Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Up To Speed- Carolina Panthers

The Panthers were loyal to a fault to Jake Delhomme, and pretty much sacrificed their 2009 season for that loyalty. After a decade of posting QB ratings in the 80-90 range so consistently you could set your watch to it, Delhomme's play fell off a cliff in 2009, continuing at the nightmarish level established in the season ending playoff loss to Arizona in 2008. The Cats came out of the bag with an 0-3 start during which Delhomme threw 7 INTs against just 2 TDs.

With a bye week after that miserable start, and a seemingly insurmountable hill to climb to get back in contention, it would have made sense to bench Jake The Guy at that point. The Panthers didn't. They kept rolling Delhomme out there, and he kept right on being awful, finishing his season with 8 TDs vs. 18 picks, and a Derek Anderson-esque 59.4 passer rating. They finally pulled the plug with five games left, and lo and behold, replacement Matt Moore led Carolina to a 4-1 finish to end the year at 8-8. Moore threw as many TDs in his 5 starts as Delhomme threw in 11, and only 2 INTs. The semblance of a passing game that the benching of Delhomme gave the Panthers opened up the running game, as Carolina averaged 166 rushing yards over those last 5 games, which concluded with season ending wins over Minnesota, the Giants, and New Orleans.

Delhomme is gone, and so are a lot of other people who played for the Panthers for a long time. Most notable is Julius Peppers. Peppers had 10 1/2 sacks last season and was the main pass rushing threat on a defense that was in the top 10 in Y/A against the pass. There's no obvious replacement. Tyler Brayton had the most sacks of any returning player from last year and he only had 5.

Peppers isn't the only piece missing from last year's defense. Tackle Damione Lewis is gone, with journeymen Tank Tyler and Louis Leonard competing to replace him. Jon Beason is the only linebacker with a starting job nailed down, with a host of unproven commodities competing for the other two spots. Strong safety Chris Harris has gone back to Chicago and will be replaced by 2009 2nd round pick Sherrod Martin.

So a lot of guys gone on defense, without proven replacements. The same can be said for any receiving option other than Steve Smith. Mushin Muhammad is retired, and he had 53 catches last year. That leaves underachieving former USC star Dwayne Jarrett as a starter, so that's bad.

The Panthers may not have enough receivers to go around, but they certainly have enough quarterbacks. In addition to Moore, they drafted Notre Dame's Jimmy Claussen, and Cincinnati's Tony Pike, so geez ONE of these guys has to pan out, right??

There are some areas the Panthers are strong. Their offensive line has a couple of stud tackles in Jeff Otah and Jordan Gross. They are both coming off pretty bad injuries but if they stay healthy the Cats have a really good offensive line. Jonathan Stewart and D'Angelo Williams are both top 10 running backs and the Panthers can run it 30-40 times every week with those guys. And Steve Smith is still really really good.

That's pretty much the end of their list of strengths though. The old saying goes if you have two quarterbacks, you don't have one, and the Panthers have three. The defense has question marks all over the place and even some interrobangs. There are 2 teams in the NFC South clearly better than Carolina, which means no playoffs. I think we're looking at 7-9 this year and Bill Cowher next year.

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