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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Trade Deadline Passes Without Trade

Nothing happened for Carolina and the trade rumors, though I didn't expect much.

If Carolina had continued to drop anchor, I do believe more offers would've been made to Greg Hardy, and he could've been shipped.  That didn't happen, and who knows what's going on with him.

The less likely rumors in my opinion dealt with the want to get a WR (Hakeem Nicks or Josh Gordon) or to ship off Jonathan Stewart (who hasn't been playing, and who'd cause a massive cap hit if traded).  I didn't expect those to happen - the Hardy thing, far as I know, no one's really suggested outside here, and I didn't find that so likely either.

So, nothing happened, nothing was supposed to happen.  Way it goes.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Looking Ahead - Atlanta

Carolina gets a long week to prep for Atlanta (and lucked into a short
week against Tampa instead of, say, San Francisco or New England). So,
that left some room to look ahead at what common opponent Arizona was
able to do to our next opponent.

The result? A 27-13 pasting of the Falcons. Arizona was efficient
offensively, but connected on a lot of deeper field shots in the passing
game and making some things happen in the run game, to quickly get this
one out of hand.

For the second week, the Falcons' highlight was Harry Douglas,
following a 7 catch/149 yard/1 TD performance, Douglas got 12 receptions
and 121 more yards. This time not scoring and obviously lowering his
ypc, Douglas had to take what the defense would give.

On the backside, Matt Ryan threw for 300 yards and a score - while
throwing four picks and going 34/61. From the looks if it, those 300
yards were hard earned early going, and later on were simply a function
of taking some of the underneath while the Cards took away the deep
stuff. Ryan also got sacked four times.

Ryan, somewhat embarassingly, also was their leading rusher with a
single attempt for 13 yards. Jacquizz Rodgers pulling in 8 yards bested
Steven Jackson's 11 rushes for 6 yards (4 of which were on a single
rush) - not an ideal thing for Atlanta against a good run D heading into
a game against Carolina's elite-level run defense.

Arizona established the run early, and stayed with it - including 201
on the ground, 80 of which was on an Andre Ellington TD. Ellington had
15/154 and the one score.

It's almost a shame the game got over so quickly - with a 21-6 halftime
score - because AZ was in four minute offense so often and worked with a
short field just as often. Otherwise, there might be more tape on how
to exploit the Falcons' sudden deficiencies.

This Falcons team is built on Ryan's supporting cast, with a massive
contract to outlets Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, and the massive trade
to get Julio Jones; between that and the expectation that Jackson would
be healthy and upgrade the run game has left Ryan doing too much.

So, are the Falcons on the ropes? It's hard to say. There's never
exactly an easy friendship between these two teams, and Atlanta losing
again has Gonzalez wondering if the season's over. When the hopeless
hole of a season is written off, it's hard to say if a team like this
will embrace the spoiler role or roll over and die.

More complete pregame will come closer to gameday, stay tuned.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

V/s Tampa Bay - Aftermath

Another bad team, another performance that's quietly becoming typical.
Score 30 points, hold the team under two TDs, with Cam having a 130+
rating. Not only is that the average, it's more or less the expected
outcome lately.

It's as if Carolina is playing December ball in the games they needed
to have won to make those December blowouts matter (since they rarely
did, from '09 to '11 to '12). There are even some common opponents in
the recent blowouts, though Minnesota, NYG, and Tampa were all
theoretically better teams in the other blowouts.

And there's the rub. Tampa matched up fairly well, and you could tell
that Carolina just made the few plays they needed to make it happen
(though, it's tougher to make the plays you need, when you're trying to
sit on a two score lead). This is a Tampa team that could've won this
game and couldn't get out of its way.

I don't say that to discredit Carolina's win. For every team that does
what it needs to do to win, there's a team that didn't. Carolina's
doing everything it needs to win, from running the ball somewhat well
against a strongly ranked run D, to making plays on defense, to being
efficient in the passing game with a lead. Tampa couldn't do any of
those, and clearly needed to do it.

The defense made most of its plays, as did the offense, but there were
still some blips - Captain Munnerlyn dropped two picks, though one was
diving. Ted Ginn dropped a likely TD as well. Another potential bummer
came of Charles Johnson's groin injury, but so far it seems all is going
to be well enough there.


Lately I've started to like doing a post-mortem on the opponent.
Tampa's design has always been interesting, and not less so now that
they're on borrowed time with an unlikeable coach and a rookie
quarterback. Glennon takes pressure well, but he invites a ton of it,
too - I don't know if he's the future guy and whoever comes aboard might
not go with him. I almost hope they do - I think the ceiling's low on
him.

Either way, Schiano's getting what he deserves. It's interesting in a
copy-cat league that the Bucs are a unique mix of awful and dirty that
means that teams scout past teams to see how to kneel down when victory
is assured. Carolina wasn't the first team to kneel out of shotgun.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

More Gameplanning V/s Tampa Bay - Thursday Night

Bill Sheridan won't let anyone in the building still - but I'm still
working on this game. Call me crazy, I like this stuff.

I remain worried about Carolina's O v/s Tampa's D, more than I should
be versus a defense that's had some struggles. I think it's hilarious,
for instance, that there were fans that took Bill Sheridan up on his
(kinda douche-laden) offer for their help gameplanning.

It's not that Tampa doesn't have its weaknesses. This isn't Seattle,
and I keep referencing Seattle. But there's no doubt that I have
worries about throwing against this secondary and running against this
front.

So schematically, the first thing I can think? Spread. Coming out in
3 WR and potentially splitting TE Greg Olsen wide as well, takes a LB
off the field. It might limit whether SS Mark Barron is as stacked to
the line as he usually is, and it makes the blitzes more obvious. It
does leave less room for error with those blitzes, as a downside, but
that might also give Cam Newton more room to run.


I take solace in the obvious fact that Newton has had time to take what
the defense is giving. He was good at that last year toward the end,
and it's nice to see it's happening earlier this year - so hopefully he
would know better than to target Revis much (or Goldson deep). You can
pick on Barron to a point in the deeper field, and you can definitely
take on the non-Revis corners, so there's obviously room to get open.


Tampa's a mess. I feel like this should be easy. I hope it will be
easy, and I hope we can count on two easy wins. It probably won't be
long until Schiano loses the remainder of his team and they have to
hopelessly trudge through the season. But until Carolina gets a good
lead, I'm not going to feel great about this one.


I did have one other thing to add - schematically, the Bucs are the
Giants. I'd said that in past Bucs matchup articles, but not this
week's. DC Bill Sheridan and OC Mike Sullivan are both former Coughlin
guys. The personnel is different, and no two coordinators call
everything just alike but the Giants game was Carolina's biggest win in
years. That trends well for Carolina, naturally.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

V/s Tampa Bay - Thursday Night

Carolina comes in hot - Tampa comes in cold. And yet I can see this
game going in almost any direction. Rivalry type games can do that, and
while the last few have been lopsided in either direction (a blowout win
by Carolina in 2011 near the end of the year, Tampa sweeping Carolina
last year), that's often been aside from the quality of the team
winning. There's not bad blood like the recent Atlanta games,
necessarily, but when I think of some of Carolina's biggest wins and
losses, Tampa Bay comes to mind often.

Carolina's a moody team. Its greatest successes come when something
goes undeniably right (best example - when the team created 4 turnovers
in the second quarter after a Ted Ginn return TD). And this is a game
that could go right, or go wrong.

Tampa was the best team in the league last year at stopping the run,
and the worst at stopping the pass despite the obvious advantages that
come with forcing opponents to one-dimensionality. They famously spent
at a Bill Gates level to improve that pass defense with CB Darelle Revis
and S Dashon Goldson - and it's worked to a point (improving to 18th
pass, while only dropping to 5th run). They're a 4-3, in theory, but
you may as well call them a 4-4 with SS Mark Barron playing in the box
so much.

They've only given up close to 300 yards passing to New Orleans, who
routinely throws the ball for much more. Their problem, so to speak, is
inconsistency. Revis, Goldson have their obvious moments, and you have
to respect Barron and WLB Lavonte David at times.

But Johnathan Banks has dealt with MRSA infection and is a rookie, and
smallish Leonard Johnson is a second year at nickel. They combined to
give Harry Douglas 7 receptions for 149 yards this week. Not specific
to the two young corners, Jacquizz Rodgers had 2 scores and 8 receptions
out of the backfield for Atlanta as well.

David as a blitzer has been their best pass rusher, with 4 sacks; the
defensive line hasn't generated much. DT Gerald McCoy is the 2nd best
with 2, tied with MLB Mason Foster and end Adrian Clayborn. So they
give up some to get pressure; you're going to expect them to go from
cover 1 look to cover 1 look without much variation. With Barron in the
box so much in base, and with Revis/Goldson built for specific roles,
you can pull them into less comfortable looks with three WR. Which
throws both Ted Ginn and Brandon LaFell out there, and potentially Greg
Olsen as well; pushing the ball into the heart of the Tampa D isn't the
way to do it, but if you must, three wides and moving Olsen around might
not be the worst way to pull it off. Create room.

To make it worse for the Carolina run game, Deangelo Williams spent a
lot of his carries gaining no yardage. Jonathan Stewart isn't likely
ready despite practicing; Mike Tolbert is getting more positive yardage
on non-goal situations thanks to simply hitting the hole faster, so it's
hard to say if Tolbert will be getting more snaps this week. Either
way, Tampa's front is

4th year end Daniel Teo-Nesheim and rookie DT Akeem Spence round out
the DL; Spence has become a good runstopper early into his career as
well. Tampa isn't the easiest team to run on. But if you can get them
out of their comfort zone defensively - spreading so they can't just sit
in Cover 1 Robber (deep safety, and an underneath zone guy- often Barron
with a blizing LB in the same space, and man around that), and getting
the ball out fast enough that the blitz can't get there, you can move
the ball on them effectively with the short and medium pass.

It will be a critical challenge for Newton, and Mike Shula, to
challenge the secondary safely without repeating the mistakes of
Seattle, where they were exceedingly conservative and threw up seven
total points. This isn't as tough a challenge as Seattle, but both will
be out of their comfort zone - minimal running game, not a lot of play
action opportunity, and therefore a lot more traditional passing snaps
with some of the field taken away. It will be harder to be efficient
without some of those looks, and it will be hard to remain efficient
over 40+ passes as well.


Offensively, Tampa is a mess. After cutting Josh Freeman, rookie Mike
Glennon got forced into duty and improved their completion percentage,
but he's playing small-ball out there. Like most not-mobile QBs early
in their career, Glennon's QB rating when pressured is noticeably worse,
so expect some level of rolling toward WR Vincent Jackson and a lot of
players headed to the QB.

To make that more critical, RB Doug Martin has been their workhorse,
already at 127 carries in six games but for only a 3.6 average; he's
likely done for the year, but definitely out for this game. They've
only given 30 total carries to backups. Mike James, a rookie from
Miami, is the next man up, and he's taken most of those carries; 17 for
an uninspiring 3.4 yards as a backup. Brian Leonard looked like a good
dual purpose threat at first, he's never had 250 yards rushing or
receiving since his rookie year (which has now been seven years ago).
FB Eric Lorig has never had an NFL carry.

So, they're going to be pretty one dimensional, and Glennon is neither
the running threat nor does he have pocket elusiveness like the massive
Freeman. He's taken 2, 2, and 3 sacks in his three starts, and has
fumbled once each game already. He does complete nearly 60% of his
passes, and for a rookie, a 5/3 TD/INT ratio isn't bad.

And he feeds Vincent Jackson - 19 receptions (half of his season total)
for all four of Jackson's TDs on the year. He doesn't look as hard at
Mike Williams on the other side, instead giving backup TE Timothy Wright
(a rookie Rutgers product) 14 of his 15 receptions on the year. He
dumped to Doug Martin for 75% of Martin's receptions for the year, but
hard to say how he'll treat James or Leonard or if they'll work the
screen game hard (I imagine I would). 3rd WR Chris Owusu barely sees
the field, however.

The better model to look at for Glennon isn't his last two, more
comfortable, games against bad defenses. Against Arizona, Glennon was a
55% passer who threw a score and two picks, and under 200 yards.
Hopefully that's more the player Carolina will see.


Tampa's line has given up 14 sacks for the year; missing Carl Nicks
this week (again, with MRSA) puts non-descript rookie Paul Omameh in at
left guard. Demar Dotson (RT) and Donald Penn (LT) do an average job
holding the edge; Jeremy Zuttah is just average, too - Davin Joseph
stands out for simply being really high paid, though they'll pay Nicks a
great deal to be on the sideline as well.

So, Carolina's 2nd ranked scoring defense against a rookie QB and RB is
an obvious matchup advantage for Carolina. There's a reasonable
strategy to not making mistakes for their offense, still attempting to
pound the ball enough, playing field position. That hasn't worked for
them, against better teams, and the Coryell system's best attributes are
stifled to a point against good run defense and good individual
secondary members. You have to make plays in this league, instead of
just sitting on a 6-3 lead in the fourth quarter. It'll be up to
Carolina to make those plays to put this game away.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Spread Offense Commentary/Eagles

There's no doubt that I jumped on the spread bandwagon this year in the
pros. I still find it about as interesting as anything going on out
there. And I'll acknowledge that the Chip Kelly experiment is still
young, but it's not really working. Granted, having a quarterback or
more than one receiver couldn't hurt - if the QB running is a
constraint, and the pass is a constraint, it's a better way of playing
the type of option football (in packaged plays).

When you only really have a RB out there of value, or only have one WR
you can reliably get the ball, it's not that useful to read the
defense's intentions. You know their intentions - they're stacking the
box. You know what they're going to do, you can't exploit their choice.

And I think, to a point, that might be the hard thing for the various
spread variants to get past. There's also no doubt that the Eagles,
and anybody else who might copycat this, will have to have a lot of good
depth in the future. They look tired.

Kelly might've taken it too far. I'm willing to watch and see how he
adapts, see how he deals with his top two QBs being out, and watch as
people kick his offensive style while he's down.

But the spread isn't dead. The truth is, to a degree, the Patriots and
Saints have been running it for years. Kelly throws a lot more of it in
the mix, something he's going to have to manage as he potentially deals
with a pro-style rookie quarterback. It'll take adjustment. I still
have some degree of concern for when it takes back off, however.

Monday, October 21, 2013

McDermott on Rams, Kuechly

I guess Carolina made the right call on Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short, else the Rams would've given the league tape on how to beat the Panthers - put bodies on Luke Kuechly, per defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.

I know it seems obvious to try to put a blocker on what you may suggest is Carolina's best defensive player - and some believe, best player teamwide - but it's not always so easy with a linebacker.  See, there are guys in front of him you have to deal with first.

The Rams weren't as worried about that, of course.  Including the Harvey Dahl personal foul (the first one, since that needs an odd level of clarification you wouldn't normally expect), the Rams put a lineman on Kuechly on most plays, even at the expense of blocking defensive tackles.  Hence, a total of four tackles for loss and 9 total tackles for the rookie pair, and a sack and 2 tackles for vet Colin Cole.

So, you can hit Kuechly early and often.  Might even work.  But Carolina's proven they'll still make you pay.

DJ Moore Cut; Sign WR Tavares King

Carolina cut would-be nickel DJ Moore, a Chicago Bear and Vanderbilt product who more or less was duplicated by Captain Munnerlyn, was cut Monday.

Moore was only active in two games so far. He's found himself, on a team that had six CBs, often being the last of the six; a good nickel corner, Moore never found a home on the outside and therefore never played.  Being hurt didn't help, either.

King, waived by the Broncos this week, was claimed off waivers by Carolina, necessitating the Moore cut.  A 5th round pick this year, King (6', 189, Georgia) had a total of 17 TDs in his final two years at Georgia; in 2012 that included 22 yards per catch.  King's 4.47 40 isn't incredible, but is realistically quick, and he gets off the line fast.  He was said in draft documents to have good hands and routes as well.

King's the second WR picked up mid-season; Armanti Edwards was let go, and I stand behind Domenik Hixon's space not being safe.

Upcoming: Tampa Bay Is A Mess

Tampa is Carolina's turn-around Thursday game - as Carolina goes from
celebrating in the ice tubs right to watching film, metaphorically.

I'm not going to jinx the game if I can help it, but Tampa can't get
out of its own way. So far this season, Tampa has featured the
following:
*A players-only meeting before the season even began
*controversy over whether the team cooked the vote on starting QB Josh
Freeman not being captain
*open feuding between coach Greg Schiano and Freeman, followed by
Freeman's release
*they're now playing a rookie at QB, with old-school rookie results
*a reported three full cases of MRSA, four if you count that G Carl
Nicks had a reoccurrence. An antibiotic-resistant infection, the CDC
claims there is more than one strain of MRSA going around.
*their defensive coordinator, Bill Sheridan, mouthed off to fans this
month, suggesting they should try to do better
*they just lost starting RB Doug Martin for the year
and
*no wins in six attempts, if you're more into statistics than
dysfunction.

So, it's not like they're playing the Broncos four days after their
last game, at least. And hey, Time Warner and the NFL Network are good
with each other now, so you can watch this from wherever.

They still have some pieces there - Vincent Jackson, for instance, and
a good secondary of Darelle Revis and Dashon Goldson - but they're also
a wayward mess of problems. Three of their first four losses came at a
total of six points, but the other three (so, three of their last four)
were by an average of 13. Things are not trending upward for Tampa.

That said, it's never good to take any team lightly. Tampa does have
enough playmakers to bust one open - Jackson and Revis, specifically,
are the type of player that can turn a game on their own. They're a
good enough defense statistically - with a strong run defense, they're
rated 13th overall in points and yards - and Carolina's three wins have
all come against bad defenses, not good. They're going to have Cam
Newton beat them, and through the air only. That can be fantastic, or
it can be scary, depending on consistency, but the play action game
might not be there.

They won't have much offensively, but with Carolina's defense playing
the way it is, that's to be expected anyway.

So, let's not celebrate a win just yet. Are they a bad team? Sure.
They're also a rival, and a team that Carolina couldn't beat in two
tries last year.

V/S St Louis, Aftermath

Carolina handled St. Louis 30-15, and kinda beat them up in the
process. But St. Louis was the one taking most of the swings.

Carolina made the plays it needed to win - starting off with a pick-six
of Sam Bradford by Captain Munnerlyn on the first play - and St. Louis
repeatedly shot itself in the foot, occasionally making big plays (like
a long Tavon Austin TD called back for Jake Long's tripping foul) and
being called for six personal foul penalties, most related to taking
swings at Carolina players. And that doesn't count the one Steve Smith
dodged from Jannoris Jenkins.

Already beaten up enough, one of those personal fouls came from Harvey
Dahl (his second) on Mike Mitchell (who, like Smith, happened to be
around a fair number of those fouls), who pushed Sam Bradford en route
to Bradford's ACL injury. The push was a legal hit, the scuffle that
ensued wasn't. DE Chris Long was ejected earlier in the game for
throwing a punch; Mitchell was punched on a separate play but that
player wasn't ejected.

Aside from the fights, football was played Sunday as well; Carolina did
most of the work there, leaving the Rams to frustrated jabs and dirty
play. Carolina, otherwise, played somewhat mistake-free football,
though after stopping the Rams on 4th and goal at the 1, Mike Tolbert
was stopped for a safety. That left, at one point, the weird score of
10-5, and that eventually became a similarly symmetrical 30-15.

Cam Newton was a near-perfect 15-17 for 204 and a score; had Smith not
had a drop and made a stretch for another yard at the goal, Newton
could've been 16-17 with two scores. Mike Tolbert took care of that
one, and had a shot at another at the goal that became a FG. That
shortened Tolbert's rushing average, which otherwise had well eclipsed
Deangelo Williams'; Williams was routinely stuffed but Tolbert tended to
hit the hole faster and harder on the average non-goal play. The Rams
did stack the line often, however, and a lot of Carolina's runs were
with a ten point lead or greater.

That left Newton open space, which he exploited. Smith got 5 of those
for 69 yards and a score (and his 800th catch). Greg Olsen and Brandon
LaFell pitched in as usual, and every receiver broke at least a long of
18 yards. Newton's 136 rating was his second consecutive over 100, and
his 88% completion percentage was the highest of his career. Newton
did, however, make mistakes attempting to be elusive on his two sacks,
giving up 11 and 12 yard sacks in which he tried to elude but ended up
only backing the team up further.


Defensively, it was all Mike Mitchell again - 8 tackles, a sack, 2
tackles for loss, and 2 forced fumbles. Thomas Davis pitched in 9
tackles again. Star Lotulelei pitched in an impressive six tackles,
including a couple for loss. Kawann Short had two stuffs early in the
game as well. Colin Cole starting at NT had a rare sack, and starting
ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy added one each (Hardy's also had a
forced fumble). Captain Munnerlyn picked up one of those fumbles to add
to his pick-six. Quintin Mikell gets credit for the hurry and
deflection that caused the INT.

On the downside, Josh Thomas (who remains a fantastic run defender) was
picked on for the called-back TD and another long Brian Quick pass;
otherwise it's hard to complain defensively. In at least one instance,
Thomas was playing press without a lot of help behind him, and just got
beaten. Thomas currently has the highest opposing QB rating of any
player at corner.



Game Balls

Newton's brutal efficiency led the day; Smith's score and almost-score
did a lot of the heavy lifting. Mitchell's big plays and attitude are
setting the pace lately; Munnerlyn's score set the tone.




I also wanted to address what's going on in St. Louis. Jeff Fisher's a
respected coach, but that team is remarkably dirty. Dirty teams, at the
least, have to be more disciplined. They're a power running team
without much running ability, and they're not going to get better with
Bradford out. This won't be a good team moving forward for the year.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

v/s Rams, Pregame

Jeff Fisher's Rams come in 3-3, but don't necessarily look the part.  

Looking at the design of this team, and I see some flaws.  Brian Schottenheimer's offense is of Coryell roots - like Carolina's current regime, and Mike Martz's Greatest Show On Turf.  But, don't confuse it with either.  Schottenheimer, like his Jets past, runs a very conservative version of the offense, but unlike the Jets' strong running game fueled by first round linemen and Bill Callahan, there's not a lot of success there.

Starting RB Daryl Richardson comes in with under a 3 yard per carry average; the Abilene Christian product hasn't hit 100 yards rushing since graduating.  Some of his value is versatility, often catching 3-5 balls out of the backfield, but again, not to a lot of explosion.  Rookie Fullback Zac Stacy has, the last two games, received a lot of carries - 32 in the pair, and 1 in the five before that - but he's faring better than Richardson.  Is it easy to pull almost six yards a carry against Jacksonville?  Sure.  But he had 79 yards against Houston, too.  Stacy doesn't normally get the ball in the passing game, though he pulled down two this past week.  There are minimal data points on Stacy.   Fellow rookie Benny Cunningham is the other back, and carries a 2.7 yard average as well.

So what is it?  Is it the backs, or the line?  They tried to put effort into the line, throwing money at LT Jake Long but have a lot of journeymen around him.  They've been attempting to develop former first round Bear Chris Williams at left guard, Harvey Dahl at right guard, and 3rd year Joe Barksdale at RT was a third rounder, but by Oakland; he was cut.   It's good enough at times, but it's not going to make OK backs look great.   It all comes together for the 28th ranked rush offense.  Stacy's their best rusher, and he did it in two weeks; he also did 99 of his 157 yards after contact.

Scott Wells at center is a decent enough pass blocker but liability in the run game, so it might be a good time for Star Lotulelei to bounce back; it doesn't look like Dwan Edwards will be back however, so the Panthers will probably put Star to the open waters for the 3-tech.  That would put Colin Cole on Wells, and that should still work in the run game.

So that puts the pressure on the pass game - and Sam Bradford, in year 4, isn't being the dynamic player that was expected of him so far.  It's tough to watch, honestly, the constant pressure Cam Newton has on him, starting into year 3 and having had the best two years as a passer in history, when Bradford doesn't have constant worries from the media about being benched or whether he should be kept.  Has he earned it?

Somewhat.  He's on pace for 34 TDs, when he's never thrown more than 21.  And he's not turning the ball over.  It seems that would be enough for him - and it probably is.  But they're not moving the ball well.   3rd year WR Austin Petts has 4 TDs, but isn't good upfield, and 2nd year Chris Givens is a fairly one dimensional deep receiver.  

They spent big going up for Tavon Austin - and he's caught more balls than anyone, mostly out of the slot, but he's going at a 6.6 yard per catch rate.  They're forcing him the ball and it's not working.  Consequently, he barely played last week.  They've been using a lot of 2 TE sets, as well, and Austin just isn't showing as a starting WR.

Those two TE, however, are definitely able.  Lance Kendricks came out of a similar system at Wisconsin, and he's got 3 scores on the shorter stuff.  Jared Cook has 2 scores and a 14 yard/catch average.  They're part of the way that Bradford appears efficient with so many scores.  But you don't get big plays out of dumpoffs.

It's worth noting that Carolina likes the inside pressure lately with Lotulelei moving over, in that they're blitzing inside more.  Thomas Davis had two inside; SF's Navarro Bowman had two sacks in their game against the Rams.



On the other side, it's not looking like the elite Jeff Fisher defenses you'd expect.  They dumped Gregg Williams after the suspension was over, and then his son, Blake, who many considered the de-facto coordinator.  Relatively unknown assistant Tim Walton comes over from the Lions, where Jim Schwartz (a former Fisher disciple) had him as DBs coach.  Walton has only been a pro coach since '09, and his only prior DC experience was '08 in Memphis.

So with that said, so far, no defensive coordinator last year works better than a full staff this year.  A unit that was 14th in points and yards last year, and 15th in rushing defense, is now 30th in rush defense and 19th in pass defense.  It's doing allright in forced fumbles, but not up to Fisher standards in INTs.

Starting from the back, Cortland Finnegan has struggled since signing a new deal.  He's doubtful to play, and yet that might help St Louis. Since footballoutsiders.com had the Rams as 30th best with the 3rd WR, it's not that 3rd corner Trumaine Johnson is "better", either.  He does have a big frame, which is helpful, but he's struggled as an outside corner.  Rookie Brandon McGee is blazing fast, but hasn't gotten much playing time.  Adding in starting corner Jannoris Jenkins and FS Rod McLeod being 2nd year guys and S TJ McDonald being another rookie, there's not a lot of experience back here.  The only thing that really helps them is practicing against a similar offense.  But, that's without the zone read, and San Francisco dismantled them mightily without using much of the option.

The truth is, new Panther Quintin Mikell probably knows more about this defense than most of the DBs that will be playing - Finnegan was their one vet, and he's doubtful.

Up front, they've got better stock; Chris Long and Robert Quinn are good all-around ends, Michael Brockers has a very good stop rate at DT and has almost eclipsed last year's 4 sack mark already.   This is a spot where Carolina can't afford to allow things to happen; they should have a run edge, especially with Travelle Wharton having an excellent game last week and Ben Hartsock's traditionally excellent blocking, but the right side duo of Chris Scott and Byron Bell will have to have some help, and Jordan Gross v/s Quinn might be tough going as well as the UNC product has the 2nd most sacks from ends.

The pedestrian duo of Will Witherspoon (still in the league!), and leading tacklers James Laurianitis and rookie  Alex Ogletree, are not much of a blitz threat and don't add much in coverage outside of Ogletree.   They don't make many mistakes, however; they stay on their assignments.  The packaged plays and read option stuff might not work as well, and despite Carolina's recent propensity to get cuter offensively, I don't know if the reverses and flea flickers will be exceptional ideas either.

The rush might predicate short stuff to the WRs, and maybe less deep. There's definitely room to spread them, however, and still pull that off while stretching them thinner in the secondary; the rush definitely suggests some screen action.



Fisher, not unlike last week's Leslie Frazier, has ties to Ron Rivera through the old Bears teams. Rams Asst. head coach Dave McGinnis was a coach on those teams as well.  I don't know why Rivera seems to pull out some big games against old friends (his Chargers/Eagles wins; his Bears loss was by a point), but he has that in his back pocket hopefully.  Fisher and Rivera don't have an extensive history, so it's probably a useless data point.   However, it's a very winnable game against a team with a better record, and it's a home game, so hopefully Carolina can exploit another bad defense on its way to a win.  So far that's the only thing that's worked for them all year.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Edwards Must Return To Realign Star

I try not to use the Star puns, apologies in advance for this one.

Dwan Edwards practiced for the first time in a month - he was one of
the Buffalo casualties - and that's just in time.

While Star Lotulelei battled on without Edwards, and Kawann Short has
taken on some of the slack with good performance, Loeulelei has battled
since the bye. Usually, the bye week is a good thing, especially for
young players who might hit the rookie wall. Lotulelei was
near-dominant before the bye, but after, he's struggled.

One reason is that, with Colin Cole on board, the team has more talent
at NT. Consequently, Lotulelei has played more three-technique, and a
few more snaps at it. Has he struggled to fit at the 3-tech? Possibly.
It's been my pre-draft position that he can play it, and well - for a
couple of games he moved between the two just fine - but the rotation,
and Star specifically, has had some growing pains without Edwards.

That bore its weight most specifically against Minnesota. A great run
defense game for the team overall, Lotulelei dipped in
profootballfocus.com's ratings under Zero for the first time as a pro,
notching a -2.8 with equal issues against run and pass. Brandon Fusco
is not an incredible guard, though Lotulelei did move around a bit.

So with Edwards practicing, there's a hope that Lotulelei can just get
back to being a nose again for a while. Unless there's a nagging injury
that's not being mentioned, or teams are just loading him down because
he had a fairly dominant 4 game stretch, hopefully that retains the
order of things from early this season. For now, Carolina can't afford
to have an unproductive Lotulelei.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Xs and Os

I think I got wrapped back up into the playbook again, and I love
reading (and re-reading) the notes on the start of this offense. I need
to get deeper into the Sid Gillman parts before Don Coryell took it over
- I've often ignored the Joe Gibbs parts. Most "Numbers-based" schemes
(and Bill Walsh's WCO) come from Gillman, and from Coryell comes the
modernization of that.

An aside, but the WCO is fairly well the same thing, it's just coached
differently in some forms (short to long, instead of long to short) and
with obviously different terminology.

Anyway, from Coryell comes two offshoots - Joe Gibbs, a legend in his
own right that runs the scheme with very specific variations, and the
Ernie Zampese-led offshoot. From Zampese comes the great stuff, in my
opinion - from there you get the QB-friendly Coryell of Norv Turner and
the radically strong Mike Martz stuff, down to the Jason Garrett stuff.
Still to this day, more teams use a numbers-based scheme than anything
else, even as the league gets nutty and has morphed into various ways of
running the same offense.

But Gibbs, in some ways had the successful part. For what it's worth,
from Gibbs comes Dan Henning, both the most and least successful
coordinator in various respects that Carolina has ever had. Henning
wasn't a successful head coach, and at best was a varied coordinator
known for using the heck out of what worked and not developing much
else. Gibbs won three Super Bowls with it, however. He used man
blocking instead of zone, he used a lot more one-back, and created a
different offensein the same structure

The genesis of this article is in reading that Gibbs was supposedly
responsible for the "trips" formation. We knew he brought the Counter
Trey into effect, and more or less invented the H-back. All of this
stuff eventually just becomes a common-knowledge, everyone uses it to
some concept, but I think it's fantastic that stuff came from somewhere.

Now, teams and systems are fracturing a good deal - it's up to each
team, anymore, to write some of their own verbiage and their
philosophies are being lost in translation from stop to stop, to a
point. They add in the Pistol stuff, the read option, and whatever else
is coming on (the spread ideals, of course, in general are fairly easily
adaptable to the older thoughts), they change the names to shorten it,
not unlike Mike Shula did this year to this same offense.

But back then, there were very specific cleavings, like Gibbs leaving
for the Redskins and changing some things up, Jimmy Johnson bringing the
one-gap 4-3 from college (you know, the more I talk about sea change in
the NFL, the more I see the Bills as a victim in their Super Bowl runs),
Bill Walsh adapting his offense to a guy with no arm in Cincinnati.
Back then, innovation was rare. Now, it's almost game by game. I'll
have trouble keeping up with that, eventually.

Davis - Player of The Week

Thomas Davis is the NFC's defensive player of the week, the league
announced this week.

Davis' 9 tackle, 2 sack, 1 defensed pass game against Minnesota helped
spark a massive win for Carolina. Helping hold Adrian Peterson to 62
yards, the Carolina defense feasted on QB Matt Cassel for two turnovers
and a 35-10 win.

It's been fantastic to see Davis, Carolina's 2005 first rounder, excel
on the field. Nothing in this game is guaranteed - no one expected that
the team's former heart and soul, Jon Beason, would end up playing 8
games for Carolina over three years before being traded for a
conditional 7th rounder.

And nothing was guaranteed for Davis, whose 3 torn ACLs in two years'
time was clearly a death knell for any player. From 2009 and 2010, the
tandem of Beason and Davis were torn apart, and they spent essentially
all of 2011 rehabbing together. Nobody would bet on something like
this, but I don't think much money would've ended up on Davis to be the
one to come out of it shining.

Davis started all of 2012, Beason's achilles injury eventually piled up
with a shoulder and knee issue that he's never completely recovered
from. Davis seems to just keep getting better.

And now comes the hard part, the part where I look ahead. The part
where I don't live in the moment and enjoy the performance. The part
where next year matters, too. 2014's contact includes a $2.5 million
option bonus, and a $3 million salary. The bonus you can spread (only
one extra year actually, he's under contract through 2015), but I wonder
if Carolina will have $6 million on the books for a 31 year old
linebacker?

The end result is that Davis has earned it. He cut his contract, and
cut it again. He deferred bonuses so he could prove he could play - and
he can. But that might not fit with where Carolina is next year.


Sentimentally, I would want Davis to stay. There's no doubt of that.
Carolina's running short on some old history, honestly - 2003's first
rounder Jordan Gross has a voidable deal that might push him out, too.
2004's first, Chris Gamble, retired this spring when released. 2007's
first, Deangelo Williams, looks safe for now but last year saw him
benched and potentially traded.

Does history really matter when you're on the field? Probably not, and
in some ways it's someone else's furniture. Dave Gettleman didn't draft
these guys, and leaders and talent change yearly no matter what you want
to do (ask Beason if things are going his way). But, as this team nears
20 years on the field, it's interesting that a guy like Gross has been
on the field for half of that time. It's nice to remember guys that
spent their careers in this small town, for this small franchise.

There's something to be said for a guy or two to be around that
remembers that Super Bowl, or even that remembers that disastrous
Cardinals playoff game in '08. There's something about a shared
history. You don't make business decisions on that, but you like to
know it's there nonetheless.

In the meantime, Davis is playing lights-out. They need nothing less,
and they can afford nothing less. For now.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Shula's Offense: Similar

It's easier to recap an offense when you just scored 35 points in a win
than it is to talk about it when you score six points in a loss. And,
yet, this offense is both of those things.

Mike Shula's unit has scored over 30 points twice, beating up on a
couple of terrible defenses with lightning efficiency and doing things
it otherwise might not. It's also failed to score ten points twice, the
median being 23 at Buffalo - one point shy. It ranks 7th in rushing
offense, but 27th in pass offense (poor outings in a couple of games,
along with taking the foot off the throttle in two blowouts, both skew
that a bit) helps bring them down to 21st overall (19th points).

It's tough to say it's just execution, because it's always easy to say
that. If execution were always an expectation, everyone would throw
deep every down; it's just not that easy. But there's a difference
between what receivers did in that six point game (v/s Cardinals)
dropping a number of sure first downs and at least one touchdown, and
the precision attack against the Vikings last week.

I've always said that what happens in blowout wins and losses are the
exception to the norm. So what is Carolina on offense? It's difficult
to say. In close losses, it's been conservative, adhering to what its
team needed to get done, but not quite what it needed to do to win. In
opened-up games, there's no doubt that they've put up good numbers.
Logic would say, open it up all the time, right?

But that's never quite been what this team does best. It's a thin
line. Balance is necessary, and Cam Newton is one of the better
playaction passers. It's not for nothing - his playaction isn't just
whether the back might run, it's also whether he might run. Teams might
or might not be afraid of Deangelo Williams, who's been productive but
has yet to break his customary 60 yarders. Teams are petrified of
Newton in the open field.

All of that said, Shula hasn't been remarkably different from Rob
Chudzinski. I noted from his signing in spring of 2011 that Shula was
of the same philosophy offensively as Chudzinski, and the playbook
didn't really change. The terminology shortened, but it didn't really
'change'. How the offense is being run isn't really much different.
There are going to be some natural preferences in personnel usage, there
are going to be different judgements made. But the people who cheer
Shula's good days, and the people that boo his bad ones, had their minds
made up well before the ballgame. What you're watching hasn't really
changed much.

That said, there have been some differences:
*The Seahawks game was a definitive neutering of the passing game.
There's no way around that. 119 passing yards, full of dumpoffs, is a
tough way to run an offense, even against a top secondary and a top
defense. That was a failing. You don't want Newton just putting up
deep balls all day, but that's not this offense.

*Shula will run the ball. Chudzinski got remarkably pass happy in
Carolina at times, no matter what he had in the backfield - even having
the 3rd ranked rush O in 2011 despite being 14th in attempts. Too
cerebral an approach in these Coryell offenses means finding a way to
squeeze 50 passes into a game. That said, Newton has approached 40
attempts against Buffalo and Arizona, and while you have to adapt to the
situation, there are still times Shula can slow the game down a bit
more.

It seems that the Chudzinski staple play, the shotgun draw, is gone.
It seemed like, for the first 22 games of Chudzinski's tenure, that if
they wanted to run the ball on first down, it was out of 3 wide,
shotgun, and was generally a DW carry for somewhere between -1 and +2
yards. For an offense that gained so much on the ground over those two
years, that just wasn't an effective play.

*Shortened terminology. Basically, this offense is setup in modular
form - the personnel on the field changes how it looks, but for the most
part, you have a few basic construction steps when making a play.
A run play might be (Formation), (motion/shift if applicable), (run
play).
A pass play is going to be (Formation) (motion/shift) (blocking
scheme), (pass routes, numbered for the three obvious receivers, named
for the backs). Shula has switched that up a bit to (formation,
motion/shift) (name of the play designating the routes and blocking),
which is quicker.

So with that, he can still run a play - let's say "Jet Right 940 F
Corner" is now called "Seattle" - it's not, by the way.
He can call the same thing that Chudzinski called, and the players will
do the same thing. They just have to remember what they're doing on
Seattle instead of being told that the linemen block Jet to the right,
the Split end will fly, the TE will break inside short, and the flanker
will run a drive route across formation (think the first Brandon LaFell
touchdown of the year). The fullback runs a corner route and the
halfback stays in (halfback is ALWAYS last, and without any direction
otherwise the F or H would block to the type of direction that Jet Right
gives you).

*Formation
Shula definitely likes the two by two 'bunch' formation. I don't have
a playbook in front of me at this moment - it's on a couple computers
and a tablet at home - but it's that base personnel or 3 WR formation
where there are two receivers each side, split to about 7 yards.
Bunched up close enough they can block, but still with enough receiving
threat that it might force a defensive coordinator's hand if it would
otherwise be an extra man in the box; it puts four defenders "split",
possibly out of base, leaving either a safety up on a receiver, or a
linebacker out of position.

The team does run a fair bit of three wides, a traditional Chudzinski
staple, as well. More two TE than 2 back, and rarely both (San
Francisco, for instance, runs 22 personnel about 20% of the time, way
outside the norm, in the same roots of this offense).

*special plays
Carolina's run 3 end-arounds already, and the risky flea-flicker-TE
Screen last week was really interesting. Shula has been more creative
than I'd expected, honestly. They just aren't going for long yards.

*What are we missing?
-The big plays. Newton didn't target longer than 20 yards in game one
and couldn't connect on game two. Since then, the team has taken some
shots, but maybe not enough. Williams, likewise, has yet to really bust
a long run.
-RAC. Carolina's very low on run after the catch - something that
comes with the deep bomb but also with the screen game, broken tackles,
and big plays (see above, obviously).

Monday, October 14, 2013

Vikings Aftermath

I'll take this one.

Carolina easily handled Minnesota, exploiting their poor pass defense
and shutting down Adrian Peterson, on their way to a 35-10 win. The team
held Peterson to 62 yards, his lowest of the year, and that was
including 31 on his last carry, well after the game was in hand.

It's hard to say it's a defense-led victory when you score 35 points,
but stopping Peterson allowed Mike Mitchell to pull in two
interceptions, to give him a team leading 3 on the year, that set up the
first and last scores for Carolina. Mitchell's 7 tackles and sack added
with the picks for easily his best career game. The first pick, on the
first drive, set the tone and put Carolina in for the first score a few
plays later.

Thomas Davis pulled in 9 tackles and two sacks, and really stood out in
nickel duty as well, including stopping Cassel short on a 3rd down
scramble and a pretty deflection against Kyle Rudolph.

That defensive performance allowed Cam Newton to dice up the MN pass
defense to a tune of 20/26 for 242 yards and three scores. Newton hit
Smith for a redemptive 2 yard score early, a rumbling 10 yard shovel
pass to Mike Tolbert before the half, and then a 79 yarder to Brandon
LaFell that blew things open.

Newton chipped in his own rushing TD soon after, and Tolbert returned
to the endzone to cap things off. Deangelo Williams did the heavy
lifting - 17/64 on the ground and 5/54 in the air, tying him for team
lead in receptions with Smith (who only had 21 yards, mostly getting
short routes). Tolbert was 8 rushes for 27 yards on the ground
including some key short yardage plays, and Newton bailed himself out
with 9 for 30.

It was a dominating performance on both sides, with a few miscues (Ted
Ginn bringing a return out for 13 yards, for instance), but with an
efficiency that fit right in with the score. Carolina was 58% on third
down, a perfect 2/2 on 4th conversions, and


Carolina has an average margin of victory of 31.5 points in two wins;
7.33 in its three losses.

It's odd, that when they win, they really, really win. That five score
point margin is larger than the amount it's given up in any single game
(24 to Buffalo, 22 to Tampa including a score that was after the game
was decided).

Sunday, October 13, 2013

V/S Vikings - Pregame

Minnesota comes in 1-3, with the remarkably dangerous sympathy card to be played.  Yes, it's tragic that Adrian Peterson's son died.  I won't get further into that section other than to say that, with that in hand and having benched the remarkably crappy Christian Ponder, Minnesota is a better team than they've played, and Carolina's a moody team that can't often get out of its own way.

So, matchups.  Absolutely. I'll get to that.  But that won't matter if you can't emotionally lift yourself as the better team this game.  Minnesota has that lift this time (just, for once, it'd be great to not have a trap game or two on the season where someone dies and a backup QB lifts them to victory - I'm looking at you, Kansas City), and simply out of that, I feel like this game is somewhat hopeless.

Not unlike fellow '85 Bears alum Ron Rivera (and, like Rivera, an Eagle staffer under Andy Reid 99-02), Leslie Frazier used a lot of his bargaining chips on defense to his offense's detriment. Sharrif Floyd was a steal where he landed (though Star Lotulelei was a steal at any pick, in my opinion), and picked up CB Xavier Rhodes, a bigger press-man type player later in the round.  They did grab Cordarelle Patterson as well - all three in under ten picks, which is unique - but Patterson isn't looked at as an immediate starter.

Instead, Frazier added Greg Jennings to Jerome Simpson and the young TE Kyle Rudolph as targets.  And it's not incredible.  That said, it got better under the more accurate Matt Cassel, who's somewhat accurate and efficient; he's also not a great playmaker.  Cassel has effectively fixed one of his bigger flaws, being better in shotgun than under center, just in time for him to be around Peterson.  You don't do a lot of shotgun with Peterson there.

You guys know what's going on with Peterson.  Currently on a not-great team, he's still on pace for 1700 yards.  He'll get his.  Carolina has been pretty good stopping the run - they're currently 7th, 6th in yards/attempt; and they're 3rd in both yards and points overall.   The Vikings OL is big - not surprisingly.  Blue-chip Matt Kalil is the best LT Greg Hardy's faced all year, depending on how you feel about Russell Okung. Kalil replaced the slower Charlie Johnson, who's now inside at LG; Johnson's good at angles but can be overpowered. Massive RT Phil Loadholt isn't incredible, but he is what you think he is - good at run blocking with obvious limitations in speed but a massive wingspan.

So the outside rush can be contained.  It's the inside, with Johnson, John Sullivan, and Brandon Fusco that can be exploited by the young DTs.  Fusco has had a good start to 2013, says Profootballfocus.com.  He had a bad '12, so there's room to manipulate.   Obviously, this is where you start to attack Peterson, and doing so gets Luke Kuechly into the picture.


Minnesota's 29th in pass yards, but 15th in rush yards.  Their rush yards/attempt go down to 22, so clearly they can be run on as well.  They're 1st in takeaways, so you have to protect the ball, but if Cam Newton can't get yards upfield, there's something wrong.  There should be enough room to run without just passing against their weaknesses downfield (not much secondary to speak of, and their LBs, Chad Greenway and EJ Henderson are better moving forward); they do have some rush ability with Jared Allen, who tends to do bad things to Jordan Gross, but Floyd and Bryan Robison can be contained if you execute well enough.

So, might be best to use the packaged plays to freeze the LBs, and work the middle of the field; screen game is big here, and so is playaction.

Not sure what to think, but emotionally I fear the loss.  Hope it's at least a good game.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Market Value and Greg Hardy

Greg Hardy recently turned down an $8 million a year deal to extend (4 years, $32 million), in what would've been Dave Gettleman's first long term lockdown.

Hardy and new agent Drew Rosenhaus (who regularly took Marty Hurney's lunch money) vetoed the deal, and rightly so.  Hardy's single great year was pretty good.  Of course, free agency, especially on the high end, likes the last year production.  Fiscally, it makes less sense.

I could argue the pros and cons of the move - clearly, Hardy has value.  His 11 sacks helped put he and already-well-paid Charles Johnson as the 2nd best sack producing duo in the league last year (Aldon Smith, Justin Smith) and the top end duo for sack production.  PFF has their overall hurry and sack numbers very high as well.

Johnson's done it without an elite player across from him - his 2010, 2011 seasons were almost as good, and didn't feature anyone over 5 sacks around him.  But - at this point, is tying up money in an additional end a smart thing to do?  That money could go to a lot of things.

As well, is it old thinking to do so?
Set aside whether the next staff is going to come sooner rather than later; set aside whether that means scheme change (an aside - a core of Johnson, Star Lotulelei, and Kawann Short would make an ideal one-gap 3-4, and I don't see Luke Kuechly suffering for it, either - the truth is, Carolina's front remains as versatile as ever).

The 2007-2010 Giants had a ton of ends. And that worked.  But teams have adjusted, and consequently it's vogue to draft the speedy, 250 lb guys.  Some of them are playing in the 3-4, sure.  But for every Aldon Smith there's a Bruce Irvin playing the 4-3.

Now, on a cash-strapped team like Carolina you could make an argument either way - that dropping a top 15 pick as both Smith and Irvin were, to replace a player you could simply keep, isn't fiscally that smart.  Of course, you might be picking up an edge rusher that complements CJ better than Hardy, but right now I think that's a wash.  Both get there easily enough.

But does a lighter end who works upfield fast and plays like a LB work well in the next iteration of the NFL as well?  The crash scrape exchange for the end/LB to play the read option is definitely better in the smaller end ideal; I don't know if ends have to be 290 lbs the way that Carolina's are.

I still feel like retaining Hardy can be vital - bringing back an entire starting DL and having a key reserve DT, in front of an already-penciled-in LB unit for next year that can lose Thomas Davis if needed and still thrive (I would, essentially, expect Davis to have to rework his deal significantly again to stay).   That leaves most of the work to the OL and secondary, where it belongs.

But, it can't come at a massive price.  If $8 million won't do it, I'd go an extra year, tack on a mil and change, and throw him a 5 year, $47 million deal.  And then I'd be willing to let him walk.

That said, if this deal was rejected around the Giants' game, it's hard to say what will happen - Hardy hasn't scored a sack this year in any other game.

Another view may be that, with the trade deadline of 10/29 coming up, games against the Vikings (1-3), Rams (2-3), and Buccaneers (0-4) are all played between now and then; that also gives a few weeks to eval Hardy, or trade him.  If Carolina can't be at least 2-1 in this part of the schedule, is there any hope for a good season?  0-3 in that span leaves the team 1-6; 2-1, of course, 3-4 and in the back row of contenders.  If this season's a wash, and you already know what you won't spend on Hardy, maybe a 2nd round pick isn't the worst way to go.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Robert Lester is a Godsend

I don't actually believe that God, or to be politically correct
whatever form of deity you do or don't believe in, cares what happens in
a football game or on a roster, so take the title loosely.

But how much of a gift has Robert Lester been?

Sure, it's maybe a little harder to be completely surprised that a Nick
Saban defensive back can play in the NFL, but lately some of these
Alabama players I've been enamored with, haven't done an incredible
amount in the NFL, either. Lester was undrafted out of Alabama, which
almost takes effort when you have three (!) national championship rings
and you started for two of them.

Lester is, by far, not perfect, and who knows if his potentially
topped-out frame or other concerns about his draft status will ever be
totally overcome. But for a team that, let's be honest, kinda
neglected safety, to pull an undrafted off the pile - and for that kid
to potentially be a longterm starter? That's pretty lucky, or good
karma, or fate, or a blessing, or whatever, nonetheless. I think
people that believe the black cat curse and that type nonsense, overlook
the good things like this that happen (or the small miracle of there not
being more catastrophic head injuries).

So the truth is, just by having not missed tackles so far, and having 2
INT and a FF, Robert Lester is a massive statistical upgrade. Hope it
keeps up, we need a scrappy guy like that back there. If it ends up
that he's not that good, but he can be Haruki Nakamura in a larger
frame, I'll honestly take that, too.

Losing A Tradition - a First Month Perspective

Carolina has lost a tradition of competitive football and has entered a
tradition of mediocrity.

The team had a chance this week to get back to .500 or above for the
first time since January 2009. Carolina, after four games, hasn't been
at .500 or above since 2008's run (and, honestly, easy schedule - which
left them 3-1). Since then, it's been 1-3 or 0-4 in the first four
weeks.

So, it's been since '08 since the team had a fighting chance four games
in. That's awful.

It's not good enough.

And it's not just Ron Rivera. Yes, you can write off some of the 2010
debacle in blame to Jerry Richardson. But taking that out as an
anomaly, it's not like things get much better in September and early
October. Good teams don't take the first quarter of the season off.
Is John Fox a good coach? Absolutely. I'd say that recent events
definitely put him ahead of Rivera, and he had chronically late starts
in pretty much every 7-9, 8-8 season he had.

This has to change. There's something to be said for late starts - the
Steelers and Giants, two teams near and dear to our owner - have made it
to multiple Super Bowls in recent history and, without really bothering
to look, I believe they're 3 of 4 on those. And they were late surge,
5-6 seed type teams who got hot at the right time. The problem is, you
have to play in September and October, too.




So here's a state of the team for Q1 2013.

They're third in overall defense, which is promising. 7th and 8th in
run and pass, overall. 22nd in sacks, oddly enough. 26th in passes
defensed, but tied for 10th with 6 INT. Unsurprisingly, Luke Keuchly is
top in tackles (38; Thomas Davis is 2nd with 29) and INT (2, tied with
the surprising Robert Lester). Lester is, per profootballfocus.com, one
of two safeties to not miss a tackle. The defense really seems to come
alive or flounder, to a point, based on its DTs, though that's more
observational than trackable at this point.


The offense, of course, isn't doing so well. With 3 low scoring games
and one in which they pulled off the throttle with 38 points, they're
27th in points and 24th in yards. Only high point? 7th in rush yards,
which stands to reason. Greg Olsen leads the team with 21 receptions to
Steve Smith's 18. Deangelo Williams is obviously the team lead in
rushing, at 4.5 per rush and 5th in the league individually. He's on
pace for 1320 yards, but with Jonathan Stewart coming back soon, that
pace probably doesn't hold up.

Cam Newton's 78.4 rating puts him 25th in players with more than 50
attempts. He's on pace for 3540 yards, 24 TD, 20 INT; 492 yards rushing
and 4 TDs there.

That's about what I get out of them for the first month. The record
says it all but there are various reasons to expect that this team is
buying time, not contending, and an easy-looking second quarter schedule
probably won't prove to be as easy as it should be.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Armanti Gone; His, Silatolu's Replacements

Armanti Edwards was cut yesterday afternoon; let's not eulogize him.
He was a fanastic college QB and he was a failure as a pro, so far. He
was an interesting idea and three different pretty good WRs coaches
couldn't make much of him. I didn't care pre-draft that he went to ASU,
and I still don't. Maybe in a perfect world, Edwards would've come into
the league in 2012 and had a shot as a developmental QB, but I didn't
think of him as an exceptional QB at this level even with the read
option.

So with that, and Amini Silatolu's ACL pushing him to IR, the team's
added two new guys to fill the hole.

Silatolu's replacement is center Brian Folkerts, who bounced in and out
of the active roster so far this year and was with the Saints for a few
moments in his rookie year of 2012.

Edwards' replacement is Marvin McNutt, who was on the Dolphins'
practice squad so far this year, and the Eagles' PS in 2012 after being
drafted in the 6th round (Iowa, where he was the team's all-time
reception TD leader). The 6'3 receiver does add more size to the
roster, if that's what they were going for. Being the team's 5th WR,
however, he may not be active much.

There may be an additional factor to him being the big WR on staff.
Domenik Hixon, who has played sparingly at best, took a pretty complex
deal to come to Carolina - it's a one year deal (so no bonus proration
is involved), with per-game roster bonuses. So, if things don't go well
for Carolina, they may very well just cut Hixon and save the per-game
money. It's not an inconsequential amount, either, I think a couple
million total are tied up in Hixon playing for Carolina the full season.
I have to imagine that was part of the process for Jon Beason as well.

So, since Hixon's time could be short, but he's more useful than
Edwards, it becomes a situation of whether McNutt could provide an ample
approximation of what Hixon is doing (which currently is sadly very
little) at a much lower cost. If the team wanted, it could then pick
Edwards, or any receiver without Edwards' failed-trade baggage, back
onto the roster.


The team also threw Ben Jacobs back to the practice squad (Jacobs was a
one-game replacement for Jon Beason) and added another LB to the squad -
former Patriot Jeff Tarpinian.



None of the moves are going to stop the bleeding. You could suggest
that dropping Edwards provides some level of notice, absolutely. I
don't know if 1-3 isn't also enough motivation to be better; and if it
isn't, look for more roster moves.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Coaching Retraction; Silatolu Out

Turns out that no one from USC has reportedly contacted Tony Dungy or
anyone else, which is hilarious. I do still believe in Carolina looking
in that direction, even if they won't (shout out to all the Perry Fewell
fans out there). If it were up to me, again, I'd probably prefer an
experienced college coach who has experience with the read option and
who meshes well with Cam Newton - if you anticipate him being the QB
going forward, of course.

I do - I think Newton remains a somewhat special talent. I think that
they'd get less in return for him than the cost of going after another
player, from a fiscal standpoint, and it seems like Carolina's all-in on
him. But it's about time to make that decision one way or another,
isn't it? It's about contract time, and it's probably about time for
new coaching unfortunately. So you have to make those decisions
concurrently - pick a guy who fits with Newton if you're keeping him.



Amini Silatolu is done for the year, because heartbreaking losses seem
to come with big personnel losses lately. Silatolu, who again struggled
in preseason, was surging during the season, showing a lot of growth.
He's the third G to be lost to injury already this year, in what wasn't
a stocked position anyway. Travelle Wharton is expected to be the
starter for the rest of the season, and Chris Scott will be at RG. Both
have had a few struggles, and it won't get much better from here. I
wonder if Geoff Hangartner is in shape right now?

Monday, October 7, 2013

2014 Coaching: More What-ifs

since I've been in and out of office so much in the last couple of
weeks, often barely making it to somewhere to watch games, I've had some
truncated blogging at times. Not a lot of pregame and often not a lot
of postgame. But, this blog is mine - and I'm not the subject - I'm
just saying, sorry for that and sorry that this will apready be post #3
for the day.

I was noticing the USC coaching staff situation - honestly, I'll admit
both enjoying and feeling sorry for Lane Kiffin - had reached out to
Tony Dungy. Denials or not, it's worth noting that Carolina kinda got
caught talking to outside sources about background checks on some
coaches themselves, which had become somewhat of a controversy. To me,
it just seems like good common sense.

At any rate, it dawned on me that Dungy, who did a pity interview for
Jerry Richardson before they hired John Fox, was nonetheless a guy that
was wanted here. I legitimately believe that, if the Panthers are into
a veteran coach, they'd attempt to reach out to Dungy, and to get to a
point, that they'd probably be smart to look at what USC is doing.

Dungy was apparently one of USC's top options, and he's sworn it off.
I'm willing to bet that they'll reach out to Jon Gruden as well -
Gruden's one of the few retreads I'd legitimately want, even if his
on-screen "I love this guy!" about every player on the field act is
getting old, he'd be a good fit in Carolina.

I don't know why USC is so determined to be pro-style, when even the
pros are turning to college schemes. They seem intent on it, though.
Carolina, who's only ever interviewed defensive coordinators (along with
two previous head coaches who were DCs, in Dungy and Seifert), might be
inclined to revisit the DC option, but Jerry Richardson's age (and some
of the reasoning behind keeping Ron Rivera another year) might allow for
a different option - an established coach that might cost more money.

And so that would seemingly put Carolina and USC in some similar
circles for talent. If I were hiring for a win-now situation, I'd throw
it on either a hot college head coach or an experienced head coach from
the pros. Both are about what USC is expecting, too.

I think USC will end up with Jack Del Rio - and in some ways, yeah, I
could see Carolina going there too. He was good here, he just didn't
leave many roots. But I think that the JDRs and Lovie Smiths, I don't
know if they have what's going on. I do worry that Gruden was only
really good with Monte Kiffin as DC, but unlike a Bill Cowher or other
guys that have been out of the league, Gruden doesn't seem out of touch
with the new pro game.

The hard part that both are fighting with? Neither job is looking as
hot as it could. If I were hiring right now, I'd throw the house at
Kevin Sumlin. I think he's an ideal fit. Sumlin says he's not going,
and all college coaches say that. Nick Saban even said it as he was in
the process of going, when he was with the Dolphins (for a few minutes
longer). But is the USC job, or the Carolina job, really a better job?

The average young DC hire makes about what a pretty good, but
untenured, college head coach makes. Sumlin's due for another raise, of
course, but the difference is he'll live to see it three years down the
line. In the NFL, you have to change a lot of what you do, and you
probably get three years to build a program. The urgency of some of
these NFL teams, with the way the league is adjusting, some guys just
don't even have that much time - and that's not really new. In 1996,
Carolina was in the championship game in year two. After 1997, the rest
of the NFC West was shopping for coaches, and after '98, so was
Carolina.

Either way, it appears (or at least, I'd hope) that Carolina will be
taking a similar tack as USC. If so, keep a strong eye on what's said
in response to USC, it'll pave the path Carolina will see to note where
they could go.

Too Much Talent For 4 Net Points

Carolina dropped more points (7, on the Steve Smith would-be TD pass in
the first quarter) than it scored (6) yesterday.

And its OL surrendered 33% of that on a safety. The offense's net
points? 4. Four net points. That's not taking away anything for
points off turnover, that's a negative score. This is just points the
offense physically gave up while on the field.

I like Mike Shula. I like Ron Rivera. I believe their style of
football is, or at least was, just right. I don't like four net points.
Something has to give.

Don't get me wrong. The coaches are only the end-point. They're
responsible, but players had their hand in it. Cam Newton doesn't throw
up a couple of balls he shouldn't have, without being responsible.
Smith doesn't drop a TD pass because that's how it was drawn up.
Brandon LaFell didn't drop a 4th and 1 pass because that's how it was
drawn up - you could argue, hey, don't pass on 4th and 1 with the NFL's
3rd leading rusher, a massive short yardage back, or a just as massive
running QB all able to go get that yard, and you'd make sense. But the
play was designed and called correctly, and should've worked.

And if they had, chances are I wouldn't be typing this. That's how
that goes. Cam doesn't take a sack that pulls Carolina out of FG range,
that's 3 points. Smith catches his, that's another four past the FG
they got. Let's say to be conservative, that the LaFell drop on 4th
down and the two INT were only partially reversed and the team gets 6
points out of that, too. That's 13.

Which would've given Carolina a 19-13 lead late in the game and maybe a
little more confidence to finish the game.

A much less conservative estimate, which is that they get the full TD
on each of those situations, is 35 points. 35-13 would definitely be a
different article right now. The thing is, 6 more points or 35 more
points, it was there for the taking.

And yet when Carolina went from 3 up to 4 down, I was almost
conditioned to think that was a two posession game. You have one of the
most dynamic quarterbacks in the league, and enough weapons to make
something happen. Right now, I should be talking about how this team
has built a streak - how it's resurging at the last possible minute to
do exactly what it can. This should've been the beating of another bad
team, but something to grow on.

Instead, I'm left wondering about all involved. Has Steve Smith
finally lost a step? Will Brandon LaFell be worth the time that they've
put into him? Is there anything on the line left building on, except
for Ryan Kalil? Will Greg Olsen continue to be effective after
defenses have all of the above figured out?

Is Cam Newton the guy you build on?

It's a massive swing, isn't it? You go from a 38-0 blowout, to four
net points. I'm willing to accept that the Giants game was an anomaly,
and I've always said that teams are overjudged in both blowout wins and
blowout losses. But those two concepts, ideally, would not happen
concurrently. And, in the aftermath of both, I wish the Giants game was
repeatable, but it appears to have been familiarity with the NY squad on
various levels; that leaves the AZ game looking a lot more repeatable.

And that's just not good enough.

Post-AZ - Back To Earth, With A Convincing Thud

I was out of town, and somewhat stunned, about the Jon Beason trade. I
will address that one, very late, after I deal with this awful game
recap.




Carolina once again failed to get out of its own way this week, proving
that any hope from the Giants game was found in a range somewhere
between misleading and outright delusional.

To start, I find it absolutely mind-numbing to have been out-dueled in
scheme by the also-ran brain trust of Bruce Arians and Todd Bowles. My
problems with Ron Rivera and company were of late-game conservatism and
being too much of a player's coach; scheme had traditionally not been an
issue. This team played down to what I believe to be a lesser team,
letting them off the hook for their mistakes and not succeeding off the
Cards' own many mistakes.

The players have their hand in this, too. It's only natural to start
with Cam Newton, who turned the ball over too often and held the ball
too long. The line gave up a total of 7 sacks, including a safety. The
offense in general messed the bed - 6 points? - and squandered numerous
opportunities, including two redzone interceptions and numerous drops by
Brandon LaFell and Steve Smith. The defense pressures Carson Palmer at
times, but nowhere to the same level they did Eli Manning. Star
Lotulelei's inside push was missing, and the Cards ably held up the ends
in response. Kawann Short provided some pressure, and Palmer had the
ball coming out fast, but the rush just wasn't enough. Carolina has to
know that beefing up the front means more quick passes, but they didn't
have an answer for that.

Still, the team held a 6-3 lead at halftime and had a monstrously large
gap in time of posession. Carolina somewhat had them where they wanted
them. You could imagine that, though Carolina wasn't playing up to
their potential, that the Cardinal D would wear down. It never
happened, and their option blitz package had no real counter, bringing
down Newton more in the second half. Carolina never adjusted.

So, the season remains in peril. For those that demand retribution
for the team re-opening the wounds of an irrelevant season before the
10th of October, I don't think you'll have satisfaction this week. For
what it's worth, I remain confident that the team will not fire Ron
Rivera that quickly, but at minimum, I believe he has another week (with
my luck, that means they're firing him as we speak). I'm losing
confidence in him myself, but I don't know if it's for the better of the
team to drop him without better options.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Arizona

I just have a couple quick free-form thoughts for the Arizona game.  They're all pretty obvious - once again real life takes the focus, and that's working out just fine, celebrating my anniversary and birthday at Savannah Oktoberfest.

Carson Palmer is no longer that efficient a QB.  He's at the end of his career, holds the ball too long, and he's not mobile.  Obviously, that bears out where a good rush will help - if Greg Hardy and Dwan Edwards are able to contribute.

Does it matter, though?  Star Lotulelei, Charles Johnson, and Kawann Short might be enough against a porous AZ line that somehow might've gotten even worse without Levi Brown, traded this week.

So, double Larry Fitzgerald, try to keep the ball away from Patrick Peterson, and try to win.

Plus, Bruce Arians is a boob who profited on emotional outpours for Chuck Pagano.  Bruce doesn't run that great of an offense and he's said hilariously limiting things like "we use our backs to run, not to catch." 10-4, Bruce.   That guy getting coach of the year is a travesty.

Hopefully, this is a winnable game.  One that has its obvious challenges but shouldn't be remarkably difficult - either continuing a positive slide of games, or at least giving us all a moment of hope so that we can renew thoughts that this season isn't already a waste.