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Panthers open pre-season with loss to Ravens

12 August 2010 Leave a comment

The final score says that the Ravens defeated the Panthers 17-12 Thursday night in Baltimore, but we all know that the final score of a pre-season game means practically nothing. It’s the individual achievements of the players that really matter. How did the veterans look after a long off-season? Which rookies made a name for themselves? Who moved up the depth chart thanks to good play?

If you watched the same game that I did, you will not like the answers to those questions.

The Panthers looked sloppy for the majority of the game. Granted the 2nd half was played on a slip-n-slide due to the rain, but the starters looked pretty rusty in their first half action. Especially the offensive line. They were manhandled by the Ravens’ defense, allowing the Baltimore linemen to get consistent pressure on the quarterback and disrupt most of the passing plays that were called. And the passes that did manage to get past the defense were for naught as stupid penalties negated nice pass plays by Matt Moore. Jordan Gross looked completely lost on the field last night, and hopefully that can be attributed to his extended time off last year after injuring his leg and ending up on IR.

There’s bound to be a quarterback controversy in Carolina after the struggles of Moore (even if they weren’t completely his fault), because backup rookie sensation Jimmy Clausen came in and played well. He led the offense down the field and would have led the offense to a touchdown if not for Brandon LaFell’s drop in the end zone or Tyrell Sutton’s fumble at the 1-yard line. Clausen looked more confident than a rookie playing in his first game against an NFL defense, and he made quick decisions and took care of the football very well (he threw one interception on a fluke play when the receiver slipped and fell down in the middle of his route). (Clausen highlights can be seen here.*)

One guy who impressed me on offense was fullback Tony Fiametta. Fiametta is replacing former fullback Brad Hoover as the lead blocker for Double Trouble, and he looked good in the time he was in the game. He made a few nice blocks, and even made  a couple of nice catches for good yardage. If he keeps playing like he played last night, we won’t miss Hoover at all. Hopefully he can keep it up and the running game doesn’t suffer because of poor fullback play.

The defense looked sloppy overall, but there were a few good plays from a couple of guys who stood out in a positive way. Rookies Greg Hardy and Eric Norwood had nice showings, but things didn’t go so well for Captain Munnerlyn, who proved that he isn’t ready to get significant playing time outside of the nickel spot. Tyler Brayton had a few nice plays, until he left the game in the first half after injuring his ankle (it doesn’t appear to be serious – he walked off the field under his own power), but Everette Brown was nowhere to be found.

Special teams were decent, but not as good as they could be. Jason Baker had some nice punts, but the coverage struggled to get down field in time to take advantage of the good kicks. The kickoff team needs some work, and the Panthers are still in need of someone who can kick off and give the coverage a chance to get down the field in time to make a tackle, as they gave up a few returns that could have been avoided with better hang time on the kicks. Armanti Edwards looked decent in his first game as a punt returner, but he has a lot of work to do before he’s ready to take the role full time when the games count. The kickoff return team didn’t get much of a chance to show what they can do, as the Ravens kicked the ball in the end zone almost every time they kicked off.

There seemed to be a few problems with the snap on field goal plays, as John Kasay missed an extra point due to a bad snap/hold, and a field goal attempt was denied at the end of the first half because of a poor snap that prevented the holder from getting the ball down in time for a kick.

On the bright side, most of the problems the team had against the Ravens are fixable, and it’s normal to have some rust in the first pre-season game. I’m going to hold off on any major judgment until I see this type of play carry over into the 2nd and 3rd pre-season games.  If they still look like crap after the 3rd game, then I will start to have some concern.

Overall, it was a decent effort by the Panthers. Too bad they didn’t get a win, but again, it doesn’t really matter at this point, because the wins and losses mean absolutely nothing in the pre-season.

And not that I’m counting, but last night’s loss marks the 6th straight pre-season loss by the Panthers. Maybe that streak can end next week when they take on the Jets at the Bank.

Not that it matters, because as long as the starters get in quality work and stay healthy, everything else is gravy. After all, it is just the pre-season.

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* – Video courtesy of NFL.com

Panthers defeat Saints to finish season 8-8

4 January 2010 3 comments
Where was this team at the beginning of the season?

After finishing off the Saints 23-10 today, the Panthers completed the 2009 campaign on a 3-game winning streak to finish the season at 8-8, and even though they are not going to the playoffs it was nice to see them finish up on a winning note. Because of the injuries that were suffered during the season a lot of reserves got valuable playing time and gained a lot of experience for the future, and a lot of players could have played themselves into more prominent roles in 20101.

I am excited for what this team can do in 2010. It all starts with the draft in April, and after that it begins with mini-camps and training camp. I think this team has a chance to contend next season, primarily because they will get back several key players who went down with injuries in 2009, and also because the defense now has a full season under Ron Meeks’ system2.

Over the next few months I plan to re-evaluate what went wrong in 2009 (with more depth than “Davidson sucks” or “Delhomme is crap”) and I also plan to weigh in on the draft and free agent signings (if there are any).

Of course, I wish I could be evaluating a Panthers playoff game for next weekend, but alas, it just wasn’t meant to be.

But, as the old adage goes: there’s always next year.

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1 – The main one being Matt Moore. If he hasn’t at least earned an open quarterback competition with Delhomme and/or a draft pick or free agent in training camp next year, he may as well quit now because there’s nothing else he can do to prove himself.

2 – They consistently improved week to week under the Meeks system, and it can only improve after adjusting to the new scheme over the course of a full season.

How bout them apples?

27 December 2009 Leave a comment

Wow! I knew the Panthers were capable of beating anybody in the league if they would get their act together and play up to their potential, but I never thought they would completely dismantle the Giants like they did today. 41-9 … are you kidding me? That’s freaking awesome. The only thing that would have made this win better for me is if the Panthers could have clinched a playoff spot — but oh well, I’ll take it anyway.

Thanks to the joy of holiday travel I was unable to watch the game on tv, but I was fortunate to listen to the majority of it on the radio as I was on the road for most of the morning with my family, and I really wish that I could have watched today’s game. There’s just something special about seeing your favorite team obliterate another team on Sunday afternoon, but I guess I’ll have to settle for listening to it on the radio.

This win is the Panthers’ 2nd in a row against teams either in the playoffs or in the hunt for a playoff spot, and even though it is nice to see these performances at the end of a non-playoff season it makes me wonder where this team was earlier in the year when they still had a chance to make a Super Bowl run.

But, a win’s a win, and there’s not much to complain about based on what I’ve seen over the past two games. And, I really believe that Matt Moore has solidified his case for the new starting quarterback — because if his performances over the past two games hasn’t convinced Fox that he deserves the job, I don’t think he ever will.

Moore played as expected, and the Panthers win

6 December 2009 Leave a comment

The winds of change swiftly blew through the confines of Bank of America Stadium earlier today when the Panthers took the field behind the leadership of 3rd year quarterback Matt Moore. Fans were eager with anticipation to discover what Moore would bring to the table for the Panthers this week after suffering through multiple disasters through the first eleven games of the season with Jake Delhomme under center, and Moore could almost do no wrong in the eyes of a loyal fan base who has stuck with the team through many hard times over the course of this season.

The bottom line is simple: the Panthers have played well below the expectations that the fans had for them this season1. Coming off a 12-4 NFC South title season that ended in an embarrassing loss to the hands of the Arizona Cardinals in the playoffs, most fans felt that the Panthers would use that loss as inspiration to come out firing on all cylinders to prove the naysayers wrong — and Delhomme would use his ultimate stink job as inspiration to prove to the world that he was not done, that he had something left in the tank, and that he was still a viable option at the most important position on the football field.

Panthers head coach John Fox believed in his quarterback this season. The front office believed in their quarterback this season (enough that they gave him a contract extension after the Arizona debacle). The players believed in their quarterback this season, showing their support for him when he was going through the most difficult of times.

But, the fans didn’t believe in their quarterback. The fans called for a change after the stink job Delhomme pulled out against the Eagles in week 1. The fans called for a change after the team fell to an 0-3 start heading into the bye week (when everyone thought they should have been 2-1 at worst). The fans called for a change when the Bills came to town and left with a victory2.

But, Fox has stuck by his quarterback through thick and thin. Like him or not, you have to give Fox credit for his loyalty (even if it is to a fault). You can call shenanigans on Fox for saying that Delhomme “gives us the best chance to win”, but you can’t deny the fact that Fox is trying to do something that the fan base has apparently forgotten to do: remember what Delhomme did for us in the past, and instill confidence in Delhomme that he can do it again in the future.

I know, I know — you can’t rely on the past to satisfy what is going on in the present. But from a coach’s standpoint, you have to give him the benefit of the doubt for being a little reluctant to believe that Delhomme’s career is over. He’s done so much for the franchise that he has been given chance after chance to resurrect his career, and even though he has failed at pulling a Lazarus and coming back from the dead — you have to at least respect Fox for giving him ample opportunity to do so.

Even though he’s had several chances to get back to 2003 form, Delhomme has been unsuccessful. We all know he has stunk it up on several occasions this year. There’s no need to rehash that here. That’s not really what this is about. This is about the team as a whole, and what the team should expect from the quarterback position.

Let’s face it: we don’t have Tom Brady or Peyton Manning under center, and unless we get extremely fortunate in the draft this offseason, we won’t have a “Tom Brady” or “Peyton Manning” under center in the near future. What we have is Jake Delhomme, a quarterback who was never supposed to amount to anything more than a career backup, and Matt Moore, who is currently in a situation where he has been waiting for his opportunity to prove that he has what it takes to lead a team in the NFL.

Due to an injury to a finger on Delhomme’s throwing hand, Moore was given that opportunity today against the 1-10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Panthers trusted Moore to do one thing: avoid losing the game. He wasn’t instructed to go out and destroy the Bucs’ defense, he wasn’t supposed to lead 99-yard touchdown drives, and he wasn’t supposed to throw for 400 yards.

He was supposed to manage the game and allow the running attack to flourish by taking a few shots deep down field to keep the defense honest enough to respect the running game and eliminate the 8 and 9 man boxes that the Panthers have seen in previous weeks.

When you break it down and realize what Moore was supposed to do, and look at what he actually did — it’s hard to call today’s effort a failure. Sure, he didn’t go out on the field and dominate the game. He didn’t throw for 400 yards (he didn’t even throw for 200), and he didn’t throw 5 touchdown passes.

But, he also didn’t throw 5 interceptions and he didn’t have a terrible day. He led the team on a successful touchdown drive in the first quarter, and he led the team to three successful scoring drives throughout the rest of the game (3 Kasay FG’s)3.

Of course it can be argued that Moore benefited from a solid red-zone defense (especially by Jon Beason)4. But, allow me to counter-argue that he benefited from that red-zone defense because he didn’t turn the ball over and give the opposing offense a short field to work with. In other words: he gave the defense a fighting chance to make plays.

For the stat-heads, Moore’s final stat line looked like this:

14/20, 161 YDS, 0 TD, 1 INT, 73.1 RATING

Sure, those stats don’t jump out as a dominating performance. But he completed 70% of his passes (including a sweet 66 yard bomb to Steve Smith), and he didn’t make many mistakes throwing the ball (the interception was off a tipped pass and unfortunate ricochet for the Panthers). A 73.1 rating isn’t spectacular, but would anyone like to guess what Delhomme’s passer rating is this season? It’s 59.4 in case you really wanted to know. So while Moore wasn’t spectacular — he was better than the man he replaced.

Was he good enough to win the starting job outright? I think so, but I don’t think that Fox agrees with my assessment. I don’t think that his performance stood out as “wow, we have to start this guy for the rest of the season” to Fox and the rest of the coaching staff. I think that once Delhomme’s finger has healed he will get back into the starting lineup, until he either gets hurt again or stinks even worse than he already has this year. (And, it is possible — see Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell, for example.)

But, just because I think that Fox will go back to Delhomme doesn’t mean that I think he would be making the right decision5. I personally believe that Moore should be in the lineup for the rest of the year, if for nothing else but to have a true look at what he can bring to the table. (Today’s game could be an aberration on either side — he could throw for 400 yards every game from here on out, or this could be his best performance — either way, we won’t know unless he plays.)

Hopefully Fox will approach this situation from the perspective of a talent scout instead of a loyal friend who wants to squeeze as much out of his quarterback as he possibly can, and hopefully Fox will be open enough to see that maybe Moore actually gives this team the best chance to win. He may not have been as pretty as we would have hoped, but he was efficient enough to get a win.

And at this point in the season, that’s all that really matters.

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1 – That’s being nice. The mean version: The Panthers have played like dog shit all season.

2 – This was the breaking point for me. We should have destroyed the Bills, and the fact that we didn’t meant something had to be done.

3 – He should get brownie points because he had to lead this team without DeAngelo Williams, which made this game even more difficult for him.

4 – Beason activated beast mode today with 2 (yes, 2) goal-line interceptions.

5 – Translation: it would be the dumbest move he has made all year.

The Panthers are playing for pride now

29 November 2009 Leave a comment

After another mind-numbing loss today, the Panthers have nothing to play for other than their own personal pride for the remainder of the season, because the playoffs are officially out of reach1.

And, as it always seems to be the case this season, the loss can be laid squarely on the shoulders of Jake Delhomme and Jeff Davidson. Gump had the statue throw 34 times, even though everyone on the planet who follows the Panthers knows that when statue throws 30+ times, the Panthers rarely win.

D-Will and J-Stew were non-factors all afternoon2, and Gump allowed his quarterback to throw the game away3 and prevented any chance of the Panthers winning with his atrocious play-calling.

But I’m not going to rehash the game details. There’s no point. They lost, and are now out of the playoff picture. What they need to do now is look to the future, and give Matt Moore a chance to play. If the Panthers are going to have a successful draft, they need to know what they have and what they need, and keeping Moore on the bench isn’t going to do anything to help figure that out.

If the Panthers plan to draft a quarterback in the draft, they need to know if they need a 1st/2nd round type quarterback, or if they can buy a few years with Moore and wait until the later rounds of the draft and get a less-known guy to be the quarterback of he future4.

Either way, it should be blatantly obvious that Jake Delhomme’s best days are behind him, and he should find a comfortable seat on the bench to sit back and enjoy the last few weeks of his career, because there should be no reason to keep trotting him out on the field week after week. The Panthers are out of the playoff race, and Delhomme has had ample opportunity to recover his career5.

It’s time to let Matt Moore start a few games to establish himself as either (a) the quarterback of the future, or (b) a career backup. Regardless of what kind of quarterback he is, it’s time we get the chance to find out. Besides, things couldn’t be much worse for the Panthers with Moore in the lineup6.

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1 – Okay, they’re not officially out of the race. But, the Panthers have to win out (with games against the Vikings, Patriots, Giants, and Saints remaining on the schedule) and have to get help from other teams in the playoff hunt — so, while it’s still possible, it’s highly unlikely they will make the playoffs at this point.

2 – Some credit should go to the Jets defense, because they did a good job with their containment of Double Trouble.

3 – Literally. Delhomme threw 4 interceptions today, including a pick-6 in the first quarter, and had a passer rating of 12.7 (I wish I were making this up).

4 – My short list of who I would like the Panthers to draft:

  • Tony Pike, Cincinnati
  • Max Hall, BYU
  • Dan LeFevour, Central Michigan
  • Zac Robinson, Oklahoma State
  • Jevan Snead, Ole Miss

5 – And has failed miserably.

6 – Obviously it could be worse. I mean, we could be the Browns, Raiders, Bucs, or Lions.

Same old song and dance

20 November 2009 Leave a comment

Numb. That’s all I can feel. Everything is a blur.

After seeing the Panthers lose to the Dolphins 24-17 last night for the same reason they have lost every game this season, it gets old. Consistently inconsistent. That’s been the name of the game for this team for a long time, but the blame for this loss lies on the shoulders of one person — our favorite offensive coordinator, Mr. Gump Davidson.

How can Gump not figure out what to do? It’s a simple game plan. You use the best players you have, and you put them in the situations that work best for them, and you give your team the best chance to win the game.

It’s not rocket science. (Or running a shrimp boat, to keep the Gump reference.)

Yet, Forrest can’t figure out what everyone who has seen the Panthers play a game this season already knows — run the football and stop throwing it 35-40 times per game.

It’s insane. The Statue shouldn’t have to throw that many times. Give the ball to D-Will and J-Stew and let them chew up the defense, because believe it or not — we do have two of the best running backs in the league, and they know how to put the ball in the end zone.

You would think that Gump would have listened to Jenny now — RUN FORREST, RUN!

It just doesn’t make any freaking sense.

Panthers win a tough one in Charlotte

15 November 2009 4 comments

The Panthers did just enough to pull out a 28-19 victory in a tough division match-up with the Falcons today, and they did exactly what this team is built do to — they ran the football, mixed in enough short passing plays to keep the defense honest, and managed to score touchdowns on two consecutive 80 yard drives in the first half (a J-Stew run and Smitty reception, respectively).

Even though the Falcons out-gained the Panthers in total yards, first downs, and time of possession, the Panthers were able to win the two most important battles by forcing more turnovers and putting more points on the board.

The defense did well enough to keep the Falcons unbalanced for the majority of the game, even though the Falcons were able to grind out 176 yards on the ground. Luckily for the Panthers, Michael Turner left the game in the first half with an ankle injury after rushing for 111 yards on 9 carries, but backup running back Jason Snelling came in and gained 61 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.

Even though the Falcons were able to run the ball successfully, the Panthers were able to keep quarterback Matt Ryan in check, holding him to 224 passing yards and 1 touchdown, while managing to grab two interceptions. The Panthers were able to capitalize on both interceptions, scoring touchdowns on both drives after the picks (with one leading up to the final touchdown to put the game out of reach).

Jake Delhomme had a decent outing, going 15/24 for 195 yards and 2 touchdowns (giving him a quarterback rating of 115.8) — and he only had a few bad throws that luckily weren’t intercepted. Thankfully the offensive coordinator relied more on the running game against the Falcons and less on Delhomme’s arm, which is the main reason the Panthers were able to come away with a win.

Delhomme was helped by the presence of Muhsin Muhammad, who had missed the last two games due to injury, and Moose helped take some of the pressure off of Smitty and was able to reel in 6 catches for 91 yards.

DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart both had good games, with J-Stew finding the end zone twice (on runs of 1 and 45 yards, respectively — his 45 yard run was a career high for him and was the final touchdown of the game). D-Will rushed for 92 yards on 18 carries, and J-Stew rushed for 82 yards on 11 carries.

Overall, this was a solid win for the Panthers. This win puts the Panthers at 4-5 on the season, and they have a chance to get to .500 for the first time this season when they take on the Dolphins next Thursday night.

But for now, the Panthers should just soak in the sweet taste of victory.

They certainly earned it.