinson.  Bradshaw is an effective receiver at RB; he had 34 for 267 and 2 TD last year; departed backups Jacobs and DJ Ware provided a total of 42 more, so their plans aren’t to get a ton of balls to the backs even with a lessened emphasis on running.


With Bradshaw and Nicks out, look for Carolina to shade toward Cruz – with SS Charles Godfrey playing off the line more than last year (and more as he did this week), toward the middle of the field.  Getting someone in the face of Bennett might work as well – there may be some value to switching to a cover 6 look sometimes, and other times just playing a man-free scheme switching Godfrey into a centerfield and putting Nakamura as a double on Cruz.

It will be interesting to see if Cruz does continue to play a lot in the slot, without a better compliment outside (playing the slot is a lot different with Manningham and Nicks, than Randle and HIxon).  A lot of Cruz’ success comes inside.




On defense, it still starts up front – neither Justin Tuck nor Jason Pierre-Paul are elite but both can hurt you, and they still have Osi Umenyiora to mix it up and former end Mathias Kiwanuka at SLB.  That group allows for a very diverse and athletic rush; the guards get as much pressure on them as the tackles, and while Amini Silatolu has had his time against the run, both he and Geoff Hangartner have struggled with pass protection at times.  DTs Rocky Bernard and Linval Joseph are more fresh with a lower snap count.  Backup Marvin Austin hasn’t seen action since 2009.

Next to Kiwanuka, they have hardnosed MLB Chase Blackburn, occasionally interchanged with Mark Herzlich; they have rangy WLB Michael Boley, who already has 2 INT on the year.

In the backfield, Corey Webster is a solid matchup guy, but has trouble with some of the Panthers' preferred intermediate routes - the out, the post, and if used, the slant.  3rd round pick Jayron Hosley has been a solid starter so far this year, and plays in the slot on nickel;  Prince Amukamara, if/when he's not on the trainer's table or getting drowned in the cold tub by teammates, can be a good, physical corner, but hasn't shown much yet (1 INT, 3 passes defended in 7 games, none yet this year.  Justin Tryon is the typical guy to pick on in the secondary, coming in for nickel snaps and getting abused fairly often.

Antrel Rolle is an unspectacular FS on the back end of his career; Kenny Phillips, likewise, gets to his assignments but isn't turning into the playmaker many thought he was going to be as a first rounder.

DC Perry Fewell was a candidate in Carolina in 2011 for Ron Rivera’s job; his defense currently ranks 25th in points, 19th in yards (22nd/259 against the pass, 16th/111 against the run).  They gave up 38% of third downs last year with similar personnel.

It appears, for now, that the ways Carolina likes to manipulate a defense are valid ways to hurt the Giants: 3 and 4 wide, and motion out of base formations.  Getting any LB in space against Greg Olsen would be profitable, and getting deep into the Giants’ bench for corners can provide benefit as well.

The Giants play sound special teams, but aren't spectacular; they finished 22nd in Rick Gosselin's ratings.  Wilson takes the kickoffs; Randle the punt returns.  P Sean Weatherford is one of the best; Lawrence Tynes is average, and even with new rules last year the Giants had more returns than touchbacks, but Tynes does have range from 50-53.


Carolina, at home in primetime, gets an advantage with the absence of Nicks and Bradshaw.  It will make the Giants, always deliberate, potentially more predictable.  The unknowns are massive, though; the only thing you really know is that Cruz will get massive amounts of targets and the Giants' DL will be aggressive.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Happily Wrong: V/s Saints, Aftermath

Carolina came back with a lot of offense - especially a resurgent rushing offense - to beat the Saints 35-27.

I was skeptical Carolina had a chance in this one - and skeptical that they'd have much success with their blitz packages against an excellent QB in Brees that diagnoses the blitz so well.  And yet, Carolina got in Brees' face a lot more than the one sack recorded feels - Charles Johnson had the bigtime pressure to force an early INT-TD for Charles Godfrey, and a later forced fumble that somehow isn't recorded as a sack, I guess because Brees picked the ball back up; he also had another hit on Brees.   Greg Hardy had a bigtime hit that wounded Brees and forced a major grounding penalty.  Thomas Keiser and Dwan Edwards shared the one scored sack.

And pressure forced the last defensive play, a game-sealing INT for Jon Beason.

Carolina did give up some big plays, however - a 48 yard run for Pierre Thomas that saw him squirt out of a pile and make some Panthers miss; they let Darren Sproles, taking double duty with Devery Henderson out, get 13 receptions for 128 yards (5 first drive alone).  Jeremy Graham got his (7 for 71, a score) but Josh Norman did a good job with Marques Colston (nothing in the first 3 quarters, finishing for 3/49).


Carolina got its backs involved, remembering that they had them; Jonathan Stewart scored from 20 yards in on a pretty screen (full house and with Kealoha Pilares looking to take a spread sweep, plus the fake handoff to Mike Tolbert, Stewart snuck toward the sideline for the pass); Deangelo Williams scored from five out on an option draw; Mike Tolbert got his from shutgun at the 2; Cam Newton got his last, from a QB draw.  Newton led the team with 70 yards; they finished as a group with 219. Brandon LaFell, having a coming out day as a receiver, got his carry with 25 yards on a reverse, too.

With a lead much of the game, and a potent rush O, you'd figure Carolina didn't have much going on passing: Newton was 14/20 for 253 yards, a score (Stewart's screen); Steve Smith had 3/104 and Brandon LaFell was massive with 6/90.


More analysis later.

v/s Saints - a quick pregame


well, last week I spent time over months dealing with the Bucs - fuck all that it mattered.  It's :45 to kickoff and we more or less know the Saints so just a few highlights.
Obviously have to have better guard play - both guards failed miserably last week.  There's no way around running the ball more, either.  Cam has to limit the mistakes but moreso play under his base.  I thought, the one non-mugging pick aside, he threw the ball better last week than he did this time last year.  He's learned.  But you can't throw the ball that many times.  Harper is easy pickings, and the Saints don't have good depth at CB either - and Jenkins can be persuaded away from his responsibilities.  But you have to pick your spots, too.

Run O will have to earn it, though.  Bunkley is legit at DT and Ellis can penetrate (just not always finish). Bunkley, Cam Jordan, and Curtis Lofton make for a legit run D.  The key will be finding a way to get around that, where the rest doesn't tackle all that well, especially the DBs; also, Will Smith at RE doesn't appear to have that big a threat.

Carolina used 3 WR about 50% of the time, and while they may prefer not to do that as much this week, they have to get under center in 3 WR and run the ball.  No way around it - the shotgun runs are ugly, and PA just isn't as effective. Spread running gives some space, gives one on ones up front.


Run defense should not be an issue whatsoever.  Grubbs/DelaPuente/Evans are a good trio inside and that could be difficult, but the Saints let so much go on the edge where Bushrod just doesn't seem to be that good at anything and where Hardy had a pretty good run day last week, the edges should leave everything in the middle where Carolina can contain better.  They don't do lead plays much - Jed Collins played 18 snaps last week, only 6 of them run - so Kuechly should have more room, where he'll have a lot of Sproles to deal with in space.


 I would anticipate another solid stretch of 3-4 and that shouldn't hurt, and it's a good base look against the 2TE sets (Graham/Thomas played a combined 30 snaps, so half the game). For the most part it's horrendously stupid to blitz Brees so the best you can hope for is another solid outing for our DEs (3 pressures apiece, regardless of whether Hardy lost his sack to Edwards, or that Johnson was in on pretty much every collapse) and a little stunting or misdirection.  But let's shelf the double A-gap blitz look for a few minutes and leave our LBs in place to make a play on a ball.  We shouldn't blitz, we have no business blitzing like that, and Drew Brees is just too smart for that.  They like it deep, so either the rush does or doesn't get there.

Colston will play a lot against Norman, which if he doesn't make a ton of mistakes should be OK - and Colston wasn't himself last week.  No Meacham means better matchups on the other side, too. Moore is pretty solid, but Henderson is being asked to do more than just run 5-6 go routes a game and it's not helping him.  Graham?  I hope we have something interesting there.  It's a win if we can keep him from being matched up on Munnerlyn, who responded as just a nickel (he did play some base, since neither he nor Norman had a game's worth of snaps, but Norman played more).

Don't have a great feeling about this one - unlike Tampa there's definitely the feeling that NO is a better team, even with their current issues, where Tampa may or may not have taken advantage of being new and less scoutable and their success is one game old.  NO can still out-physical, and out-pass, Carolina and my guess is they probably will, it's just up to this moody team to keep up.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Inactives v/s Tampa

Anticipation of the game finally happening is making me post a lot - sorry - here are today's inactives:

7 Clausen, 
26 D. Campbell, 
28 Stewart, 
62 Byers, 
73 B. Campbell, 
94 Fua, 
98 Keiser

A few thoughts here: 
*Shame to see Keiser here, but he's the 5th end. That happens. 
*3 DT - hope that doesn't cause any issues. 
*6 WR - what value does Armanti Edwards provide right now? 

related to that last one:
*2 RB - just Tolbert and DW. 

*4 TE - technically you can count Brockel as either, I guess, but weird. 

*I felt like Bruce Campbell was the better tackle, so I hate to see Garry Williams get a jersey instead. 

It'll be interesting to see how this ends up with Stewart active again.  I imagine it becomes a choice between Brockel and Hartsock.

Peyton Manning Trade

More or less waiting for 4pm to happen now, and was reading a bit this morning, and let my mind wander.

Tom Sorenson's recent article - more or less about Cam Newton and Johnny Unitas - was honestly all about Jerry Richardson.  Magnificent insight to this owner, moreso than his QBs.  It's not a secret, now, that JR wanted a QB with that first overall pick in 2011, and while I'm sure that required some adjustment when Andrew Luck stayed in, Newton earned his.


But more than that, it's this bit about Peyton Manning.  How have I gone this long and didn't know Carolina attempted to trade for Peyton?  The trade was Muhsin Muhammad (not yet a breakout guy, in his first two years he had started 10 games, and picked up 32 balls for 1 TD), Kerry Collins (following a 1997 where he threw 11 TD and 27 INT, I guess Carolina already knew he was damaged goods), a switch from 13 to 1 and likely including the 1999 #1 and

*I assume this was before Sean Gilbert, since Gilbert was barely before the draft.  Carolina dropped 2 #1s on Gilbert - 1999 and 2000 - and traded their own 2nd rounder to Miami so they'd have a #1 draft pick at all in 2000.  Don't have to wonder long to figure out if this team is better

*Manning would've been interesting for the future of this team, obviously; despite heavy spending, Carolina started 0-4 despite somewhat competent QB play; I don't know it would've been better with Manning, who struggled as a rookie.  Seifert likely would've still been the buy - unless Mike Holmgren, famously wooed by the most money, would've changed course to be with Manning; either coach would've found Manning ideal, and it was better than either coach had in the remainder of their careers.


*I wonder how much friction the QB issue put between JR and John Fox.  Clearly, the aftermath included a renewed influence on offense, and whether Rivera had been the head coach (giving us Rob Chudzinski) or they'd gone a different route, there would've been offense.  Unfortunately, JR's determination on only hiring defensive guys shut Carolina out of Jim Harbaugh, clearly a young star.  But, they had their own guys in the queue, and they were willing to force a young offensive coach on the new head guy.  It happened to work out that the new guy had his own guy, and that guy's fantastic.

But Fox, that's a different matter - clearly controlling of his coordinators and staff, Fox wouldn't open up the offense unless required; he wouldn't spend at quarterback, excluding extending Jake Delhomme. Fox, by the time he had to deal with hiring a new OC or DC, had considerable power, and used it.  I don't know they wanted that with the next guy.

Some insight on Fox - I find it interesting that he and Hurney were so at odds by 2010, and yet both got emotional at letting Delhomme go; both were beaming at the pick of Jimmy Clausen, who both seemed to want.  It wasn't until halfway through the year that the press let on that the two were at odds, somewhat suggesting that Hurney had distanced himself, or they'd squabbled over things like "the budget".  Either way, it was clear in the end that Hurney was JR's guy, and that Fox hadn't been for some time.

*To further a Fox/QB philosophy ideal, I wonder whether 2008 really could've meant Matt Ryan.  That was a rumor, and I more or less dismissed it myself.  But I wonder if JR was after Ryan personally.  It would explain why that sort of rumor might get out, and yet have an immediately conflicting response in the league.  Ryan would've cost, to go from 13 to 2 (he went 3), around 1150 points of value based on the chart - probably their 2nd and a future 1st.  Makes it unlikely, but then again, it didn't happen.


*For what it's worth, I have a problem with trading future picks - different from the one the Carolina Org has had over time.  I doubly have an issue with it when it includes a future dominant QB.  You've put a pick into a QB - it'll cost a premium, I get that.  But with Manning in 98, or Ryan in 08, you're hamstringing that QB.  in 99, the Colts were able to pair Manning with Edgerrin James.

Atlanta, on the other hand, may have as well missed the 2009 draft picking up DT Peria Jerry - and with that, they got Roddy White to play well with Ryan, but nothing else worked.  That caused the trades for Tony Gonzalez, and Julio Jones - both of which cost them the ability to have a real defense over time.

v/s Tampa, Season Opener


Carolina swept 4-12 Tampa last year; they outscored them by a combined 86-35.  Many of the same pieces are there - with exception to draft picks, a few cuts, and some out of character spending.   

The Buccaneers started over this offseason, finally correcting the Raheem Morris mistake.  They flirted with a game-changing hire in Chip Kelly, which fell through because they leaked it.  You can’t do that with college coaches, it scares off recruits and screws over what’s left.  College coaches have that level of loyalty to a program most times, and pro teams just don’t treat that carefully enough.   Kelly would’ve been a tough one, with the undeniable option game that would’ve come with it fitting Josh Freeman very well.  
After stumbling with Kelly, things broke down and they dug further into the college ranks for Rutgers coach Greg Schiano.   Schiano apparently had a good interview and overachieved without a huge recruiting base.  This works well for Tampa, who has always requested its teams be made up of plywood rather than steel – they are, for all purposes, the small market, super cheap budget NFL team.  They remain one of the youngest teams every year, as well.   Schiano held together  decent Rutgers program, one that has provided some NFL talent in the past. 

He was there for 11 years; he was 68-67 at Rutgers, with the pinnacle being a 2006 team that went 11-2 and 2nd in the Big East.  He put 17 players in the NFL from Rutgers, including first round picks Kenny Britt, Anthony Davis, and Devin McCourty; and second rounders Ray Rice and Brian Leonard.   He’s a solid but task oriented leader of young players, and is only interested in people that buy-in, at the cost of better talent at times. 

His first pro job – as a defensive assistant – was with Chicago in 1996-98, where he was a third-tier assistant alongside another first-time pro coach, Ron Rivera (quality control).   When that staff dispersed and Rivera headed to the Eagles, Schiano was defensive coordinator for the Miami Hurricanes (99-00), on the other side of the ball from Panthers OC Rob Chudzinski, at the time a UM TEs coach. As Chud was being elevated to offensive coordinator, Schiano was accepting his role with Rutgers.

His attention to detail is precise to a fault, at times too detailed it seems, but having come from being a head coach there’s a more natural balance than had he been a coordinator in his rise.  From a staff standpoint (explained in greater detail under the offense/defense breakdowns), there’s a somewhat recent Giants influence to their style, and that does fit with Schiano’s own scheming as well, but in this case familiarity may have come at the cost of potentially better staff.   

Offense

A taskmaster, Schiano depands everything to be exact in its detail.  So there’s no doubting the fit of OC Mike Sullivan, a blue belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and former Army Ranger.  Going with that, it’s also notable that he’s coming from the Giants, where Tom Coughlin has a similar exacting style.  A WRs coach for the first four years, he finished as QBs coach before moving to Tampa. It’s a situation that should tie into defense, won’t be innovative or honestly that interesting, but when it’s working correctly, will be deliberate and eat up clock. 

What will be less clear is how that works with QB Josh Freeman’s inconsistencies.  Freeman took a major step back last year, and that’s something that will certainly alter what Tampa does – because this staff appears more ready to be limited than to do things it can’t do well.  The Coughlin offense doesn't work with a lot of inaccuracy - not that all that many offenses do - but timing patterns don't matter if the ball isn't thrown to the right spot. 

New QBs coach Ron Turner has clear ties to the Coryell system, and is the uncle of Carolina assistant Scott Turner.  He’s had modest success as an NFL coordinator.  Ben McDaniels steps into his first role without his brother.  OL coach Bob Bostad was Running Game Coordinator for the Wisconsin Badgers before moving to Tampa as line coach; this is his first pro position. This was a solid hire, and Bostad was a part of something good in Wisconsin; with a stable of young backs, the running game should be solid. 


RB Doug Martin appears ready to carry a fairly full load.  Schiano compares him to Ray Rice, and while comparisons are rarely fair, Martin should be used similarly well in all phases.   The quick, squatty rookie has good hands, blocks well, and is a natural with the football.   Backup LeGarrette Blount can be powerful, but has struggled enough in the passing game and at blocking to suggest he’s more situational in usage (going back to doing what you do well).   FB Erik Lorig should only get occasional usage.  He played around 250 snaps, and I wouldn't expect much more this year, in exchange for more 3 WR sets.  Martin should be a solid outlet receiver, but in the past the Giants had not used their backs often.  

New WR Vincent Jackson was a big ticket purchase - $55 million over five years, a lot for a powerful but not always available player.  Jackson brings obvious size to the table, and his game mirrors that – some natural timing type routes.  His game should translate from San Diego – but, there is enough info on him from the various Chargers staffers Carolina has acquired – including his old OC, the DC and DBs coaches that used to face him in the event he was practicing.  Jackson will be a point of big-play focus, and third down, naturally; he can do anything well when he's healthy, and he currently is.

Across from him, Mike Williams has shown ability in the past; he had a nearly identical 65 catch season last year to match 2010; however his TD totals dropped from 11 to 3.  He caught 9 total passes against Carolina last year.  3rd WR Arrelious Benn is a large target, without a lot of quickness.  He would be a major size mismatch on Captain Munnerlyn; most are. 

 At TE, out is Kellen Winslow, last year's leading receiver; in is Dallas Clark, who is only 3 seasons removed from 100 catches; the last two years, he's only been able to average 35.  One of those was in 6 games; the more recent was 11, so it's hard to see him heading anywhere near 100 again. 

The scheme does suggest more use on the outside than the secondary receivers.  Playaction does change the targeting somewhat, I would assume, as would goal/short situations.  Clumping receivers on one side should happen – opposite Jackson or a TE – to provide combo routes and natural picks.  

LT Donald Penn gave up 9 sacks and 26 hurries last year.  LG Carl Nicks, a major expenditure, will provide some push inside.   Losing Davin Joseph was a loss for Tampa, but the massively overpaid veteran wasn't playing up to the hype. Jeremy Zuttah is the new, inexperienced center;  RG 

RT Jeremy Trueblood, his massive wingspan and 6'8 frame creating ideal right tackle size, gave up only 4 sacks last year, but 50 pressures; worst in the league.  Likely lining up against Charles Johnson, Trueblood doesn't give up that much on power but is susceptible to double moves and doesn't have good feet.  

Defense

Bill Sheridan is defensive coordinator – after 20 years in college, he spent a few years with Tom Coughlin himself, moving up the ladder from LBs coach to being DC in 2009, after which he was fired.   That year, the Giants gave up 427 points, nearly a team worst, and wasn’t popular with players.   He then spent two years as the Dolphins’ linebackers coach, and this year signed on with Ohio State before becoming coordinator in Tampa. It’s an uninspired scheme that mirrors most of what the league does, to a point – 4-3 under, one gap, flow to the ball. Not a lot of zone blitzing, three deep zones that will have a little bit of disguise to them. 

Tampa finished last in 2011 in points and 30th in yards; 21st against the pass and last against the run; 20th in turnovers and last in sacks (23). 

Via profootballfocus.com, they were by far the worst tackling team in the league, prompting Tampa to draft SS Mark Barron at the high end of the first round. Their scheme was terribly problematic – a contain scheme like the Tampa 2, if you take away good tackling or fundamentals, is like working with nine players.   Unlike the few other S in the top third of the first round over the last decade, Barron does at least have size, and coming from a Nick Saban defense there’s some translation to what Belichick disciple Schiano will want him to do.  It should at least give a more sure tackler back there, but it’s harder to say whether that will translate into Barron also becoming a longterm playmaker.

Though the move was partly to mask problems in coverage, Ronde Barber enters his 16th year as the worst tackler in the league, and while the departed Sean Jones isn't a good tackler either, he led the team in tackles.  Barber is eager in run support, but doesn't do much good other than getting in the way.  Barber plays the ball, but remains a matchup issue at his size, and Carolina likes to push big receivers in the void directly in front of Barber.

They didn’t make many personnel changes overall in free agency – working more on the offense.  Their line features some young talent, 2010 3rd overall DT Gerald McCoy to add to 2nd round 2011 end Adrian Clayborn (who had 7.5 sacks).  But depth and overall quality can be a concern - the other DE is waiver pickup Michael Bennett; 2009 3rd rounder Roy Miller can be stout at the point of attack but has been vastly underwheming as a starter the last two years.   Backups at DT are familiar to anyone who knows how awful the Panthers' DT situation has been; the Bucs roster both Corvey Irvin and Gary Gibson.  To be fair, profootballfocus.com had Bennett as an above average run defender, and ranked as the team's #1 run defender.  The run-only Miller fared in the other direction, apparently doing nothing well.    Clayborn was solid last year, but had two of his worst days against Carolina last year. 

At LB, high 2nd round draft pick Lavonte David makes some things happen; he's a smaller, shorter rangy LB who picks his way through blocks instead of taking them on; the key is to get in his body from the side, which can happen in this zone blocking scheme when done correctly.  Panthers guard Amini Silatolu could wreak havoc on David; he could also miss terribly.  David is the best case for stopping Carolina's attack; against the zone, the best way to make things happen is to knife in with the LBs across the grain; it's also the easiest way to give up a big play.   Returning starters Mason Foster and Quincy Black aren't special, but the new scheme may allow Foster to play downhill more.  Black and Foster were the worst run-graded players by PFF.

At corner, they continue to invest, but new CB Eric Wright was not a high statistics guy and was overpaid.  Aqib Talib is still there, pending doing anything else stupid within the week of gameday; he plays the ball well but can be aggressive.  A new scheme may help him have more leash, but likely gets rid of his over-the-top help.  3rd CB EJ Biggers doesn’t do much well, was only a good fit in the cover 2, lacks deep speed, and can be tested in lateral quickness, too.   Matching against Louis Murphy, despite being 6'0, may be tough for Biggers.   I don't have a good feel yet for whether Tampa matches their corners up, or keeps them left/right, but it seems more realistic for Talib to be on Steve Smith.  
Missing Barber up front makes the team better in coverage, but then they have to rely on him as the last line of defense.  Remember, he's had a good career, but Carolina's been faceplanting him longer than most players have careers. 

It would be interesting to see, with Carolina enjoying Greg Olsen on the move, what they would do with him outside formation - if it’s Barber on 3rd down, that’s a size and speed mismatch as much as it would be against a linebacker. If they pull a safety down, it certainly limits their coverage, and if that’s what they do in base – and that gets a good tackler/hitter like Mark Barron outside formation, out from the middle of the field – it simplifies the read, and still doesn’t make for much worse a matchup for Olsen.   You can’t do it every down, of course, but watch for this to be scripted within the first few plays to see how Tampa reacts, and then Carolina will attack it by the 2nd long drive.  

Similarly, the Mike Tolbert split could help here - using him as a way of spreading from base.  Expect Tampa, who got burned heavily by the read option last year, to be prepared, but Cam apparently still has some new tricks.  Note that Tolbert in the backfield means you don't have to tip your hand about the option; note that the option was run a few times in preseason, just excepting Cam's running (it was done with Anderson, too) - inside handoff-pitch option without the run still allows you two options.  

Even if Tampa’s upgrades in tackling and coverage do ‘work’ there are enough holes to exploit.  Lavonte David does thrive on space, and so does Barron; so there are times you would want to bunch and pound as well.  

Special Teams

Connor Barth is a solid kicker - with legitimate 55 yd range.  Expensive punter Michael Koenen is also their kickoff guy, but does both very well in both placement and hangtime.  Last year's top coverage guy, Kregg Lumpkin, is now a Seahawk.  Preston Parker, last year's return guy, was dropped from both units; he's replaced by Sammie Stroughter on punt returns.  Tampa averaged 1.5 yards per punt return in preseason, last in the league. Rookie RB Michael Smith, another squatty back like Martin, is a powerful but quick runner who returned one kickoff 74 yards. 

Pride

This is a division game that ended in a blowout last year, both times.  A more regimented team with some upgrades should have some of the problems patched, but some changes and the new regime go away from the “revenge” factor – it’s difficult to push a large amount of emotion after drilling cold consistency for months.


This should be a physical game in all respects.  Carolina's line play may be critical - controlling the game tempo may help.  Carolina is a little further along in development, but these are two teams who match well against each other in talent and both have their holes.  This won't be the undisciplined teams of last year for Tampa, and they're at home - even if no one's watching.  Carolina has to earn this one.  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Position Spotlight, Week 1




I want to make this a quarterly thing – so here’s a baseline coming out of preseason. Instead of basing it on games that don’t matter, I’ll discuss talent level and depth instead of performance, along with a somewhat arbitrary letter grade based on nothing but how things look on paper.

QB – Carolina’s fine here.  Cam Newton’s the guy, Derek Anderson is the necessary solid backup.  Team kept Jimmy Clausen, and it’d be nice to see a week 4 trade of the goober so they’ll have room for someone else. Status: Improvement. Grade, B+ with room depending on interceptions.

RB – Can’t ask for anything better out of this group.  Not going to waste time on it. Grade, A+.

TE – Greg Olsen has high expectations.  Gary Barnidge is an effective clone.  Ben Hartsock could block better for a blocking specialist, but I guess they need one around since the other two aren’t blockers at all (being 6’6 and 245 doesn’t bode well for strength or pad level even if they had better technical ability). Status: improvement, for Barnidge’s health. Grade, B

WR – Still the Steve Smith show here, but Brandon LaFell has grown and there’s no way Louis Murphy isn’t an upgrade over Legedu Naanee.  SO there’s growth.  The rest depends on how Murphy and 4th guy Kealoha Pilares are used in the deep game, but there’s a lot of potential here that wasn’t there coming out of last camp. Status: Improvement. Grade, B-.

OL – There’s a lot of variance.  Amini Silatolu is definitely an upgrade over Travelle Wharton in the run game, and in pass protection he can be good, but often can be catastrophic.  Team knows more about Byron Bell and there’s some growth there. Geoff Hangartner grew into the RG role over time, so the right side has improved.  Having Mike Pollak as the top interior backup, and Bruce Campbell as the 3rd tackle, is a big improvement over last year’s depth. Status: Improvement. Grade, B- with most of it hanging on the rookie.

Offense Overall – more weapons, more depth than last year. B+.

DT – Just having Ron Edwards healthy should make things better – having an experienced under tackle in Dwan Edwards should mean some gap integrity, and hopefully one solid interior rusher.  Frank Kearse and Andre Neblett (currently suspended, of course) improved things over time; it’s up to Sione Fua to see if he’s done same.  Status: Improvement. Grade, C+.

DE – This has much improved depth from this time last year – starting the season with Thomas Keiser as a practice squadder, and without Antwan Applewhite, meant this unit didn’t have much going for it.  Charles Johnson got hurt, and Greg Hardy wore down over time; Applewhite, Keiser, and rookie Frank Alexander should help in depth, but the key part is on the starters.  Status: Even.  Grade: C+ until one of the starters looks more like their antcipated production.

LB – Having four starters instead of two is a massive difference.  No reason to go further into it.  Status: massive improvement. Grade,A+.

CB – Improvement shows based on Josh Norman, but now the real work begins.   Not having Brandon Hogan right now hurts.

S – potential is down, but this should be a much more sound squad.  Haruki Nakamura tackling well and getting to the right spot should be more important than Sherrod Martin’s lack of doing so, assuming other starter Charles Godfrey can improve and start making some plays.  Martin is better depth than what’s ever been behind him when he was a starter.  Status: Improvement, Grade: C+ based on Nakamura’s limitations and whether Godfrey can remember to play the ball.

Defense – more depth, and they may actually implement a real scheme this year.  Improvement, but with a massive air of uncertainty.  C+.

Kick specialists: Young.   The problem with the older guys became the inability to do what they should’ve.  Now, the team has two young guys who should be consistent, but have some limitations – whether kicker Justin Medlock is up to the pressure, and whether Brad Nortman can do anything besides outkick his coverage.   Status: Incomplete, grade: incomplete.  Beats failure.

Special teams units: more potential, but still raggedy.  Units gave up a number of special teams touchdowns, some of them just didn’t technically count.  Status: disarray.  Grade: D.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Terrell McClain Out; Dwan Edwards In

Carolina waived 2011 draftee Terrell McClain, and resolved his position with veteran Dwan Edwards (Buffalo).

Edwards (2nd round, Oregon St, 2004 by Baltimore) played with the Ravens through 2009, playing mostly in a 3-4 under Mike Nolan and Rex Ryan; Buffalo picked him up after, installed him in their 3-4.  Moving to a 4-3 this offseason, he was making $4 million and there was one less spot for him to start, leading to his cut.

Edwards had 2.5 sacks, 19 hurries and 5 QB hits last year, also amassed what profootballfocus.com rates a "stop", any solo tackle that causes the offense "failure".  They also graded him negatively against the run, and it's hard to say if he's a good fit as a 4-3 under tackle.

McClain's writing was on the wall when still playing deep into the 4th quarter of the final preseason game against the Steelers.  While he had a good pressure early in that game, he was still struggling with issues he'd had throughout his time with the Panthers - pad level, consistency.  His time last year as a starter was drastically inconsistent and often had problems with gap integrity.

It's a good move, in that Carolina required another veteran and never made a move.  Edwards probably upgrades things a bit, not forcing them to start backup NT Sione Fua, or former waiver pickup Frank Kearse and exposing them to too many snaps.   On the downside, it appears their patches put on from last year just didn't work and the team should be smart enough to wrap up a better defensive tackle in the draft next year, if they're not just snake-bitten at the position in general.

Since drafting elite DT Kris Jenkins in 2001, Carolina failed to draft one for four years, leading to Atiyyah Ellison in the 3rd; he didn't make it out of camp without being cut. Four years later, 6th rounder Nick Hayden wasn't expected to be a world-beater but stuck by default only, and was gone two years later.  A year after Hayden, 3rd rounder Corvey Irvin was cut out of camp as well.  Two more years passed and Carolina drafted McClain and Stanford NT Sione Fua as a duo in the 3rd round.

Look before that, and it's impossible to find anyone in the Panthers' history other than 2000's Alvin McKinley that is even identified as a DT.

McClain, because he was injured a week later than Fua, became the 2nd highest game starter at DT in Panthers' history from a guy they drafted, behind Jenkins.  Simply by starting 12 games, he's 2nd.  It's not a good homegrown history for Carolina.

Ron Rivera felt good about his DTs in the offseason, stating:
"I agree that we weren't good enough there, but we weren't good enough until Week 12, when you started seeing things come together. Why? Because we had enough guys in place that finally got it and understood it. ... People can miss the point. They say, 'We were so bad against the run.' When were we bad? Early in the year, when we threw a bunch of young guys to the wolves. It seems like some people don't want to believe in what our guys are doing."

By that point, McClain and Fua were injured, and mercifully, things got better.  Even in the hopeful statement, the rookies were excluded.  With Ron Edwards, and now Dwan Edwards, finally providing leadership and Frank Kearse backing them on the run, the hope is that things will improve.  In that end, Fua himself may want to watch that he do the most with his opportunities before Andre Neblett returns from suspension - he and Kearse were the ones starting when things were going well.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Final Cuts; FS Trade

Carolina waited forever to make final cuts, and while stating there weren't any surprises, there were a few that were interesting.

Here's the list:
WR Seyi Ajirotutu, Jared Green, Lamont Bryant
RB Armond Smith, Tauren Poole
TE Joe Jon Finley, Nelson Rosario 
OL Bryant Browning, Justin Wells, Zack Williams, Matt Reynolds

DTs Ogemdi Nwagbuo and Ryan Van Bergen 
LB Kion Wilson, David Nixon
CB R.J. Stanford, Darius Butler,  S Reggie Smith, Johnathan Nelson, and 2009 6th rounder Jordan Pugh. 

Carolina traded a future seventh round draft pick to the San Francisco 49ers for S Colin Jones. The second-year player from TCU had six tackles last season.  His most notable attribute is his sub 4.4 speed, and solid size; he's a good special teamer who probably finds his speed an asset with rookie Brad Nortman punting deep so often. 
Thoughts?  
The trade is unique, but I'm not sure I understand.  There are special teamers available right now - tons of them.  Why trade a pick?  Coupled with that, Carolina is keeping five safeties (Jones, plus Nakamura, Godfrey, and Martin; and rookie DJ Campbell, who I barely remember seeing at any point) and only four corners (Stanford and Butler leave only Josh Thomas, last year's nickel).  
On the OL, Jeff Byars somehow remains, alongside Garry Williams. Neither are likely to dress. 
Ajirotutu's departure leaves Armanti Edwards on the roster once more.  Jimmy Clausen remains as the 3rd QB, even though that means being inactive. 
Carolina elected to keep 3 TE (Ben Hartsock) and TE/FB Richie Brockel, in what seems like a lot for the position; the need to keep Brockel makes some sense, as FB Mike Tolbert will also be the 3rd RB (and there's no 4th), so it's 8 players across three positions.  But I don't know they needed both Brockel and Hartsock.