Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, November 17, 2019 7:01 pm

Falcons 29, Panthers 3, and, gawd, what an awful game

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 7:01 pm
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Hooper and I went to Charlotte for the game, and I am heartily sorry that we did. I said it at the beginning of the season and I will say it again: The Panthers are not a good football team. Worse, after some progress, they are regressing.

This team’s chances have depended all year on the performance of QB1, and this is what I saw from the stands: Kyle Allen’s performance today was miserable, with four picks, three of them in the end zone; five sacks; and 11 QB hits. The passing game was a triple whammy: Receivers weren’t getting separation, the O-line wasn’t giving Allen time, and Allen was making some bad choices and bad throws. Even one of his attempts to just throw the ball away turned into an interception. Sure, he ended up with 300-plus passing yards, but much of that came during garbage time.

One remarkably unsuccessful passing attempt for a TD came on what looked like a busted play, when Allen throw the ball into coverage rather than simply running in from about the 12 when he had a wide-open lane in front of him. I have suspected for some time, and I am not the only one who suspects this, that Allen is being coached not to run because Panthers coaches know that if he gets hurt, Will Grier is their only other option and that Grier is not an NFL-caliber quarterback. At halftime, I thought seriously about starting a “KAEP-ER-NICK!” chant, and some people sitting around us said they thought it wouldn’t have been a bad idea.

The defense actually had a decent day, limiting the Falcons to 3 points total in their first three possessions, which started at the Panthers’ 25, the Panthers’ 28, and the 50. It held the Falcons to 54 rush yards on the day. But the Falcons’ Matt Ryan threw for 311 yards, 143 and a score to Calvin Ridley and 91 more to Julio Jones. And there were times when Luke Kuechly’s own defense seemed to be confusing and confounding him.

I will take a moment to congratulate Christian McCaffrey, who combined 14 carries for 70 yards with 11 catches for 121 yards, making him, if I understood the PA announcer correctly, the fastest player ever to 1,000 rush yards and 500 receiving yards in a season. UPDATE: Per ESPN, McCaffrey now has 246 career receptions, the most recorded by any running back in his first three seasons, breaking the record of 238 held by Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson. He also has 2,592 rush yards and 2,035 receiving yards in his career, joining Herschel Walker as the only NFL player to top 2,500 rush yards and 2,000 receiving yards in his first three seasons.

That said, while the Panthers faithful continue to chant “MVP!” at him, realistically, with the years people like Russell Wilson and Lamar Jackson are having, McCaffrey needs about 10 more TDs and/or for the Panthers to finish 11-5 with a playoff spot to even have a chance. One thing is clear: Despite all he does, he cannot, himself, carry this team to the playoffs.

Right now, the Panthers are 3 games behind the Seahawks and 2 1/2 games behind the Vikings in the race for an NFC wild card spot. They could still make the playoffs, but they have another game against the Falcons, two against the division-leading Saints, and games against the Redskins, Colts and Seahawks. Of those six, only the Washington game looks definitely winnable — but at 2-7 going in today, the Falcons looked beatable, too.

The NFL’s cosmically complicated playoff formula says otherwise, but realistically, the Panthers have lost all they can lose now without forfeiting a playoff spot. Players — and coaches — now need to be playing for their jobs, because I sense a big housecleaning coming after this season. And after what I saw today, I would welcome it.

Sunday, October 27, 2019 7:57 pm

And the Panthers come crashing to Earth

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 7:57 pm
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I didn’t watch the Panthers-49ers game. (Traveling.) But I didn’t have to. ESPN score updates and brief snatches on the radio told the story: In losing to the 49ers 51-13, the Panthers show that they are a bad team.

Kyle Allen’s 4-0 winning streak and low number of interceptions had a lot of people thinking he was the QB1 of the future, and for salary-cap reasons, he might yet be. (The Panthers would have only $19 million in dead money if they don’t renew Cam Newton’s contract after next season, and the Panthers would have to sign him to an expensive, long-term contract if they want to keep him.)

But good QBs don’t go 19 of 37 for 158 yards, no TDs and three picks.

Good teams don’t allow the opponent’s RB1 to run for three TDs and catch a fourth, especially when the opponent’s starting offensive tackles and fullback all are out with injuries. The Panthers rank 27th in the league in rush defense and have given up a league-worst 12 rushing TDs.

Good teams might lose to a team as good as the 7-0 49ers, but they don’t lose by 38 points.

Christian McCaffrey had a 40-yard TD run and 117 rushing yards on the day. But he cannot carry this team. The O-line cannot continue to give up seven sacks in a game no matter who’s lined up behind center.

One thing was made obvious today: The Panthers’ best chance to win is with a healthy Cam Newton under center. But the last time he was healthy any length of time was four years ago. And the defense, whether in 3-4 or 4-3, simply cannot stop the run.

This team has serious problems. Of the four teams they have beaten, only one, Houston is any good.  And this was a team supposedly built to win the Super Bowl this year.

Head Coach Ron Rivera is going to have to fix problems on both sides of the ball, particularly the O-line — he said after the game, “Problems will be addressed,” but he always says that after a loss — and pray for Newton’s prompt return. Otherwise, he’s gone after this season and he won’t be the only one.

 

 

Monday, September 23, 2019 10:07 pm

Panthers 38, Cardinals 20

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 10:07 pm
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I think my 21-year-old daughter said it best: “This game is just showing us how LONG Cam (Newton) has been hurt.” And you know what? She’s right.

In hindsight, it appears that Newton hasn’t been fully healthy since the 2015 season. Because, while the Arizona Cardinals defense is no better than mediocre, a healthy Kyle Allen was able to execute Norv Turner’s offense – and not a baby version, but much of the real deal – in such a way that the offense racked up points the way it had been expected to but had not done so far this season.

Tight end Gregg Olsen, coming off two straight seasons with foot injuries and a bad back last week, caught six passes for 75 yards and two TDs. RB Christian McCaffrey ran for 153 years, including a 75-yard TD run, the longest such from scrimmage in Panthers’ history. And WR Curtis Samuel showed signs that he’s going to have the breakout year Panthers fans had hoped for, catching five of seven targets for 53 yards. Those catches included a TD in the back right corner of the end zone and a first-down catch on the sideline at the Cardinals’ 2.

The Panthers’ O-line play was significantly better than it had been in the first two games on both run and pass plays. And the defensive front seven, supposedly the best in the league, finally showed it, sacking Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray eight times. Murray was held to 173 passing yards. The Panthers’ run D still looked questionable, giving up 121 yards, but it didn’t look nearly as bad as in Weeks 1 and 2.

I wrote earlier that I didn’t believe the Panthers’ QB2 was on the roster yet. I’m not ready to abandon that position completely. But Kyle Allen went out, executed the plan, and racked up 38 points with a wide variety of offensive teammates. I’m happy to give him that. Now let’s see how he does in his next start at Houston.

 

 

Sunday, September 8, 2019 5:45 pm

Rams 30, Panthers 27

This game was nowhere near as close as the score indicates. It was a winnable game that the Panthers gave away.

Christian McCaffrey ran 19 times for 128 yards and 2 TDs. Credit is due both to him and the greatly improved run-blocking of the O-line. He also had 10 catches on 11 targets for 81 yards.

But after a great-looking opening drive that was strangled by a lost D.J. Moore fumble in the red zone, the passing game never really got going. Cam Newton finished just 25 of 38 for 239 yards, no TDs and two turnovers, a pick and a lost fumble. He completed only four of nine targets to the guy who’s normally his favorite target, tight end Gregg Olsen, throwing off his back foot and over Olsen’s head twice on consecutive plays. The O-line allowed three sacks against a Rams D that didn’t blitz much.

As for the Panthers’ D, after the team finished 28th in sacks in 2018, the much ballyhooed, remade front seven had zero sacks and only three tackles for loss. (Corner James Bradberry had the fourth, to go with a pick.) First-round edge rusher Brian Burns had one tackle for a loss, and although it was impressive, it was his only tackle of the game.

This team was built to win it all this year, but today’s game made clear that this not a Super Bowl team. It’s hard to say what the Bucs will do, but if the Falcons get their awful defense to be even a little better, the 2019 Panthers might not even be a wild-card team. And if they’re not, the reckoning that will follow, and the losses during rebuilding that will follow that, will be so ugly that this team might not make the playoffs again for another few years.

Saturday, April 27, 2019 7:33 pm

Hot take on the Panthers’ 2019 draft

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 7:33 pm
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GM Marty Hurney abandoned his usual best-player-available approach to fill specific needs — because if this year’s team doesn’t go deep into the playoffs, he, head coach Ron Rivera, and a number of other coaches will be out on the street.

If you had any doubt that the Panthers will be playing more 3-4 defensive sets in 2019 than they have since 1997, you need only look at their first- and fourth-round picks: LB/DE Brian Burns from Florida State and LB/DE Christian Miller from Alabama. They come from the SEC and the ACC, probably the two fastest conference in the nation. Carolina had to improve its edge rushing after an abysmal 2018 and the retirement of future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers, and they may well have done it here. That’s important because the Panthers’ defense is predicated on both stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback, reducing strain on their secondary, which, historically, has not been the best part of their D. (And more on that in a minute.)

Another big need for the Panthers was an O-line that can keep Cam Newton healthy — the team, which started strong in 2018, finished 1-7 after Newton was injured in the Pittsburgh game. Second-round pick Greg Little, a tackle from Ole Miss, certainly understands the high expectations the franchise has for him, telling fans bluntly, “I’m going to keep Cam safe.” With the re-signing of former Pro Bowl right tackle Daryl Williams, who returns from an injury-truncated 2018 at right tackle, the Panthers’ tackles appear secure, with third-year man Taylor Moton available to step in at either position if Little or Williams goes down.

The third-round pick addressed the team’s desire to 1) improve the quality of depth behind Cam Newton if QB1 does get injured, and 2) begin exploring options for a quarterback of the future with Cam on the cusp of turning 30. They turned to Davidson Day School product Will Grier from West Virginia, who will be competing against Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen. (The latter played a great game in 2018 in his only appearance but was injured and didn’t finish.) The team insists that Newton remains QB1 for the foreseeable future, and I see no reason to doubt that.

I confess that the Panthers’ fifth-round pick, RB Jordan Scarlett from Florida, puzzles me: I’m not at all sure that he’d be any improvement on Cameron Artis-Payen, currently RB2 behind Christian McCaffery. The Panthers also have Elijah Hood from North Carolina and Reggie Bonnafon from Louisville on the roster.

The sixth-round pick, OT Dennis Daley from South Carolina, appears to have been a depth pick. And as noted before, if either starting tackle goes down, Taylor Moton probably gets the call.

With their last pick in the seventh round, the Panthers drafted Georgia wideout Terry Godwin. Godwin does not have game-breaking stats, but he averaged 16.8 yards per catch his junior year, and, to prove it was no fluke, he averaged 16.7 yards per catch his senior year — more-than-respectable numbers.

The pick puzzles me only in this sense: I kept hearing analysts say the Panthers needed WRs, especially to replace Devin Funchess. But honestly? I’m not seeing it. DJ Moore, drafted in 2018, lived up to his yards-after-the-catch hype and, if not for injuries, likely would have been mentioned in rookie-of-the-year conversations. Jarius Wright provided not only experience but also a reliable possession receiver. Curtis Samuel blossomed in his second year in the league in 2018, particularly as a deep threat, and figures only to get better this year. Veteran Torrey Smith, another reliable wideout, returns as well. Do the Panthers have a wideout with Funchess’s specific skill set — height, jumping ability, bulk? No; at 6’2″, Andre Levrone is the tallest receiver on the roster. But Funchess was drafted in the hopes that he would be a Cris Carter receiver — “all he does is score touchdowns” — and he never became that. And, frankly, given the talent on the roster now, barring a rash of injuries, I think the Panthers are all set at this position.

Which brings me to a few positions they’re not set at.

Perennial Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil retired, and I had thought the Panthers might try to draft a center of the future. In point of fact, probably the best center available, N.C. State’s Garrett Bradbury, got picked up by the Vikings two slots after the Panthers drafted Brian Burns, and the Panthers simply had more pressing concerns. So Tyler Larson remains the presumptive starter, with Matt Paradis and Parker Collins also on the roster for now. Whether Larson can both lead the run game and protect Cam Newton from blitzes up the middle consistently remains to be seen.

In other news, a gaping hole remains at safety. Eric Reid is set, but who the other safety will be definitely remains to be seen — six other safeties currently occupy roster spots, including players who saw time last year like Cole Luke and Rashaan Gaulden, but it is entirely possible that the Week 1 starter isn’t yet on the roster. (Colin Jones, nominally a safety, is perennially a key special-teams player who likely wouldn’t be called on to start.)

And I had thought the team might try to address linebacker depth in the draft, given the retirement of Pro Bowler Thomas Davis. Not this year, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they snap up an LB or two among the team’s signings of undrafted free agents in the next day or two.

The experts gave the Panthers an “A” for their Day 1 and Day 2 draft (the first three picks). I’m not sure yet what grade they’ll give the team for Day 3 and overall. On paper, at least, it looks as if the team addressed some pressing needs, as it had to.

My concern goes beyond that. As a Panther fan from the beginning, I know that this team’s successes rise and fall with the quality and consistency of its O-line. We added what appear to be quality parts, but a lot of questions remain: Will Daryl Williams return from injury at or close to his former Pro Bowl performance level? Will Greg Little be able to keep his promise to keep Cam Newton safe? Can guard Trai Turner continue to perform at a high level — and who will be the other starting guard? And can Tyler Larson at center shoulder Ryan Kalil’s mantle, leading runs up the middle and protecting Newton from defensive surges over his position?

If the answers to all or most of these questions are positive, the Panthers will be able to hang a lot of points on people. That might not translate to wins, but it’ll mean they’ll be both competitive and fun to watch.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers must, as always, 1) stop the run, and 2) pressure the quarterback. Adding two edge rushers appears likely to help with pressure, but the Panthers’ previous experience with the 3-4 in late 1996 and 1997 was that it couldn’t stop the run. Maybe, with younger talent, that will change. It had better.

And the Panthers’ secondary remains a question mark. CB1 James Bradberry remains a middle-of-the-pack cover corner and, arguably, a liability against the run. Corn Elder and Donte Jackson came on last year, but neither has yet shown the greatness needed to be a real NFL cover corner. And I’ve already talked about my concerns at safety.

In conclusion, the Panthers definitely helped themselves in the draft, but so did their divisional rivals. This team is going to have to work very hard, and be lucky to avoid many injuries, to achieve its short-term goals. And if it does not, it will face a massive rebuilding project in what likely would be the waning years of Cam Newton’s career. The stakes are always high in the NFL, but in the particular case of the Panthers, they might be higher this year than at any other time in the franchise’s history.

 

Sunday, December 30, 2018 6:44 pm

Another disappointing Panthers season. Again.

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 6:44 pm
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I was concerned enough about the Panthers, despite all the new offensive weapons and a new offensive coordinator who seemed to know how to use them, to predict that they’d go 8-8 or 9-7 and miss the playoffs.

Welp, they finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs, and it might have been 6-10 if the Saints, with home field clinched through the playoffs and nothing left to play for, hadn’t sat most of their starters.

What follows are areas of improvement. Except where noted, my suggestions do not take into account whose contracts are up or what effect my suggestions would have on the salary cap, so accompany them with the appropriate amount of salt.

Where to start? With the Panthers, the conversation always starts with Cam Newton. Newton looked good through nine weeks and was headed toward a career high in completion percentage, then took a hard throwing-shoulder hit in Week 10 against Pittsburgh that ended up hampering him badly for the rest of the season. In Week 15 at home against New Orleans on Monday Night Football, he ended up bouncing a pass four yards in front of a crossing receiver who was only about eight yards deep. That ended up being his last game of the season, but everyone in the stadium or watching on TV knew that he should have been pulled well before then. At this point, we don’t know whether he needs shoulder surgery or just rest. But his recovery will determine the Panthers’ offensive fortunes in 2019, and it’s not clear that the team has a Plan B. This year’s draft might be time for the team, who will have a relatively high pick, to find an heir apparent for QB1.

Now, then, the offensive line. It didn’t give up up a lot of sacks this season — slightly less than two per game — but that stat was misleading: Panthers QBs got hit hard and often. Cam Newton took a shot in the Steelers game in Week 10 that hampered him the rest of the season until he was finally benched before Week 16. Taylor Heinicke lasted one game before being knocked out, and then Kyle Allen got knocked out today, with Garrett Gilbert, who spent seven weeks out of the league this year, finishing the fourth quarter. If HE had been knocked out, the Panthers’ emergency quarterback would have been Christian McCaffrey, and ain’t nobody in Panther Nation would’ve been looking forward to exposing the franchise running back to that kind of damage.

Next year, former Pro Bowler Trai Turner returns at right guard and Darryl Williams presumably returns from his injury at right tackle. And when your RB1 goes for more than 1,000 yards rushing plus 800+ yards receiving, it’s hard to argue with the run-blocking. But the whole line needs to get better at pass-blocking, and the team must, repeat, MUST find a left tackle to protect Cam Newton at a level he hasn’t had since 2015.

At tight end, I love Gregg Olsen, and more importantly, so does Cam. He’s a Pro Bowler, so what’s not to love? But Olsen has missed significant playing time for two straight years now with foot problems, he cost $7.95 million against the cap in 2018, and he’s under contract for two more seasons. I’m not saying the team should let him go. But I am saying that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if we did: Rookie Ian Thomas has played well as a receiver no matter who was in at QB – he and Cam appeared to be developing a rapport comparable to that of Newton and Olsen – and I didn’t see him miss many blocks. If Olsen can no longer play, or doesn’t appear to be worth the risk given the cost, Thomas could step in.

More stuff, and more encouraging stuff, about the offense later.

On defense, the Panthers historically have prided themselves on a run-stuffing line that gets a lot of pressure on opposing QBs. DT Kawann Short, who signed a big new contract in 2017, cost a whopping $17 million in 2018 but didn’t play up to that level, just getting three sacks and 12 tackles-for-loss. 2016 first-round draft pick Vernon Butler not only isn’t starting at DT, he ended up being a healthy scratch a few times this year. So while he has two more years left on his contract (plus an option year), I wouldn’t be surprised to see him gone. The other current starter at DT, Dontari Poe, has never had more than 4.5 sacks or five tackles for loss in any year (both in 2013). He was signed before the 2018 season to a three-year contract, a move that likely will get some front-office scrutiny this winter.

At defensive end, future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers just completed his 17th season. No one would blame him for wanting to retire. But some folks in Panthers Nation might be quietly hoping for it. He’s still incredibly athletic, but he has lost a step, which is a problem across this defense. He had four sacks, down from 11 in 2017. An honorable retirement, with a celebration of his remarkable career and contributions to the franchise, strikes me as the best option all around.

At the other end, Mario Addison had a decent year with eight sacks. He’s 31 and will be in a contract year in 2019, so he’s likely to be highly motivated to perform well again.

One disappointment: DE Efe Obada, the Nigerian native assigned to the Panthers by the league’s International Player Pathway program. He stuck with a 52-man roster this year for the first time since entering the league in 2015, but after a promising early start, he faded. His is a feel-good story, but as much as the Panthers rotate DEs, he needs to be more productive.

At linebacker, Luke Kuechly remains arguably the best in the league in the middle. Thomas Davis was supposed to make this his last year, although he reportedly was reconsidering after missing the first four games of the season on a PED suspension. TD has been a huge part of this team for a long team, but he has lost a step in pass coverage, and it showed clearly this season. Like Peppers, I think he should enjoy an honorable retirement and allow youth to be served. At the other end, Shaq Thompson has played well in spurts, although as much time as the D spent in nickel coverage, it has been hard to tell.

Speaking of nickel, Captain Munnerlyn has been involved in many big games in Charlotte, but, like Davis, he has lost a step and gave up some big plays this year. He needs to be replaced.

At corner, Donte Jackson shows signs of becoming the cover ace that James Bradberry was supposed to be but hasn’t been. Bradberry, whom a lot of observers were surprised to see go as high as the second round of the 2016 draft, simply hasn’t been dependable: He has five interceptions in three years and had only one in 2018. He’s in a contract year in 2019, but with Jackson showing signs of solidity, I don’t know that cutting Bradberry and drafting his successor might not be a bad idea.

At safety, Eric Reid has said he’d like to return in 2019, and he has made a case with 47 tackles, a sack and a pick in 12 games. But Mike Adams, God bless him, is past his sell-buy date after 15 years in the league, and I think Rashaan Gaulden and some new blood all need to compete with Reid and let the cream rise to the top. (Colin Jones, nominally a safety, is a mainstay on special teams and is near-certain to return in that role.)

Overall, the big news on this Panthers defense in 2018 was that coordinator Eric Washington, who had moved up through the team’s coaching ranks, proved inadequate in his new role. Head coach Ron Rivera, a former DC himself, took over the team’s defensive play calling late in the season and fired two defensive assistants. It remains to be seen whether Rivera will call the signals again in 2019 or whether the team will hire a new coordinator. At all three levels, the defense needs an injection of speed, which will be necessary for the essential task of cutting the number of big plays it gives up.

Special teams had an OK year. Punter Michael Palardi averaged in the middle of the pack in both gross and net punt yardage, a shade over 45 yards per punt with a long of 59 and about 40% of his punts inside the opponents’ 20.

Place kicker Graham Gano injured his knee late in the year, by which time he had made 14 of 16 field-goal attempts with a long of 63, one short of the league record. Assuming the injury is no worse than has been announced to date, he’ll still be the kicker in 2019, although the team might bring one or two others into camp to challenge him and for a look-see.

The return game is an area in which the Panthers could step up. Kenjon Barner didn’t scare anyone, and there are several faster players on this team. WR DJ Moore took a punt in today’s final game, and that might be something to look into doing more of in 2019.

Now, back to the offense: If all the starters are healthy and the Panthers can fix the O-line problems in the offseason, the 2019 Panthers offense should be near the top of the league in offensive production. With a Pro Bowl quarterback in Newton, outstanding receivers in DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel and slot man Jarius Wright (Devin Funchess, whose contract is up, is going to want WR1 money and likely will be leaving the team), a reliable weapon at TE in either Greg Olsen or Ian Thomas, and an all-purpose threat in RB Christian McCaffrey — and an offensive coordinator in Norv Turner who seems to know how to use all these weapons — the Panthers ought to be hanging 30+ points a game on opponents. Much less, assuming a decent O-line, could only be considered a disappointment. As for defense, it needs fixes from coordinator on down, and it must get faster at all three levels.

If all these things happen, the Panthers should be highly competitive. But seldom has the team done everything it has needed to do in the off-season, and that’s one big reason why the franchise has never had consecutive winning seasons. And Marty Hurney’s history as general manager does not inspire confidence. It’s bad enough that this team didn’t win; aggravating the problem by getting the team into another salary-cap hole would ensure mediocrity for years to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, December 2, 2018 4:44 pm

Bucs 24, Panthers 17

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 4:44 pm
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Here’s what we know about this Panthers team after today’s game: This team, as I said after the Pittsbugh game, is objectively awful.

The O-line, which I had serious concerns about when the season started, is an outright  dumpster fire; at least two of Newton’s four interceptions today were caused by protection failures.

The D-line has been so bad at stopping or slowing the run that it has made the league’s best linebacking corps look mediocre.

The secondary continues to give up yardage in big chunks.

Cam was Bad Cam again today, although both my daughter and I independently decided that he might be playing with a lot of shoulder pain. Putting Heinike in for the Hail Mary does nothing to alleviate this suspicion.

This season, which started off so promising, may well end up being just another mediocre Panthers 7-9 season. And there’s a nontrivial chance that the Panthers will lose out to finish 6-10.

I know that defensive coordinator Eric Washington is one of Rivera’s guys and that Rivera is very loyal to his guys, but the fact that Rivera took over the defensive play calling is all you need to know: Washington needs to go, now.

But what else needs to happen?

Norv Turner’s offense has shown encouraging flashes of brilliance. But since the Pittsburgh game, it has largely underperformed. Given the level of talent, the number of weapons in this offense, it should have been scoring close to 30 points per game. It has come close only once, vs. Seattle. On the one hand, I think Turner should have another year to prove his system can score. On the other, this might finally be the year Rivera goes, and I imagine that owner David Tepper would want to let his new head coach pick his own coordinators.

This year is a washout, and this team has a major rebuilding task ahead in the offseason. Marty Hurney has had a good eye for first-round picks, but history suggests that a major rebuilding initiative is simply beyond him — his later-round picks will be busts and he will get the team back into salary-cap trouble. We’ve had some wild turnover in this spot, but it might be time for a clean slate all the way around.

 

Sunday, January 1, 2017 7:43 pm

Panthers: We can’t wait ’til next year

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 7:43 pm
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The Carolina Panthers lost their last game of the season today to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 17-16, when a 2-point conversion attempt failed. Thus, they follow up their 15-2 Super Bowl campaign in 2015 with a 6-10 year in 2016.

The Panthers stunk up the field for much of today’s game, but still played well enough, particularly on defense, to win. But kicker Graham Gano, reportedly nursing an injury to the heel of his left (plant) foot, missed three field-goal attempts. One was a 58-yarder, but even one of the other two would’ve won the game.

Gano’s field-goal accuracy has been an issue since before he was a Panther; he missed 10 in two different seasons with Washington. His misses this year cost the team at least three games, including the crucial season opener at Denver. He still gets a lot of touchbacks on kickoffs, but I think the team would be nuts not to bring some other kickers into training camp.

There are a lot of other reasons why the Panthers’ season went as badly as it did, but I think it starts with general manager Dave Gettleman’s failure to sign or franchise cornerback Josh Norman, who ended up signing with Washington. With corner Charles “Peanut” Tillman’s retirement, the Panthers were left with rookies starting at both corners and only one returnee, safety Kurt Coleman, in the secondary. (Bene Benwikere got so badly burned by Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones after the teams’ first meeting that the Panthers cut him.) Not surprisingly, although the rookies came on toward the end of the season, the Panthers’ pass defense had become the league’s worst heading into Week 17.

The Panthers started the season with perhaps the league’s best linebacking corps, with all-pros Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis and promising sophomore Shaq Thompson. But Kuechly was lost to a concussion, and his normally capable backup, A.J. Klein, underperformed before also being hurt. The team’s run defense and blitzing capability suffered dramatically as a result; the run defense plunged into the bottom third of the league.

Gettleman also must accept blame for the collapse of the offensive line, whose weaknesses were exposed in the Panthers’ Super Bowl 50 loss to the Denver Broncos. He did nothing to strengthen the line in the off-season, and his failure to address its lack of depth was exposed when LT Michael Oher, C Ryan Kalil, and Kalil’s backup, Gino Gradkowski, all were injured. Mike Remmers, who wasn’t even adequate at RT, became a major liability when moved to plug Oher’s hole.

The line couldn’t run-block, which hampered aging RB Jonathan Stewart and exposed the shortcomings of RBs Fozzy Whittaker and Cameron Artis-Payne, and it couldn’t protect QB Cam Newton, who too often found his pocket collapsing right under his chin.

A big part of the blame also goes to Newton, the 2015 league MVP, who took several giant steps backward in 2016. He’s as physically gifted as ever, but 2016 Cam exhibited many of the mental errors of 1997-98 Kerry Collins: Locking in on receivers, appearing to forget his reads, improper footwork. He has got to get his head back into the game. Head coach Ron Rivera has said that he wants Newton to become a more traditional drop-back passer so as to be able to play another 10 or more years in the league. That transition will require Newton to become a more focused player than he was in 2016. It also will require him to spend the off-season going over video and drilling; he needs to relearn how to play his position and not rely on his instincts, which served him poorly this year.

But just as Newton’s offensive line served him poorly this year, so did his wide receivers. Kelvin Benjamin and Devon Funchess, who have size and height advantages over most of their defenders, have struggled to achieve separation. Given their physical gifts, that’s on them. And Benjamin, Funchess and Ted Ginn must reduce the drops.

What do the Panthers face in the offseason? Star DT Kawann Short, a Pro Bowl player in 2015, will be a free agent after the season, as will the team’s sack leader, DE Mario Addison; DE Charles Johnson; and WR Ginn, who hasn’t performed well anywhere but Carolina but has excelled as a Panther. Re-signing Short is critical. Johnson is aging and might be a necessary cut to create salary-cap space. And it might be time to let Ginn go in favor of WR/PR Damiere Byrd.

What are the Panthers’ greatest needs? I would argue that the O-line, particularly LT, is the top priority. I’ve watched this franchise since its inception, and its rare years of success have coincided with solid, consistent O-lines. Strength and depth at OT, I would argue, is essential.

Next? Running back. Stewart will be 30 and in his 10th year in the league in 2017, and he has been injury-prone in the past. Neither Whittaker nor Artis-Payne has shown that he can be an every-down back. And FB Mike Tolbert aside, there are no other RBs on the roster.

On defense, the team must decide if corners James Bradberry and Darryl Worley are the future. It’s a tough position to learn, and I would argue that a proven CB is essential in the near term.

I would argue that those positions must be addressed, or mostly addressed, in free agency (thus the title of this post). Doing so leaves the team free to utilize its preferred draft strategy of picking the best player available irrespective of position. Gettleman has an almost perverse appetite for defensive linemen in the draft, but if he gets Short signed and can find one more DL in free agency, he can draft for depth, if at all, at that position.

The bottom line for the 2017 Panthers, though, is that some people already on the roster — QB Newton, the WRs, and the corners — are going to have to take it on themselves to get significantly better if the team is to have a chance to get back to being a Super Bowl contender. They have the talent; the question is whether they have the desire.

Monday, February 9, 2015 8:01 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 9

So because I think Binyamin Netanyahu is a sociopath who has led Israel down a dangerously self-destructive path and who (as is true of any other head of state) has no business addressing our government without an invitation from the head of that government, Joe “Ratings Lower Than Whale Poop in the Marianas Trench at High Tide” Scarborough thinks I’m anti-Semitic. Fortunately, Dave Winer, the Godfather of Blogging, has a response: “Let me jewsplain that for you: chuck is a goy schmuck asshole schmeggegey nazi idiot dick.”

Some people just don’t have the temperament to be lawyers. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, not for the first time, is demonstrating that he is one of those people, ordering officials in that state to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s 7-2 legalization of same-sex marriage there. Coming into today, Alabama was 0-2 in nullification contests, and it began losing again today not long after county offices opened for business. Sorry, Roy. And screw you with a fence post, bigot.

“[I]f memory for events is strengthened at emotional times, why does everyone forget what they were doing when the Challenger exploded?” Memory is damned tricky. And our criminal justice system, for good or ill, needs to take better stock of its shortcomings.

A month or so ago I had to give New York Times op-ed pecksniff Ross Douthat credit for being right about the Charlie Hebdo incident. Now, I must give New York Times op-ed pecksniff David Brooks credit for being right about President Obama’s National Prayer Breakfast comments. Verily, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are coming up the driveway and here I am all out of hay.

If Mike Freaking Huckabee blows that dog whistle any louder, he’s gonna owe me for some new windows.

So, Godwin’s Law with respect to privatization? Totally bogus:

They say that the first person in any political argument who stoops to invoking Nazi Germany automatically loses. But you can look it up: According to a 2006 article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, the English word “privatization” derives from a coinage, Reprivatisierung, formulated in the 1930s to describe the Third Reich’s policy of winning businessmen’s loyalty by handing over state property to them.

(Seriously. I had no idea.)

There might be a case for not publishing some of the Charlie Hebdo images, but outgoing NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos utterly fails to make it.

Oregon’s governor, John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, has a fiancee. His fiancee has advised the governor on some of the same energy issues on which she works as a paid consultant for private interests, and there’s roughly zero chance Kitzhaber was unaware of this major conflict of interest. I imagine there are roughly 4 million Oregonians who don’t give a damn what I think, but I think Kitzhaber should resign. I imagine a district attorney and a U.S. attorney there also don’t give a damn what I think, but I also think Kitzhaber should go to prison.

WRAL-TV catches Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam lying about Medicaid. Stop the presses.

A former chairman of the state’s Mining and Energy Commission, Jim Womackgets all butthurt over the fact that a Lee County coffee-shop owner doesn’t want Duke Energy’s coal ash dumped in her back yard. Because Womack was having trouble understanding the owner’s position, I wish she’d’ve spooned some coal ash into his coffee.

I was wrong; Carolina Panther Greg Hardy won’t be convicted on domestic-assault charges in a jury trial after all. The complainant has skipped town amid rumors of a civil settlement. I stand by my prediction, however, that Hardy has played his last game as a Panther.

Here in Greensboro, a patron at New Orleans Bar & Grille on Big Tree Way was unsatisfied with his steak Saturday night and started filming a review, when restaurant employees not only interrupted but also stole their phones. My wife’s from Louisiana, but it’ll be a cold day in hell before we set foot in that place. This deserves to go viral so hard that not even the owners’ grandchildren’s grandchildren will ever be able to try to start a business here. And the restaurant employees need to go to prison.

Let it never be said I’m not tough on crime. Y’all have a good evening.

 

Sunday, February 8, 2015 10:30 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 8

A Fox News guest, Jonathan Hoenig, tells viewers Saturday that mandatory vaccinations will lead to forced abortions. Host Eric Bolling says nothing (of course), leaving it to guest Nomiki Konst to say, “Oh, my God,” and inform Hoenig that 48 of 50 states mandate vaccinations for schoolchildren.

The biggest American labor strike in 34 years is widening. The United Steel Workers are striking, and their membership includes the work forces at some oil refineries, so this could hit you right smack in the wallet. What’s that, you say? First you’re hearing about it? Well, go figure; it’s labor news. Charlie Pierce offered some perspective a few days ago.

As Andrew “objectively pro-terrorist” Sullivan rides off into the blogging sunset to, sadly, sickening and near-universal applause, Driftglass does us all a favor by recalling for us a far worthier blogger who didn’t retire but died … and who never got his due.

I’ve little to say about the passing of Dean Smith, but only because you’ll find much more and much better stuff if you go look for it. While I think it’s all but certain that he either knew or should have known about the academic shenanigans that apparently were taking off as his career neared its end, his stand for integration at a time when his job might not have been the only thing at stake will secure his reputation.

Just my opinion, so no link, but: No way do the Carolina Panthers re-sign Greg Hardy, even if a jury exonerates him (which I also don’t think will happen). Someone will sign him, but not the Panthers. Their front office has moved on, and fans should, too.

RIP Joe B. Mauldin, bassist for Buddy Holly’s band, The Crickets. (h/t: Fred)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014 9:39 pm

“Ice up. And mow my lawn.” — Steve Smith

Filed under: Panthers,That's gonna leave a mark — Lex @ 9:39 pm
Tags: ,

Well, that’s not the exact quote, but it captures the spirit. Steve Smith, a well-known trash talker when he played for the Carolina Panthers, had to have something to say when his new team played the one that cast him off, and it finally has surfaced:

youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3BfM4etR50

For the few people who don’t follow the Panthers, Smith torched them last Sunday for 100+ yards and two TDs.

As a Panthers fan, I don’t blame him. Yeah, ex-general manager Marty Hurney created a huge salary cap problem for the Panthers, but Smith hasn’t struck me as a guy who’s completely all about the money. I think he’d have taken a below-market contract to stay in Charlotte.

The problem, as I read between the lines, is that Steve Smith was the locker-room leader that Panthers management didn’t want. They wanted the Panthers to be quarterback Cam Newton’s team, and I get that. But you need to think hard before throwing out a combination of skill and leadership, and it is becoming increasingly clear in hindsight that the Panthers, and in particular general manager Dave Gettleman, didn’t think hard enough. A quarter of the way through the season, Smith is on pace for more than 1,700 receiving yards, which would put him in about the Top 5 in single-season NFL receiving leaders … ever. And this is a guy who was thought too old to play the game at a high level again.

So, yeah, maybe Gettleman or team owner Jerry Richardson should mow Smith’s lawn. He sure mowed the Panthers down last Sunday.

 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014 7:56 am

Sweat it to get it

Filed under: Fun,Panthers — Lex @ 7:56 am
Tags: , , , ,

I’m not a fan of commercials in general, but as a Panther fan, this Gatorade ad featuring Cam Newton had me chuckling.

Thursday, December 27, 2012 1:02 pm

How the NFL just got on my sh*t list; or, America: NOT a meritocracy

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 1:02 pm
Tags: , ,

I understand that the Panthers are 6-9, already mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and now playing only for pride. I get that. (Indeed, if you don’t know me, you may have no idea just how painfully I get it.)

But among the team’s few bright spots this year has been Luke Kuechly, this year’s first-round draft pick. Projected as an outside linebacker, he began playing in the middle — the spot he played in college — after an early, season-ending injury to starter Jon Beason.

And all he has done in that spot is lead the league in tackles.

Players are chosen to the Pro Bowl by fans, coaches and players themselves, each group’s votes counting an equal amount. I can understand the fans being ignorant of who, exactly, is leading the league in tackles. I can even understand fans being “homers,” people who vote only for players on their home team. And, of course, I understand that the Charlotte market is nowhere near as big as the New York or Washington or Boston or Houston or Dallas markets. But coaches are going to know the stats for sure, and the players probably will as well. So: really? Really? The guy who leads the league in tackles doesn’t get to the Pro Bowl?

Someone please explain this to me: How does a guy who leads the league in tackles not make it to the Pro Bowl?

Just to put this in perspective, absent serious off-field problems, would any guy who led the league in TD passes, rushing yards, receiving yards or field goals NOT be named to the Pro Bowl?

Yeah. I thought not.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012 7:07 pm

Should Randy Moss become a Panther?

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 7:07 pm
Tags: , ,

Tom Sorensen at the Charlotte O makes an interesting, but by no means compelling, case.

The upside is that at his best, Moss has been among the best WRs  ever to play his position, and the Panthers’ need for a receiver who can stretch the field the way Steve Smith does AND take double-teams off Smith could be a boon for the offense and a blessing for Cam Newton.

The downside, though, is formidable. Moss is 35 and didn’t play in 2011. His performance in 2010 was subpar. He has a history of off-field problems and fomenting locker-room discontent. The Panthers think WR Brandon LaFell may be about to blossom, and they have WR David Gettis coming back from injury, and they have WR Legedu Naanee, who performed well in 2011 but whose contract is up. They’ve also got the best pair of tight ends in the league in Greg Olson and Jeremy Shockey, although Shockey, too, is aging and will need a new contract. And the contracts matter, because the team has damned little wiggle room under the salary cap.

The Panthers have a history of overpaying past-their-prime superstars (**cough ReggieWhite cough**), true. But that history is mostly in the last century. In this one, the past-their-prime stars have been people like Stephen Davis and Jeremy Shockey, big upgrades at their position. Even Keyshawn Johnson wasn’t awful, just mediocre. And although owner Jerry Richardson shied away from problem children after the Rae Carruth disaster, his measured gambles on Cam Newton and Shockey have come up big. (That said, although I was skeptical of Newton’s ability to play in the NFL, I generally thought his father was a much bigger off-field problem than he  himself was.)

My guess is that the salary cap alone means this won’t happen; Moss is nowhere near enough of a sure thing to make the Panthers go through the hassle of restructuring several other players’ contracts. They’ll be doing enough of that anyway, plus cutting or not re-signing some good people, as it is.

But if it were up to me, and in the absence of any better affordable options in the draft or free-agent market, I might do what Sorensen suggests: Bring Moss in for an interview, and if Moss can convince me that he’s going to give me body and soul on every down he plays and keep his behavior between the white lines in the locker room and after hours, offer him a one-year contract heavily weighted toward back-end incentives on both health and performance, some of them unlikely enough not to count against the salary cap. If he takes it, great. If he doesn’t, no hard feelings. If he takes it and underperforms, you’re not out a ton of money, and if he takes it and greatly exceeds expectations, he’ll be worth the money without being a huge hit against the cap.

Cam Newton needs weapons. If — and that’s a big if — the Randy Moss of old returned for even a single season, the fireworks those two would create could light the division’s entire geographic footprint.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011 12:25 am

Yes, we Cam

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 12:25 am
Tags: ,

Was curious about whether Cam Newton really got snubbed for the Pro Bowl, so I checked NFL.COM stats. I learned that through Week 16, his NFC ranking was:

– 9th in QB rating (which factors in a lot of affirmative stats as well as how well you avoid mistakes)
– 10th in completion percentage
– 7th in passing yards
– 7th in passing touchdowns

So, no, I don’t think you can say he was snubbed.

However, he did accomplish some remarkable things. In addition to the NFL record for rushing touchdowns by a QB and passing yards by a rookie QB, he also ranks 20th overall, and 2nd among QBs behind Vick, in rushing yards per game, and 2nd overall in rushing TDs with 14.

One other interesting fact: In Newton, Williams and Stewart, the Panthers had three backs who each carried the ball 100+ times and averaged more than 5 yards per carry. If any other NFC team did that this year, I missed it. In fact, I may be wrong, but that might be a first in NFL history. Anyone know? That speaks not only to the talent of those backs but also to the hard work of the offensive line, only one of whose members, Ryan Kalil, is going to the Pro Bowl.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011 8:18 pm

Quote of the day

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 8:18 pm
Tags: , , ,

Emptywheel, in her new digs, on the pending settlement of the NFL lockout:

This is all proof, I guess, that Eric Cantor is a bigger [expletive] than even Jerry Jones.

Which I would have said violated the principles of simple Newtonian physics, but there we are: Football! Which is, of course, far from the same thing as the Panthers’ having a decent season, but at least the No. 1 overall draft pick is likely to be under contract when camp opens.

 

Thursday, April 28, 2011 6:11 pm

Screwed, blued and tattooed

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 6:11 pm

In a little while, the Carolina Panthers will do … something with the first pick in the 2011 NFL draft. And as Han Solo famously said, I’ve got a bad feeling about this.

I may not have any idea what the Panthers do at the time. My cable is screwed up. Cable guy is supposed to be coming to fix it between 7:30 and 8:30. If you’ve ever waited on a cable guy, you know how that movie is likely to end. I can get NFL Network on my phone, but that tends to work best over wi-fi, and if my Internet is interrupted by the cable repair, well, there goes that, too.

The Panthers had the league’s worst record in 2010 and one of the worst performances from the QB position in league history. So, in a vacuum, simple logic would dictate that they draft the best available QB and not lose any sleep.

But drafting NFL players, particularly quarterbacks, is not a subject that submits willingly to simple logic. There often is no discernible connection between a player’s performance at the college level (and, thus, how high he goes in the draft) and in the NFL, where all the players are bigger, stronger, smarter and, above all, faster. (Malcolm Gladwell, in an article that isn’t really about the NFL at all, discusses this subject in some detail here.) Future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, who has thrown for 261 TDs and almost 35,000 yards in a career that may last several more years, was drafted in the 6th of seven rounds in 2000.

Moreover, the best college QB of 2010, the only potential draft pick at the position considered anything close to a lock to succeed in the NFL, is Andrew Luck of Stanford, and he, a rising senior, opted not to turn pro early.

That leaves Auburn’s Cam Newton as the best of the rest, which isn’t saying much. He is much more of a question mark, performance-wise, than Luck and has potential character issues to boot. That’s a problem with any potential pick, but given the amount of money a No. 1 overall pick can command, it’s a huge problem for the Panthers. Even QBs who do well eventually in the NFL may suck at the start, meaning the Panthers may have to give Newton big money for five or six years but even under the best of circumstances get only three or four big years out of him before he hits the free-agent market.

So the Panthers, with needs in addition to quarterback and, like all teams, facing an uncertain financial future until the issues behind the current lockout are resolved, may have to tie up a lot of money in one player of unproven worth and unproven dedication for years to come. I’ve suggested before that trading down for more picks to fill more needs might even be the wisest use of the pick. I don’t actually believe that, but if I knew where my next starting QB was coming from, or were more confident that Jimmy Clausen can turn into something approaching a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback, I’d do it and not think twice.

In a perfect world, were I the Panthers’ GM, I might draft Newton but try to sign him to a backloaded contract heavy on incentives. Unfortunately, here in the real world, the market won’t let me do that with a No. 1 overall pick, and to the extent I have any sympathy at all for the owners in the lockout dispute, which isn’t much, that is why.

There’s an old saying in the NFL: Only three things can happen when you attempt a forward pass, and two of them are bad. But when you’re trailing late, it’s often your only option. Given last year’s record and the horrendous problems they have at QB, that’s pretty much where the Panthers seem to find themselves right now. The problem, of course, is that, like the Panthers late in so many of last year’s games, the Panthers brain trust seems to have no option tonight but to drop back, throw deep and hope for the best.

I’ve got to be home to let the cable guy in tonight. But under these circumstances, I’d much rather be watching the draft in a bar — and not just because my cable is out.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010 8:13 pm

Will everyone in Charlotte please leave in orderly fashion via the closest available exit?

Filed under: Fun,Panthers,Sad — Lex @ 8:13 pm
Tags: ,

Miami Herald:

“Panthers and orchids are sentinels,” Richardson said. “They are not guards; they are watchdogs of the environment. We should be watching them just as closely. When they decide to leave, we should too.’

Currently, the Panthers are last in the league in points and yards and next-to-last in passing yards. I think it’s pretty clear they’ve decided to leave.

Sunday, September 26, 2010 1:00 pm

What my Sundays will be like if the Panthers don’t start winning

Filed under: Fun,Panthers — Lex @ 1:00 pm
Tags: ,

Sunday, September 19, 2010 5:44 pm

By the jet exhausts’ red glare

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 5:44 pm
Tags:

Jet fighter flyover before Bucs-Panthers at Bank of America Stadium, 19 Sept 2010. I still get goosebumps during these things. Also, I forget her name, but the 11-year-old girl from Raleigh who did the national anthem was excellent.

Unfortunately for the Panthers and their fans, this was pretty much the high point of the afternoon.

Thursday, September 2, 2010 9:52 pm

The 2010 Panthers …

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 9:52 pm
Tags:

… are gonna suck eggs, if you believe the NFL’s stable of prognosticators. The best anyone predicts is 8-8 and 3rd in the conference, several say 6-10 and one says 5-11.

Me? I think a defense as good as the Panthers’ D has looked in the preseason will take you places. The big question mark was the D-line, and it has played well against the run and gotten a serious pass rush on. It sucks that MLB Jon Beason had to move outside to replace the injured Thomas Davis, but 1) Beason is gonna get tackles no matter what position he plays, and 2) Davis apparently may yet play this year.

Special teams appear solid, with John Kasay and Jason Baker quite reliable and the kick/punt coverage appearing to be significantly improved from last year. But kick/punt returns are still a big question mark.

The problem is that the offense, which the team didn’t do a lot to revamp in the off-season,  has serious problems: Not only can Matt Moore not find a receiver, but nobody, nobody has emerged as a viable alternative to Steve Smith. (For yet another year.) Worst of all, the O-line, which was thought to have enough spot-for-spot talent to match up with anyone in the league, appears to be having serious problems playing as a team.

Based on what I’ve seen this preseason, this team is not going to score many points. And the best defense in the league can’t help you all that much if it’s on the field too much. Against a dramatically improved division, that spells trouble.

So: If Steve Smith says healthy, I predict 8-8, which may not be good enough to keep the Panthers out of the NFC South cellar.

Monday, June 21, 2010 2:57 pm

Can anyone reading this in Charlotte please do me a favor …

Filed under: Panthers,We're so screwed — Lex @ 2:57 pm
Tags:

… and go slap Steve Smith upside the head?

Thank you.

Sunday, June 13, 2010 3:55 pm

Crud

Filed under: Panthers,Sad — Lex @ 3:55 pm
Tags: , ,

I would appreciate it if the Carolina Panthers could actually make it into their first training camp session of 2010 before losing key players for the season to injury. Thank you.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010 8:12 pm

Hey, Google Calendar!

Filed under: Fun,Panthers — Lex @ 8:12 pm
Tags: ,

The NFL released its 2010 schedule 42 whole minutes ago. Why aren’t the Panthers’ games on my calendar yet, you slackards??

Monday, March 8, 2010 10:00 pm

So what, exactly, makes him think he’ll fit in?

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 10:00 pm
Tags:

Ex-Panther Julius Peppers on his new employer, the Chicago Bears: “I always liked [Coach Lovie Smith’s] demeanor, how his teams played,” said Peppers. “They always played hard, they always give it their all.”

Friday, March 5, 2010 5:38 am

Call me stunned but delighted

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 5:38 am
Tags: ,

The Panthers have cut Jake Delhomme after seven seasons, numerous thrilling fourth-quarter comebacks and a Super Bowl. I’d thought since the end of the season it would be the right thing to do, but after they put the franchise tag on Peppers last year I also thought they wouldn’t have the guts to pull the trigger, particularly since they will still owe Jake roughly $12M this year. I guess the lack of a salary cap can be a freeing thing. Still, it became a lot more likely after they gave Matt Moore the $3M+ tender offer earlier this week. (Getting Matt and LB Thomas Davis re-signed are both very good ideas.)

They also cut DL Damione Lewis, although that appears to have been more to save money than anything else — he’d have cost $5M this year. But the loss of Peppers and Lewis leaves them thin on the D-line, which was thin to begin with and then, as they say, riddled with injuries last year. Tyler Brayton and Hollis Thomas also are unrestricted free agents, and Brayton, in particular, is sure to be picked up by someone else if we don’t make him a good offer pretty quickly.

Still, management is acting as if they understand what the problems are and are making good-faith efforts to fix them. This is a good sign.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009 11:50 pm

Odds and ends for 12/29

Gettin’ back at ’em: Wall Street’s 10 Greatest Lies of 2009 and 10 Ways to Screw Over the Corporate Jackals Who’ve Been Screwing You. For informational purposes only; no endorsement implied. IANAL. Void where prohibited. Etc.

Waykewl pitchers: Time’s “The Year in Pictures 2009,” National Geographic’s “Top Ten Space Pictures of 2009.”

Denzel in the house: Denzel Washington came to the Davidson-Penn game last night to watch his son’s team lose to the Wildcats. (Malcolm Washington converted a 3-point play for the Quakers’ final points of the game.)

Connecting the dots: Fecund Stench does an excellent, if scary, job of it.

I’m sure the Right-Wing Noise Machine will apologize to the Dixie Chicks right after it excoriates Ted Nugent.

Following in the footsteps of the other death merchants: Like the tobacco industry before them, the health-care industry, not satisfied to mess things up at the national level, is now also messing things up at the state level.

Attention, deficit hawks: Despite what you may have learned in Right-Wing Math Class, a $900 billion health-care program that’s paid for is NOT as big a problem as a $9 trillion unfunded liability.

Chase and Citibank are dropping out of the FDIC 4K program. Uh, what does that mean, you ask? Basically, they’ve found a way to do more gambling with your money.

Two Panthers are going to the Pro Bowl, RB DeAngelo Williams and DE Julius Peppers. RB Jonathan Stewart’s final stats may outshine Williams’s. Peppers, on the other hand, is tied for 305th in the league in tackles through Week 16, with 39; ranks tenth overall, and sixth among defensive ends (fifth among DEs in the NFC), in sacks; tied for 177th in passes defended (eighth among DEs), with five. In his defense, he is tied for third in the league with five forced fumbles and is among only four DEs in the league who have returned an interception for a touchdown.

Carbon gap: All the blather about a carbon/environment/clean-energy bill is overshadowing an ominous fact: China is going to eat our lunch in this arena … if we let it.

Quote of the day, from Bruce Schneier: “Only two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.” So let’s 1) stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars a year on equipment and people that don’t do what they’re supposed to do and 2) stop making flying commercial any more of a miserable experience than it absolutely has to be. Thank you.

Another quote of the day, from Osama bin Laden, which we really ought to look at again before rushing off to start new wars in Yemen and Somalia: “All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies.”

John Dugan owes us trillions, and if he can’t pay, I say we have the Mafia (who pay sales taxes, if nothing else) break his legs.

Pat Buchanan: Still crazy.

Speaking of crazy: It’s time to stop giving Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., air time. He handles it worse than I handled Jell-O shots, which is pretty bad.

I wouldn’t call it a “fix,” but it’d definitely be an improvement: NYU online-journalism guru Jay Rosen suggests the Sunday talk shows start fact-checking their guests. Unlike Jay, however, I wouldn’t wait ’til Wednesday to post the corrections. That ought to be happening in real time, online and with live screen crawls.

Speaking of fixes, if we want to fix the terrorism problem, we have to start with the engineers. They’re dangerous, I tell you. Including my brother.

Mashup du jour: This is genius.

Attention, police: You can’t Taser people just because they don’t do what you want them to do anymore. Not that all that many of you were doing that to begin with, just as almost none of you hit people over the head with your batons just for the hell of it. But those few of you who have been doing this are now on legal notice that you need to stop.

Elections have consequences, and the biggest consequence of the 2008 election so far is that the people who worked hardest to elect Barack Obama president have been serially and collectively screwed.

Reasons to freak out: Number of Americans who’ve died this year for lack of health insurance: about 45,000. Number who’ve died from salmonella: about 600. Number who’ve died from terrorism, including all those at Fort Hood: 16. Let’s keep this in mind before we soil ourselves, shall we?

Parker Griffith didn’t just take a congressional seat with him, he also took some of the Alabama Democratic Party’s voter-registration data. His primary is June 1, so get your popcorn early.

And I’ll bet you thought the story of Orly Taitz and the birthers couldn’t get any weirder: BZZZT! Wrong!

OK, maybe the world really WILL end in 2012, because it sure can’t keep going like this: DougJ at Balloon Juice for the win: “Let’s be frank: at this point, there is no real difference between Michelle Malkin and the Washington Post editorial page, none between Marc Ambinder and Matt Drudge, none between the Republican Congressional delegation and RedState. We have Jim DeMint holding up the confirmation of the head of the TSA while simultaneously acting as the point man for Republican criticism of the TSA … and he’s getting a lot of traction in the very liberal media. Maybe there is no value in saying this over and over again, but our public dialog really, really sucks.”

And, finally, just because it’s cool and you deserve a reward for reading this far:

Monday, December 28, 2009 11:14 pm

In baseball, a .375 career might land you in the Hall of Fame

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 11:14 pm
Tags: ,

But John Fox has the misfortune to work in the NFL, where, as head coach of the Carolina Panthers, he has taken his team to the playoffs just three times in eight years, never two years in a row. So the news today that he still has a job for 2010 if he wants it (ditto general manager Marty Hurney) needs to be understood as the good news/bad news it is.

The good news, for Fox, is that he still has a job. Earlier in the season, when a team that had been expected to compete for the Super Bowl went winless in preseason, lost its first three in the regular season and then hit 5-8 without ever reaching .500, a lot of people, including me, were calling for his head. And the fact that Bill Cowher, who won multiple Super Bowl titles in Pittsburgh, is currently out of football and living just down the road in Raleigh, was positively tantalizing.

The bad news for Fox is that although he has only one year left on his contract, owner Jerry Richardson apparently hasn’t said a word about negotiating an extension. If Fox’s job were truly secure, that extension likely already would have been inked.

Fox had a near-death experience with Richardson after the disappointing 2007 season, and he and the team responded in ’08 by going 12-4 and winning the NFC South and a first-round bye. But QB Jake Delhomme gave the divisional playoff game against Arizona away in a flood of turnovers, and his turnover problems continued until he broke a finger in this season’s Miami game, ending his season and quite possibly his Panthers career.

No one knows how differently things might have turned out this year if Fox had benched Delhomme sooner. But the fact that Fox still has a job indicates that Richardson believes this team’s problems didn’t start or stop with Fox and Delhomme.

From the outside looking in, I’d have to say that’s true. All the money tied up in making Julius Peppers the franchise player for ’09 left the team little room under the salary cap to address problems in the return game, the lack of a second wideout fast enough to free Steve Smith from double-teams, and depth issues — particularly on the D-line, where the Panthers scrambled for healthy players well into midseason after putting four defensive tackles on injured reserve.

And the fact is that of Carolina’s eight losses so far, only one, the season opener, was an embarrassment (38-10 to the Eagles) and only one other, to the Cowboys in Week 3, was by more than 10 points. Since Matt Moore took over for Delhomme, the team has gone 3-2. The defense had played well for most of the year, but since the Miami game it has stepped up, allowing an average of only 7.6 points a game. The offense, which had struggled all year, finally started to gel, running up big numbers against heavily favored Minnesota and New York in the past two weeks. The offensive line, so often a problem in this team’s history, has delivered outstanding play despite the loss of both starting tackles, one of them a Pro Bowler.

Whether the Panthers beat New Orleans this Sunday or not probably won’t decide anyone’s future, nor should it. Steve Smith broke his arm against the Giants and won’t play. A solid performance by Moore probably makes him the starter going into the ’10 minicamps. I don’t recall enough about the details of Delhomme’s contract (if in fact I ever knew enough of them) to know whether Carolina would do better under the salary cap by keeping him or cutting him, but I do know that the new contract he signed last year is paying him starter’s money at a time when he probably ain’t the starter anymore.

The rest of the offense? Steve Smith and his healed arm should be back and fine by minicamp. The offensive line should be fine for next year if — always a crapshoot — it can avoid injuries. In particular, if he stays healthy, look for Jon Otah to make his first Pro Bowl. In Dante Rosario and Jeff King, the Panthers have the best pair of tight ends in the league: Neither is a Tony Gonzalez, but both, particularly Rosario, are dangerous targets. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are the best pair of RBs in the league and are capably backed by Tyrell Sutton (5.7 ypa, 10.3 ypc in limited action). Brad Hoover remains one of the league’s better blocking fullbacks as well as a pass-catching threat. The ageless Muhsin Muhammad is still a capable possession receiver and one of the league’s best blocking wideouts — a factor in big gains by Williams and Stewart. All that remains, as has been the case for several years now, is a wideout credible enough as a deep threat to take the double-teams off Steve Smith.

On the defense, the biggest question, for the second straight year, is Julius Peppers. After playing part of the season with a broken hand, he has still amassed 10.5 sacks (his best is 14.5, in ’08) and has forced five fumbles, tying his season best, despite frequent double-teams. He so dominated Minnesota’s offense on national TV Dec. 20 that Vikings coach Brad Childress apparently tried to take QB Brett Favre out of the game for his own protection in the third quarter, while the Vikings were still winning 7-6. But this past year has made clear that Peppers’ inconsistency — the longtime knock on him — isn’t going to bring him the megadeal he apparently seeks, particularly from one of the few teams that use the kind of scheme he wants to play in. Carolina can put the franchise tag on him again in 2010, but doing so would mean paying him about $20 million, which it simply cannot afford. Peppers either takes a huge pay cut or he’s gone, and I hope the front office won’t agonize long over this because it simply has too much else to do.

Elsewhere on the defense, it’ll be a huge boost if Kemoeatu is able to return, but hope is not a plan and putting four DTs on IR in one year should already have gotten the front office’s attention. The linebackers lost starter Thomas Davis and his replacement, Landon Johnson, to injury, but both should return. All six corners have played well. Strong safety Chris Harris continues to impress, and at free safety, rookie Quinton Teal played well enough in relief of the injured Charles Godfrey to make a lot of people, including me, wonder whether he shouldn’t have gotten the starting job permanently. At any rate, I don’t think the Panthers need to be in the DB market this year with so many other pressing needs.

The players themselves are saying publicly that Richardson shouldn’t clean house. And I don’t think he intends to. But for this team to have a shot at the Super Bowl, Matt Moore has to be the quarterback he has appeared to be for the past two weeks — a guy who can manage a running offense efficiently and use play-action deep passes opportunistically. In addition, one way or another (or both), the team is going to have to clear enough salary room to firm up the D-line, provide depth, find a second deep threat at last and improve its patchy kick and punt coverage. That list is formidable, but the team can do it — if it shows Jake and Julius the door. After that, I think Fox either takes the team to the conference championship game, at the least, or he’s gone. I see no way Jerry Richardson — who, remember, fired both his sons this year — gives Fox a third stay of execution.

Odds and ends for 12/27

Hmm, what else can we screw up in a way that screws poor people worst? Hey, I know! The estate tax!

John Fox can have another year if he wants: So say the Panthers, although they’re not talking any kind of contract extension with him now (he has a year left). I have mixed feelings about this, upon which I’ll elaborate in a separate post.

Utterly un-self-aware: Jonah Goldberg presumes to pass judgment on someone else’s competence.

Utterly un-self-aware, cont.: Before Republicans criticize Democrats on national-security issues, they need to take a few history lessons, starting with the 9/11 commission report.

Related memo to Joe Lieberman, on the off-chance that he can read: How ’bout before we start a third war, let’s take a minute and figure out how this would-be airplane bomber got a visa? (Newsweek offers the strong beginning of an explanation.) Because the purview of the Senate Homeland Security Committee you chair does not extend to foreign policy or strategic (let alone tactical) military planning. You ass.

At least one legitimate criticism can be leveled at the Department of Homeland Security, and John Cole levels it.

One thing liberals applaud Obama on: Tightening restrictions not only on lobbying, but also on when and how ex-industry officials can go to work for the government, so that agencies aren’t “captured” by the companies they’re supposed to regulate. Watch that change get undone the second a Republican retakes the White House.

Which is fine, except that I haven’t heard them come up with an alternative solution to the problem: Blue Dogs Bayh, Landrieu and Conrad say cap ‘n’ trade is DOA. Relatedly, chemicals from power plants in their states are killing trees in the mountains of mine.

Your tax dollars at work: Despite the recent removal of caps on taxpayer assistance to Fannie and Freddie, which already totals $111 billion, they’re resuming foreclosures next week. You’re welcome, guys.

Not just no, but, hell, no: Not content to throw women’s rights under the health-care bus, the evangelistas are now trying to get the failed policy of abstinence-only sex education incorporated into health-care reform. Guys, we tried your flavor of Teh Stoopid once already and got a big jump in unwed pregnancy to show for it. Go. Away.

Tremors: The last time Iran got this shaky, the Shah was ousted. That may or may not mean the current regime will fall. But it almost certainly means blood in the streets, much of it likely innocent. Great.

Antiterrorism 101, which means most current and former government officials probably haven’t read it: Spencer Ackerman: “It’s never sufficient just to observe that a terrorist group has a presence in Country X. We have to ask ourselves: what are the conditions that allowed for said terrorist group to take root? If we don’t, we simply can’t devise an effective strategy against the terrorist group; and we come close to guaranteeing that we’ll flail and make the situation worse.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 12:15 pm

More bell-ringing

I blogged two months ago about Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), brain damage among NFL players who have suffered concussions. Since that article, the co-chairs of the league’s committee on brain injuries have resigned (read: “resigned”) after players said they’d lost faith in the committee’s objectivity.

The committee has been in denial on this, a fact the New Yorker article touched on. That fact is examined in more detail in this article by Jeanne Marie Laskas in GQ (h/t: DivaGeek, via e-mail). As with Gladwell’s article, it’s a bit lengthy but well worth your time … and likely to prompt some serious reflection from fans about what our sports heroes endure for our entertainment.

Of special note to Panthers fans is the brief mention of former Panthers center Curtis Whitley, “just 39 when he was found facedown in the bathroom of a rented trailer in West Texas, shirtless, shoeless, wearing blue warm-up pants. [Dr. Bennet]  Omalu got his brain, examined it, and found CTE.” Whitley’s case was the 17th Dr. Omalu had identified, an incredibly high number compared with what one would expect to find in a similarly sized random sample of the population at large. Whitley’s mom shows up in the article comments and leaves he e-mail address for those who’d like to pass on their condolences.

GQ emphasizes more heavily than the New Yorker the possible contribution of steroids to the problem, but neither article claims evidence of a definitive link.

Both articles also make relatively clear that if this problem is to be solved, equipment will not be the answer. The problem is not necessarily how hard your head hits something, it’s how hard your brain hits the inside of your skull and whether there is any sideways motion that can lead to tearing.

A reckoning is coming, for the NFL and perhaps for all of football, down to youth leagues. Players, their parents and fans likely will soon have some significant, and grim, new information to incorporate into their calculations of and tolerance for risk. I love this game, but not so much that I want to see people die or suffer brain damage to the point of dementia for my entertainment.

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