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Monday, November 26, 2012

Battle of the 2011 Spending Sprees:

Or, the Jim Johnson Memorial Bowl.

The nation likely groans at tonight’s prime time matchup of 2-8 Carolina at 3-7 Philadelphia.  The two teams, each of which spent hardcore in 2011 – Philadelphia putting together a “Dream Team” that at times played a lot more like a nightmare – put tons of money in while other teams sat and waited, and both now sit near the bottom of the league for 2012, both facing regime change and have already endured some change.

For the Eagles, who notably fired DC Juan Castillo, things haven’t gotten better since  (In this article  from October, I suggest that Ron Rivera may have helped put Castillo into the job).  The defense has gotten worse under Todd Bowles.  The offense was struggling before Michael Vick went out; the team will also be without RB Lesean McCoy and slot WR Jason Avant. Their OL has been reduced to almost nothing, having lost four starters. Only Evan Mathis at LG, a former Panther draftee, is still on the line; if you want to stretch it further, only Brent Celek and starting WR Desean Jackson/Jeremy Maclin start on offense from the team’s initial plans this year.

Nick Foles starts at QB; the 3rd round pick who started his first game last week.   He has accuracy issues, not ideal for a WCO, and the line issues don’t help.  So far for the year, he’s at 55% completion, 1 TD/3 INT and a 58.9 rating; he’s taken a sack in 6 plays out of 78 dropbacks, 7.7% of attempts.  The Arizona prospect was a two year starter in the Pac-12, and it appears the team was looking toward him before Vick’s concussion forced the change.  It’s hard to say that Foles is an heir apparent – without much time in Foles so far, and a new coach on the horizon, I don’t know that Foles is a guy you build around.

Bryce Brown starts at RB; the 6’, 225 lb Kansas St product has never started a game, and reps behind McCoy have been sparse.  He’s got 32 attempts (141 yards/4.4 per carry, 40 of those on one play) and 1 catch for 8 yards; McCoy was averaging 17.7 carries and 4 catches per game.  With McCoy and Vick out, Brown is the only other ball carrier; behind him are the 11 total touches of FB Stanley Havili, followed by the 4 carries for WR (it’s worth expecting a reverse, but for the most part, the Eagles get no trickier than that, and tend to rely on screens for misdirection). Backup Dion Lewis, all 5’8, 195 of him, has only appeared 15 games for a total of 99 yards from scrimmage. Brown, for what it’s worth, has shiftiness and has been a good between the tackles runner when asked, and could carry a heavy load Monday.

Desean Jackson would remain the focus on defense, and he’s had trouble getting plays made at times; his 15.7 yards per reception are powerful, but he only has 2 TD on the season.  Maclin’s 4, and McCoy’s 5 (3 receiving) outpace his; Maclin and TEs Celek and Clay Harbor are taking the intermediate work, but they’re adequate enough when an accurate ball gets to them.  Last week, Foles hit mostly checkdowns, giving McCoy 6/67; he targeted Celek a lot, netting 5 catches for 61 yards; he hit backup WR Riley Cooper for 61 yards and Demoris Johnson for a 21 yard dump ball; he found Jackson twice for only five yards.  Notably, Foles fumbled three times, and somehow none were lost).

Defensively, the Eagles come in 23rd in points, and 12th in yards (13th/222 yards against the pass, and 18th/118 yards against the rush per game). They’re 36% on third down, giving up 1/7 on 4th down.  Those don’t look like awful numbers, but the scoring issue has hurt – they’ve just given up a lot more points, and you can’t win that way (obviously). 

Switching out of the Wide-9 has hurt the pass rush; though the team wasn’t killing it this year anyway (16 sacks is 1.6/game; less than half the 33 they’ve given up). Jason Babin leads then with 4.5 sacks after being a league leader last year; Trent Cole only has 1.5 and Cullen Jenkins has 2 from inside.  Rookie Fletcher Cox does have 3, after scoring one in each of the last two weeks.   Adding Demeco Ryans has helped solidify the interior, as has Cox; it doesn’t make enough of a difference, however, with the run still struggling.

Having shipped off Asante Samuel, the coverage issues have remained at times, as Nnamdi Asomugha is still a threat but isn’t the same in zone coverage. Not having the same level of rush opens up the middle, to a point, and neither Nate Allen nor Kurt Coleman have come down with many plays. They gave up a total of 4 TD passes to Robert Griffin III last week, including 49 and 61 yard TD strikes.

Tonight's game is a total wildcard - given that both teams are bad, and play down to a poor opponent at times, but can rise to the occasion and almost beat a good team, too.  The Eagles have so many different new parts that it's difficult to know what to expect. 

My own personal opinion on Reid, and a lot of the coaching staff involved tonight?  I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see most of these coaches together in some form.  If Reid took Rivera as DC, it wouldn’t be unlikely at all to see a lot of Eagles staffers and Panthers staffers together in whatever new franchise that was.   For what’s left, while I wouldn’t necessarily pine for Reid myself, it wouldn’t be hard to want Castillo or Howard Mudd as an OL coach; it would be fantastic to have Bobby April for ST; Shelby, NC’s Jim Washburn is one of the best DL coaches in the league.  It’s even interesting to see former Eagle Duce Staley on the coaching staff.

Coaches tend to stick together, and Reid/Rivera make sense.  But, if not, whoever picks Rivera probably gets the package deal of he, McDermott, and Steve Wilks, at the very least.  And in the right situation, I would find that trio having success together in 2013.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Gameday, Tampa

This one's going to be short - sorry.
First, to anyone looking for TBR - I don't know.  Maybe they didn't pay for the domain name, maybe they sold it (again), who knows.  But I don't have it.  I don't know, sorry.

here's my initial thoughts on Tampa from before the season - not a ton has changed there.

Doug Martin definitely has upped his game in the last month, so that will be a focus.

The Bucs played Carolina with one high safety all day, and expect more of that.  C1, man-free, C1 Robber (the second safety, or sometimes LB, floats free in an underneath zone to cut off the easy routes v/s man).  Barron still isn't playing that well in coverage and can be a liability, so they have to work the inside zones and the playaction.

Tampa does have the top run defense - and the worst pass defense - for stubborn reasons.  Carolina has to adjust -- a novel concept -- by using the short pass and keeping the chains moving, to go along with working the edges with Greg Olsen and Brandon LaFell.

Regarding that run defense - they're just tough as nails inside, and not easy outside.  Maybe counters would work, but I'm okay with outright abandoning the run this week.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Consultant

Ernie Accorsi, a longtime general manager himself and currently the chairman of the General Managers Committee, will have a major hand in developing the future of the Carolina Panthers.

The former Browns (1988-1992) and Giants (1998-2006) GM put together the cornerstones of what became two Super Bowl champions (2007, 2011) in NY, most specifically hiring Tom Coughlin and trading for QB Eli Manning.

Accorsi, 71, was thought to be a potential candidate by a few fan sites, and was mentioned by the Charlotte Observer as a possible consultant.  He has a lot of clout in the league, and should provide a steady, influential voice in the process, whereas owner Jerry Richardson has struggled at times with critical hires.  At times, there were worries that Richardson would simply promote from within, or place a lot of emphasis on experience within the organization (concerns that a GM who would have to go along with a coach pick of Mike McCoy or Kevin Greene, for instance).   Or, that Richardson would get duped into a former coach as a GM prospect, at a high dollar amount and low chance of success.

This removes most of that fear.  Accorsi’s findings aren’t going to be binding, of course.  He doesn’t work for Carolina and Richardson doesn’t have to listen to him, but it’s almost a guarantee that Accorsi will be doing the legwork for the team and that Richardson would hire an Accorsi candidate.

The timing of the move is about right – Carolina can’t interview anyone in anyone’s front office until after the season; it allows Accorsi to deal with any unemployed candidates (which I would say is both unlikely and a short list) first, and identify targets for the postseason quickly.  It’s hard to say if Accorsi will have any hand in evaluation of the current front office staff or coaching staff, since much of that would end up falling to the new GM.    Regarding the timing of a hire, it’s hard to say if Accorsi being an unofficial liaison between the Panthers and a future candidate would allow him to talk to candidates; if so, it would have to be informal at best.

Carolina would seem to have a lot of competition for their GM job – it appears Cleveland, San Diego, Kansas City will have openings; it appears that Philadelphia, among others, will have problems with their consolidated power, if nothing else.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Carolina Duo, Trio Are Tops

Carolina’s pair of starting defensive ends, Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, lead the league as a tandem for sacks with 14.  The next closest pair, the Giants’ Jason Pierre Paul and  Osi Umenyiora have 10.5.

Add in DT Dwan Edwards, and the Panthers may have the league’s best trio – Edwards has 5 for a trio of 19.  The Giants’ Linval Joseph (a DT) has 4.0 (for 14.5 total amongst the three).  The Giants have more sacks overall, at 25 (Carolina has 24).  These numbers are, of course, unofficial. Johnson’s 3 forced fumbles are 4th in the league for all positions, and doesn’t count the sack-fumble of Drew Brees that was taken away when Brees recovered the fumble and threw the ball away; the sack total also doesn’t count the non-call in the same game where Greg Hardy sacked Brees but refs failed to call his knee down.

The pair of ends had a solid 2011, but Johnson got hurt and started playing less; Hardy, on the other hand, as a first year starter, got overworked, playing 90+% of snaps most games.  Johnson finished with 9; Hardy, 4.  That total of 13 for the season is less than the pair’s current total at 8 games in; it’s unlikely that they’d finish at this pace, but if so they would deliver 28 total sacks for the season and the team would have 48.

Almost more interesting than the fierce push that the trio of rushers have provided?  They’re not getting any help.

Carolina has yet to register a sack from a non-defensive lineman – though a few of those sacks may have come from a 3-4 set, no traditional LB or DB has a sack on the season. 19 of those sacks coming from three players is unique for this style of defense, and while rookie Frank Alexander has provided 2.5 as well, the team hasn’t received as much as anticipated from Antwan Applewhite (1.0).  Thomas Keiser has a half sack in limited time, and DT Ron Edwards has a sack.

So all of the production has been from the front four, and the defense has responded in recent weeks – gone are the elaborate blitzes, and honestly, even the double A-gap blitz fakes.  Carolina does some walking up to the line, but for the most part has stayed closer to where they line up, and that can make a difference, too – being out of position at the snap for a run can be problematic, and it can alter your trajectory toward a short pass in zone.   The team doesn’t want to become too easy to read, but I was getting tired of seeing the double A-gap fakes out of nickel, and it didn’t really fool anyone.  For Carolina’s LBs, the better way to get things done is to send a guy from the snap without a fake, and let the speed help; either you get caught or not, but you have a better chance.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Carolina Back On Track: V/S Redskins, Aftermath

Carolina broke a 5 game skid to improve to 2-6, by beating the Washington Redskins 21-13.
Carolina broke through by playing solid defense and building a lead with some big plays, notably a strike to Steve Smith in the endzone that came a few plays after Cam Newton had a minor, but bloody, finger injury, and later an impressive 84 yard strike to Armanti Edwards out of the shadow of the Panthers’ endzone; this setup a Newton rushing TD.  Pitch in a good run up the sideline by Deangelo Williams, and Carolina was able to pull ahead enough to hold off a late charge by the Redskins.
Griffin was 23-39, his 2nd lowest completion percentage of the year. Throwing for 215 yards, his 5.5 yards per attempt were 2nd worst of his season so far.      Carolina contained the option, which wasn’t run that often until Washington was down by two scores; it was somewhat successful, but on its most used drive, left Washington going for numerous 4th downs – the last of which, a 4th and goal, failed at the 2.  

I had issue with a number of calls – Greg Hardy’s personal foul for what amounts to not hitting the QB with his helmet, but hitting his hand on the QB’s helmet on an otherwise legal hit; Haruki Nakamura’s personal foul for hitting a supposedly defenseless Leonard Hankerson on a post route that didn’t include his helmet, and wasn’t before the ball came, and was merely a hard hit, not that I could tell an illegal one.  Thomas Davis’ personal foul was questionable, too – Griffin wasn’t out of bounds – but I could almost understand it, being a QB and the league looking a little too hard to protect those type hits.  Carolina did get a little of that back with a solid acting job by Newton, on what did feel was a late, and helmet, hit by London Fletcher, but that required a little extra flopping to get the call.  Carolina’s first touchdown, by Williams, was endangered by an inadvertent whistle – I’m not totally sure, with the whistle, how the correct call of the touchdown came to pass, but it luckily did – he never went out of bounds.
The game didn’t create any massive changes in things, it appears – Carolina finished a game for once, and capitalized on a poor defensive showing by the Redskins’ D – but for the most part they played the same type ballgame that they have over the last few weeks. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

V/S Washington, Pregame

At Washington today, facing the 3-5 Redskins and this year's option QB phenom, Robert Griffin III.

Carolina's facing a 5 game skid in which they can't get out of their own way to finish games -- ever since the embarrassing Giants loss, the next four losses have come at a total of 12 points.  It's a team that simply isn't finishing, but is competitive and able to hang with some of the better NFC teams (Atlanta, Chicago), even if not able to win.

Carolina's greatest hope for today is coming in the idea that the Redskins defense is among the league's worst.  Last in pass defense, 29th in points. 10th in rush D, but only because they're 4th in attempts.  They do turn the ball over somewhat, with 5 forced fumbles, 10 INT, though no one has more than 1 FF and only Brian Orakpo (out for the season) has both a sack and FF.

Pro Football Focus has the Redskins at nearly a 70% completion percentage and a 94 QB rating as a defense, not exceptional at all.  The Football Outsiders metrics on them have them 'better' than that, but still not that good.  Oddly enough they are better at covering a 3rd WR than they are the first two.   There's this odd, disparate 31st rating against the TE and 2nd covering RBs, with similar targets per game.  That makes little sense, unless there's a very specific way the Redskin's opponents are playing them.

Aging FS Madieu Williams leads the team in tackles, followed by the enigmatic Deangelo Hall -- who I'm certain Steve Smith will be happy to see today.  London Fletcher remains, now in year 15, the leader, but he doesn't have a lot left.  He gets shielded in Jim Haslett's 3-4 scheme.

Lorenzo Alexander may or may not play this week, but as a former Panther (2005) he's now a valuable Redskin, having played eight different spots in the last few years on offense and defense.  He was a DT; he's since also played FB, TE, DE, OLB, and may play ILB this week.  Alexander also led the Redskins in special teams tackles the last two seasons.  He had 1.5 sacks against the Vikings.   The Redskins have struggled to get pressure without Orakpo, having 14 sacks total in 7 games.

On defense, it's not that hard to see what to do for Carolina - stay at home, attack, play disciplined football.  The Redskins have a grand total of one name -- RG3.  Alfred Morris at RB (151/717, 5 TD) is the typical no-name Mike Shanahan runner, behind zone and able to make his one cut, and isn't much of a pass threat (5 receptions).  Backup Evan Royster is a second year, with a total of 64 carries career, and more receptions (10) than carries this year (8).  All of the rushing TD and most of the yards are split between Morris and Griffin.  As you might imagine from a team with a dynamic QB like this on it, the Redskins run better outside the tackles than inside.

As you might expect for this type offense, the TE is a key - Fred Davis (24/325/0 TD) has become a bigger target with Pierre Garcon out (as he will be today). Garcon was a $42.5 million signing, and he's battled injuries to provide only 8 receptions so far. Santana Moss (23/311/5 TD), antpcipated to take a much smaller role this year, comes into the game starting only 1 game this season, but continuing to be the most productive WR -- and crafty enough to possibly fool the younger Panthers secondary.  Second-year Miami product Leonard Hankerson (23/293/1 TD) is larger and more prototypical, but is quite prone to drops at this point.  Former 49er Josh Morgan (23/263/0 TD) signed this year as well, and is a modestly productive starter.

Griffin is an accurate and able passer; he's what's making it happen for the Redskins. It's not as much that the players listed above are threats, he delivers a very accurate ball.  Carolina has to mix up coverages better this week, and provide pressure with their front four.   They've been sufficient at doing so - 3rd overall in Football Outsider's Adjusted Sack Rate - and for a blitzing team, have yet to score a non-DL sack (though that's also negating where any 3-4 pressure came from).    The Redskins' line has given up 17 sacks, and a lot of pressure comes outside with former Bronco Troy Polumbus at RT and Trent Williams at LT.  The team starts former Panther Will Montgomery (2006 draft) at center, and another former Bronco in undersized Kory Liechtensteiger (if you're still reading this far, I'll brag I spelled that without looking). It's a typical Bronco line - quick, a little dirty, and can be overpowered, but they use their skills to their advantage and don't rely on the one-on-ones.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Advisor(s) Lend Hope

Washington game upcoming - I may be able to write up something, but the steam's come out of lengthy gameplan articles when the team finds its way out of winning so often at the last minute.  The team's hopes are on the future, and right now it's a future that unfortunately lends itself more to daydream of the future, or at least waiting around knowing that a lot of what's happening isn't going to be relevant to what will happen after.  It's frustrating - especially in that there's a 5 game losing streak in which most of the games were very winnable.

I've made no bones about what I feel has happened to this team -- the ego issues with John Fox, the Hurney/Richardson plans in 2011.  It's not "new" information that the team will hire a consultant for its GM position, nor is it that new that change is necessary.   But, I wanted to drop in some reasons I felt like the right consultant would do this team a lot of good.

*The four times the team has hired a head coach, they've only interviwed defensive-minded coaches.
I'm fine with that, but don't limit yourself to that.  I wasn't dying for Steve Spurrier, the hot name in 2002; but, clearly Jim Harbaugh was the right choice and Carolina didn't talk to him.  Miami even talked to him -- and they didn't have an opening.

There may be pressure to hire offensively, to lead with Cam Newton's strengths and that turn around.  I don't know that's "needed" either, as any good hire should have a good counterpoint on the other side of the ball and a cohesive strategy for what to do on both sides.

*It reduces cronyism.
A GM might or might not hire "his" guy (for instance, my favorite GM candidate before this year was Reggie McKenzie, a Packer who I would've bet money would hire their assistant head coach Winston Moss), but it would reduce chance that a GM or coach candidate would have much stronger ties to Carolina than necessary.  That pushes out the chance that Brandon Beane or others would receive a promotion unnecessarily, or that the team would end up hiring a Mike McCoy or Kevin Greene as head coach.  I don't really believe in McCoy, and Greene's just Rob Ryan without experience.

*It reduces JR's own reliance on his tight circle of confidants, which is more or less comprised of a few other owners.
While there's a Giants front office staffer I wouldn't mind as GM, there should be a level of due dilligence, not just trust of another owner's recommendation.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

DW Trade Unlikely, But His Future Grim

Not sure if it was the twitter talk, or just being the more expensive, potentially less versatile back - but it appears Deangelo Williams is slowly on the outs in Carolina two years after signing a massive deal.

First, I don't think a trade will actually happen - it just seems unlikely.  No backing to that, just doesn't feel plausible that anyone gives up enough.

Second - the media has it all wrong on his contract.   They complain of a $9.6 million acceleration - technically true in that there's $9.6 million in bonus proration after the year.   But that's not relevant to the "keep or cut" microcosm - that's about net gain/loss. It's past June. Next year's signing bonus is there, regardless.  $3.2 million. Stay, go, keep or cut.  So that being equal, you look at the other parts.

If you cut him, obviously you save the salary ($4.75 mil) and the roster bonus ($250k), unless you pay the roster bonus to trade him (which would be odd).  If you cut him, of course, you also have to deal with future bonus - since '13 counts either way you deal with $3.2x2 ('14-15), = 6.4 million.  Save $5 million, get charged $6.4 million, net loss of $1.4 million.  Sucks to lose money to not have a player, but the net difference isn't ridiculous to swallow and it allows you to drop $18 million total future money.

The decision to eventually let go of Williams -which seems to have been determined, regardless of whether he is traded tomorrow - is bizarre.

It's not that he's the guy you build around instead of Jonathan Stewart - Stewart is four years younger, has a lot fewer total touches (869 v/s 1095 - Williams, used sparingly for his age in the NFL, did also absorb almost 1030 touches at Memphis, v/s Stewart's 565 at Oregon).  Stewart is the right choice of the two.  But why, in the aftermath of Marty Hurney being fired, was it necessary to so quickly exclude Williams from being a part of things?   This past week, they specifically featured Williams (who ran well) on plays that would show him as valuable to a team looking for a certain thing - apparently, a wildcat runner - and barely used him at all, much less as a feature the way they had.

It's weird.

Well, at this point I'm almost interested in making a trade happen -- worst case a 3rd, because hopefully they wouldn't get a 4th or worse.  But, I'm guessing it'd end up a conditional pick (based on performance, not on whether he's rostered or not), and maybe a later player.   If they don't pull off a trade -- again, I still believe unlikely -- they might be pinched to deal him later.