First, the good news: Hooper finally scored a goal today in a real game. And he did it with authority. He got passed the ball while all alone out on the right wing, a good 20+ feet from the goal. The keeper edged over toward him, and he unleashed one about two inches over the grass that found the far back corner of the net like it had eyes.
So V., Hooper and I had milkshakes to celebrate.
The bad news: The Panthers are done. If your offense can’t score but one TD against the worst rushing defense in the NFL, you are in bad, bad shape. And this is the easy part of the 2009 schedule. After Arizona next week, the Panthers start playing real teams again, and they were going to have to be 4-3 at that point to have a shot at a playoff spot the way New Orleans is playing. Now they’re 2-4.
So what are the problems?
Well, they certainly start with Jake Delhomme. Thirteen interceptions in six games is a killer. Neither of today’s was run back for a TD, but they gave the Bills a short field with which to work. Carolina had 20 first downs to Buffalo’s 9 and 425 yars of total offense to 167 for Buffalo, but when you start on your opponent’s 12, how good does your offense have to be?
But the problems do not end with Delhomme. For one thing, we’ve known since at least 2005 that pretty much every opponent will double-team Steve Smith pretty much all the time. And yet in the intervening years, the Panthers have never found another receiver who could make opponents pay for that double-team. The announcers said today that the Panthers’ O-line is better at run-blocking than at pass-blocking; that’s both true and unimportant. What’s important is that NO line can protect a QB forever when the receivers are covered. And no Panther besides Smith has demonstrated a consistent ability to get free.
Special teams also are killing us. Kenneth Moore’s muffed punt was just today’s most horrendous example. The team does not have a capable returner, and its coverage of kickoff and punt returns is lame. Coach John Fox pays attention to field position for a reason. And while I don’t mean to criticize John Kasay personally, I do have to ask: When was the last time Kasay missed two field goals from inside 45 yards in the same game?
This game will end up being the one for John Fox that the ’98 game in which Kerry Collins took himself out was for Dom Capers: the last straw for Jerry Richardson. John Fox is gone. And as nice as it would be to think that Delhomme would be gone with him, the fact is that the Panthers have no 1st-round pick in 2010 and, at least as of now, very little room under the salary cap to go after a quality free-agent QB, should one even be available. So we could be stuck with Jake for at least another year.