Good morning Panther faithful and welcome to what bodes to be a rather somber optimist. As most of you know each and every week I hope against hope that diminished areas of our team will perform, and those areas of strength become galvanized with a week of practice and preparation. Sunday didn't go how it should have, and didn't go according to plan. If you told me before the game that at the end the Panthers would have amassed 425 yards of offense, allowing only 167 and didn't tell me the score I would have predicted a 35-0 rout... and it should have been. I don't believe in taking anything away from the Bills necessarily, but we handed them that win on a platter and there was no excuse to explain why we lost that game.
You know how the drill goes. I give my little take then jump into analysis of some key elements of the Panthers saying whether I'm optimistic for their future with the team, or pessimistic. This week, it doesn't take Johnny Carson wearing a turban to guess where I'm going with my ‘pessimistic' rant, so I decided to pull Jake Delhomme from that section of the article, and talk about him in depth now.
In 2009 I've been trying to see what has been going on with Jake Delhomme. I think most people agree that he hasn't been himself. I know a lot of folks want to go back to the Arizona playoff game, but personally, I think that game was a failure on so many levels I want to take it out of the discussion for 2009.
At first I thought the problem was a lack of confidence on Delhomme's part. He wasn't showing that moxie, that grit that we'd seen in the past. It was like a switch in his brain was turned on after the Philadelphia game that told him single coverage on Steve Smith was too much, where in the past he'd try for that throw any way. However, after watching yesterday's game I don't think it's his spirit that's broken, I think that it's his arm.
The irony of this is that Jake's arm appears to be stronger than it's even been; herein lies the problem. Tommy John surgery is very, very uncommon in the NFL. It is incredibly prevalent in Major League Baseball, particularly in pitchers who have overused an arm and ever more commonly in pitchers who overused an arm with bad mechanics. Without going into great detail, the surgery involves taking a tendon from somewhere else in the body and replacing the tendon in the elbow. The result is (hopefully) renewed arm strength and a second lease on a career. The big question was:
"Will Jake Delhomme lose arm strength?"
I believe the opposite has occurred.
Jake is being forced to alter his mechanics, in my mind. On plays where he's under throwing he's really overcompensating for the additional strength, and the numerous plays where he's vastly over throwing receivers he's simply throwing it like he's used to. I think the elbow was only at 85% in 2008, which is why the problem isn't as pronounced as it is now. The result is the same; however, Jake Delhomme may be finished.
I'm sure the next week will be littered with people offering their opinion on who should start vs. Arizona. I personally believe it's now time to hand Matt Moore the ball and give him ten starts so we can evaluate the position. I know we're not mathematically eliminated, but I think we're logically eliminated from the playoffs. The Saints look stronger every week, the Falcons are extremely talented despite a loss and it looks like it will take an 11-5 or 12-4 record to secure the wild card in the NFC. Starting A.J Feeley is a major, major mistake in my mind. While he may be better right now, he's a 32 year old QB who we can't seriously rely on to be the future of the franchise. Meanwhile, Moore is 25 and has that opportunity. If we start Moore at least we'll know what we have going into April, and it can dictate whether we take a QB in the 2nd round, or get one in the 4th, possibly addressing WR with the 2nd round pick. For the long term future of the team we have to get Matt Moore some snaps.
It saddens me to have to look to the future in this way. Despite Delhomme's poor performance in 2009 I have all the respect in the world for him as a player, and I think we all should. He now holds every QB record for the Panthers, is the most winning QB in the history of the team, and a stand up guy. In an era where players are constantly looking to blame others, hold out and pass the buck Jake took the entire weight of the team on his shoulders. If he made a good play he'd credit his receiver, if his receiver messed up, he'd take the blame. He knows what it is to be a true leader, and I think a lot of the fan base started to believe Jake's comments every week, and believe that he was the sole problem in every loss. It got to the point where every good play was assumed to be on a receiver or the o-line, not on Jake and every mistake was always our QB's. I choose to remember Jake for the QB he was in 2003, and the QB he showed he was becoming in 2007, before the injury. Hats off to Jake Delhomme, because even if we've seen his last snap as a starter there's no denying it would be a hard fought battle arguing who's been the best QB in Panther history, Jake or Steve Beuerlein.
Now, on to the typical analysis:
Ron Meeks- Extremely Optimistic: He's been in the optimist column for 4 weeks now. Are people starting to believe? I was chided for his inclusion in those early days, but now the Panthers' defense is looking absolutely rock solid. Their performance yesterday was inspired. Yes, we only got two sacks, but players were flying around the field, making tackles, stopping the run, defending passes. It's a scheme that makes players play better than they are, turning mediocre players into decent ones and turning good players into superstars. We tore apart Buffalo's offense without Thomas Davis on the field, that says a lot.
DeAngelo Williams- Extremely Optimistic: D-Will, what can't you do? 139 total yards yesterday, including a blistering, dynamite touchdown run. He's starting to turn on the jets and truly get going, and he looks like the old DeAngelo from 2008; it's nice to see.
Steve Smith- Extremely Optimistic: Smitty, it's nice to have you back... but I think you never left us. 99 yards receiving including a fantastic 48 yard gain in traffic, great stuff to see.
Julius Peppers- Extremely Optimistic: Pep, thanks for playing hard... that's all we ever wanted.
Gary Barnidge- Somewhat Optimistic: It looks like Barnidge is getting some more opportunities, and he made the best with the opportunities he got.
Jeff Davidson- Extremely Pessimistic: WTF JEFF! Seriously? Really? I don't care if we're down by 8 or 18... when the running game is averaging 4.5 ypc against the 32nd ranked rush defense in the NFL why are you running the ball 25 times and passing 44? He could be the stupidest co-coordinator in the NFL, and I mean it. Jake Delhomme executed the only TD drive of the game calling his own plays on a hurry up, and it was the only time in the game where the offense looked dynamic whatsoever. He stands on the sideline holding a clipboard looking more and more lost every week. The worst part, he still thinks he's doing the right thing.
Danny Crossman and Special Teams- Extremely pessimistic: Was there any bright spot on ST? Any? I can't find one! Rhys Lloyd isn't hitting the end zone, John Kasay shanked two field goals, Captain Munnerlyn looks like a deer in headlights on PRs, we can't cover kickoffs, we can't block on kick returns... and what was the thinking behind ‘trying out' Kenny Moore on the most important PR of the game? He wasn't warmed up, he wasn't ready to do it and this was following a dangerous fumble in the end zone by Goodson on a kickoff that game from ‘trying it out'. Kenny Moore was crushed on the sidelines, but he will not be called out individually as he never should have been in that position in the first place.
We have a defense and running backs to be proud of. Other than that, we can only look forward to change. We are now entering the bad part of our schedule with our opponent's combined record an obscene 44-21 (0.676) it doesn't look very good for the Panthers.
I'd like to hold out hope and magically believe something will happen, but it would take Matt Moore to become a lights out QB, and Drew Brees and Matty Ice to experience catastrophic injuries for that to happen. We could win against Arizona next week and get some measured revenge, but coming off a big win against the Giants it seems unlikely our secondary can stop Fitzgerald, Boldin and Breaston... even with Ron Meeks' defense.
20% Optimistic Heading into Arizona.