Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, October 16, 2006 9:59 pm

Panthers 23, Ravens 21

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 9:59 pm

A big win, no doubt about it, but it was a weird game. It was as close as everyone thought it would be, but who would’ve picked these two teams to score 44 points between them? For all the undeniable skill both teams displayed on defense — the Ravens’ linebackers are so quick that Carolina never really tried to run anywhere but up the middle — both defenses were undone on flukes.

It looks as if Steve Smith is finally back to 100% — he was a lot quicker after the catch this week than last. And his stats were outstanding, although in all fairness to the Ravens’ defense, the reason Samari Rolle didn’t play Smith closely on that last 72-yard TD was almost certainly that he thought he had safety help up top. But the safety bit on one of the other receivers’ routes, and Rolle apparently didn’t see that happen. That’s not his fault — there’s not a corner in the league who can single-cover a healthy Steve Smith, and the Ravens’ secondary and coaches had to have known that and planned accordingly, so of course Rolle would assume he had help.

Delhomme’s no-interception streak ended at his 150th attempt, on a play in which he should’ve just thrown the ball out of bounds rather than try to make something out of nothing. His second interception came on a tipped ball, and those things can just as easily go the offense’s way as the defense’s. Just ask Mark Clayton, the Ravens wideout who caught not one but two TD passes on deflections. The Panthers’ D would’ve looked even better but for those two unlucky plays.
It was exciting to see what the Panthers’ passing game can look like when Delhomme and his top three wideouts are healthy. And it’s reassuring to know that the patchwork O-line has jelled to the point at which the Panthers can almost abandon the run late in the game and still move the ball.

It is not, on the other hand, reassuring to have had to find that out under game conditions. Normally, if your starting tailback gets 25 carries or more, you’re going to hang on to the ball a good, long time. Deshaun Foster carried 26 times for a whopping 58 yards. That ain’t getting it done, and although the Panthers’ 7 1/2-minute edge in time of possession looks impressive, it should have been a lot bigger and the game, frankly, shouldn’t have been so close. And when you’ve got first-and-goal from the 2 against a defense as stout as Baltimore’s, you’ve got to be able to get 6 because you might not get that close again the whole game. Foster was in that position twice and lost yardage both times. That almost cost the Panthers the game.

What saved the Panthers’ butts this time was that they figured out how to convert on third down, going 7-for-15 in that regard. How? By throwing, even in short-yardage situations. Twice Foster was handed the ball on 3rd-and-short, both times inside the Ravens’ 5, and he lost yardage both times. A healthy DeAngelo Williams would’ve been a nice option, but he’s going to be nursing that ankle sprain for a few more weeks, I fear.

It is in my nature to worry, and I really need to stop for a moment and enjoy the fact that Carolina played an excellent game on both sides of the ball on the road against one of the toughest teams it will face this year. The win moves the Panthers to 4-2 after an 0-2 start, and the Falcons’ loss to the Giants means that the Panthers are alone in second place in the division by a half-game and remain within one game of the Saints, who pulled it out against the Eagles to go to 5-1. That Week 4 win over the Saints is probably looking bigger and bigger to both teams now, particularly since they don’t play again until the last weekend of the season.

OK, I’ve done all my enjoying.

The Panthers are on the road again this week against an AFC North contender. Carson Palmer to T.J. Houshmandzadeh is an excellent passing combo, and unlike the Panthers, the Bengals have a legitimate featured back in Rudi Johnson. Stats-wise, the two teams are fairly evenly matched on defense, although position-for-position I’m having a hard time finding a Bengal I’d pick over his counterpart for Carolina.

The Bengals’ starters also are, as a group, kind of banged up. They have seven sacks among them, but five of those belong to DE Justin Smith and nobody listed anywhere on the depth chart at linebacker or in the secondary has one, so if they blitz much, they don’t do it well. Encouragingly, several of their most prolific tacklers are in the secondary, so maybe Foster can get some yards this time. Cross your fingers.

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