Panthers Bye Week Report

There are a lot of teams who have played “better than their records” show this season, the Carolina Panthers are not one of them. Their 0-5 record is very indicative of how they’ve played this year and there’s many reasons for it. Obviously the team is very young and there’s a clear lack of leadership and experience so growing pains are bound to happen but did anyone see this team averaging just above 10 points a game? I didn’t. I was expecting it to be a little better than that.  You could say that the offense is the root of this problem and while that’s true, you have to dig deeper to find the real cause for this and that was horrible mismanagement by the front office and the coaching staff.

In a rebuilding year, wins are going to be hard to come by but you would think that you would see some progress from your younger players along the way. For awhile, I thought that was the case but that Bears game showed absolutely no progress from anyone on offense. It was definitely a scary thing to see. Obviously, the playcalling has been bad and the execution has been even worse but you can’t expect much when you have limited talent to work with. That’s where the blame goes to the front-office in Jerry Richardson and Marty Hurney.

The first mistake was made before the start of last season when they signed Jake Delhomme to a 5-year extension with $20 mil in guaranteed money and we were out that much after we cut him this season. This signing was an awful move all around. Delhomme was a great QB and leader for this team for many years but his best years have been over for awhile now. I know he was going into a contract year in 2009 but Hurney should have known better than to give him that much guaranteed even if his implosion in 2009 didn’t happen. Giving that much money to a 34 QB who was two years removed from Tommy John surgery isn’t a good idea at all. Another mistake was letting Julius Peppers walk without getting anything in return. If we knew that he wasn’t going to re-sign then why would the front office not try to get a draft pick or some money out of him by dealing him? Getting nothing for an All-Pro defensive lineman is just a bad move all around. That led to them cutting numerous players in the off-season and trying to rebuild the team through the draft like we’ve done in years before. The biggest problem with this was we did nothing in free agency during an uncapped year and have the lowest payroll in the NFL now. Not to mention our coach is in a bad position since John Fox knows that this is his last year coaching in Carolina and he’s shown little effort or emotion. You could say that you could see a year like this coming but this is the first time I’ve believed that the team could not win more than 3 games in 2010.

What’s been so bad about this season? Almost everything. Offense is the biggest issue, obviously. The Panthers rank in the bottom-five in just about every offensive category. Their passing game is the worst in the league. That deadly running tandem they have? Ranks 22nd in the league averaging about 99 yards per game. They only have 5 touchdowns on the entire year and have turned the ball over a lot. Just about all of their offensive stats are a perfect storm right now and watching them is just brutal.

Obviously most of the focus around this team is rookie QB Jimmy Clausen and he hasn’t been great in his first three starts. He came into the league being scouted as an “NFL ready QB” but he hasn’t shown that during his time with the Panthers. He’s made mistakes like throwing low passes, starring down his receivers and dropping/bobbling snaps. My first thought is that these are just “growing pains” from a rookie QB but if this continues then it’s going to be pretty scary. Granted, he’s been working behind a surprisingly porous offensive line and a depleted/inexperienced receiving corps. The saving grace with Clausen is that if he doesn’t work out then we don’t lose a lot of money since we didn’t give him a huge contract. Oh, and Matt Moore will not be with the Panthers after this year.

Next year, I don’t think it would be a bad idea to bring in a veteran back-up QB to mentor Clausen. Someone like Mark Brunell or Chad Pennington. They’ve been around the league long enough that Clausen can learn from them and are comfortable in their roles as back-ups. Right now, all he has to learn from is Matt Moore and it’s obviously not working.

What the hell is wrong with the running game? Part of it is to blame on the offensive line. RT Jeff Otah is a much more valuable piece than we thought and not having him lead the way for DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart is having a huge effect on our run game. Mackenzey Bernedeau and Geoff Schwartz have just been terrible filling in for him. Plus, it doesn’t help that teams know we’re going to run the ball and stack the box with 7-8 guys as a result. That’s where the passing game needs to make plays and they haven’t so far.

The receivers have obviously been a disappointment so far but most of them are rookies so I’m going to stay optimistic and say that they might play better down the stretch or next year. There’s a few I’m very frustrated with, though the main one being Brandon LaFell. He’s had a few big plays but for the most part, he’s showcased poor route running and has dropped a lot of passes. That’s killing us and I’m hoping to see better from him. David Gettis has been impressive but I don’t think his ceiling is that high so I think he will be a solid slot receiving at best. Right now, we’re depending on him to be a #2 receiver. Armanti Edwards is frustrating all around. If he doesn’t show signs of improvement this year then I wouldn’t be against cutting our losses with him. He is never ready for the ball when a pass comes his way and his hands ar every poor. I’m curious to see if we use him in the “Mountaineer Package” more but knowing Jeff Davidsion, that’s unlikely.

Speaking of which, I’m been complaining about Davidson’s playcalling all year and with good reason, it’s been awful and predictable. Sunday’s game was a new low and I’m surprised that he still has a job right now. I see no way he stays after this year because Richardson has to start making changes soon if we keep getting results like this from the offense.

Defense has been somewhat of a bright spot, if only for the fact that we aren’t giving up a lot of points. Ron Meeks’ Tampa 2 system has lived up to it’s “bend but not break” philosophy and it’s worked for the most part. There’s still some issues with tackling and covering slot receivers, though. The linebacking corps has been the most impressive. Jon Beason, Dan Connor and James Anderson have all done their jobs well and more. Anderson’s been the most impressive out of the three. He leads the league in tackles and has done a great job at forcing turnovers at key times. Connor has done well in the MLB position and a lot better than I thought he would be. I have to think that one of these two would become expandable when Thomas Davis comes back, though. Davis is better as pass coverage than either of them but is he going to be the same when he comes back from his injury? That’s a good question.

The biggest flaw with us running a Tampa 2 defense is that our front four have struggled to rush the passer.  The defense only has 7 sacks on the year and three of them are from the defensive line.  Everette Brown has struggled to rush the passer in every game and Charles Johnson has taken his place as a result. Greg Hardy is exceeding expectations, though considering we got him with a late draft pick. There’s a good chance he will be starting for the rest of the year so the pass rush might get better. The tackles, though aren’t exactly getting the job done and we’ve cut numerous players before the season started so that’s not a good sign. Derek Landri has been good in some games, though.

The secondary is still learning. Charles Godfrey and Sherrod Martin have done a good job in their roles at free and strong safety. Godfrey’s really showing off some ball-hawking skills this year, too. The issue with this secondary is that we can’t cover slot receivers or tight ends. Chris Gamble’s always been good at shutting down opponents top receivers but Richard Marshall and Captain Munnerlyn are another story. Marshall is very on-and-off when it comes to pass coverage and stopping receivers. Some consistency would be nice but he hasn’t been noticeably bad lately aside from the numerous pathetic arm tackles he’s tried. Captain Munnerlyn is under-sized and not very good as a nickelback at all and I wouldn’t be against letting him go.

Special teams has been better in terms of kick returning. Mike Goodson’s been phenomenal at returning kicks but the kick coverage could be better. Same can be said for the punt returning. Someone else besides Munnerlyn needs to take that role.

So where do we go from here? Maybe the team will start to come together after the bye. Maybe Devin Thomas will give the offense a spark (LOL). Maybe Clausen will start to improve and we’ll win some more games. Who knows, but as of right now, I can say that we’re going to go into the 2011 NFL Draft with a pretty high pick so I guess it’s time to figure out where our biggest needs are. This is how I rank them.

Defensive tackle

Wide Receiver (kind of…we have a lot of young talent but they haven’t proved much)

Corner/Nickel back

Right guard and right tackle

Fullback

I think that’s a fair assessment but again, it’s only week 5 so I’ll have to wait and see how things turn out for the rest of the year before I decide what we should do this off-season. The outlook is pretty scary right now. I can definitely say that there’s going to be some major front-office and coaching changes in the not so distant future, though.

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