Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, November 13, 2006 6:33 am

Crisis

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 6:33 am

A crisis is, among other things, a turning point. And that’s what tonight’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers represents for the Carolina Panthers.

Division rival. National TV audience. And, almost certainly, the postseason on the line.

The Panthers are 4-4. The other two division rivals, the Falcons and Saints, did their part by losing yesterday. If the Panthers win, they remain tied with the Falcons and remain one game behind the Saints. With second games against the Saints and the Falcons still to play, and a win over the Saints and a loss to the Falcons already under their belts, the Panthers at least are in the position to control whether or not they make the playoffs.

Barring any other losses.

But if the Panthers lose tonight, they fall to third in the division and probably miss the playoffs. That’s a helluva finish for a team picked to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.

So how do the Panthers win?

First, they keep their heads in the game. No more special-teams screw-ups. No more dumb*ss penalties. No more crummy clock management.

Second? Defense, baby. The 21st-ranked run defense must step up tonight and match or better its performance in the first Tampa Bay game, when it held the Bucs to 64 total rushing yards. RB Cadillac Williams is averaging 56 yards a game right now, so this isn’t impossible.

With the run stopped, the Bucs will have to turn to Bruce Gradkowski to try to win the game for them. This is the situation in which All-Pro free agent Ken Lucas (if he plays; he’s questionable) and first-round draft pick Chris Gamble have to earn their money: They’ve got to perform well in single coverage so that a linebacker or safety can blitz on almost every pass play (or Richard Marshall must step up so that Lucas or Gamble can blitz).

With the ball, the Panthers must control the ball. If Deshaun Foster can’t move the pile and move the chains, give it to someone who can. DeAngelo Williams isn’t on the injury report anymore, so expect him to get some carries tonight and don’t be surprised if he winds up the starter by game’s end.

The O-line must be at its best. The current lineup, in its first week in the first Tampa Bay game, gave up three sacks, two of which caused fumbles. That cannot happen tonight.

Jake Delhomme must make his reads quickly or throw the ball away.

And Steve Smith and Keyshawn Johnson simply cannot drop any more passes.

It’s the ninth game of the season, but the season itself is on the line. So I’m not looking past tonight. But tonight? I don’t often make predictions, but I think the Panthers understand the situation. And I think they will win by 10.

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