Hey There Panther Fans,
I know you are as down as I about this heartbreaker to the Saints, but thought it would be a good time (since it is the midpoint of our season) to evaluate our team and predict the last half. Please let me know what you think about my evaluation...too harsh...too lenient... just right? Also, give me your perspective on things, How do you think this team has played and where do you think this team is headed from here on out??? With that said, here is my....
Carolina Panthers 2009 Mid-Season Report: Evaluation & Prediction
The Carolina Panthers started their 2009 season off slowly, stumbling early and often. September was not a good month for the Cats, as they lost to Philly, ATL, and Dallas and could not find their identity. October was meagerly better, but only because the Panthers faced the easiest teams on their schedule, being Washington, TB, and Buffalo winning the former two and losing to the Bills. The loss to Buffalo must have stimulated something within this Panther team, because they completely transformed into a different team heading into Arizona. In Arizona, the Cats pulled out an upset and ran all over the Cards, who were one of the top rush defenses. Also, the Cats emerged into the #1 Pass defense and #7 Overall defense in the league, which has become a huge surprise. The Cats carried this momentum into Nola, where they put up a tremendous fight with the best team in the league and came away just a bit shy of a win. The Panthers at this point in the mid-season are 3-5, and are a lot better than their record shows. Even though the Cats have a losing record thus far, Panther fans have much to be excited about as this team has played like a playoff contender in the past 2 weeks.
The Panthers offense sputtered early this season, and didn’t really get going until the Arizona game in wk 6. Early on, the offense line played very poorly as did Jake. Jake has been much of the criticism for this season, as he has had only 5tds and 13 ints and has been a burden of the team. Double Trouble also were slow to get rolling, and put up very modest numbers for the first 6 wks. Smitty, a once feared and dynamic threat, has been suppressed.
The Panthers O’ in the past two weeks, however, has been radically different. The Cats have gotten their running game going back to the levels of 2008, as D-Will has ran for about 150 yds per game. Although the Panthers now have the 3rd best rushing attack in the league, they are almost completely one dimensional. J-Stew has again been a great complement, as he has a 4.4avg, 4tds, and about 400yds on the ground. Not much has been seen of Mike Goodson, which is suprising given how much he played in the preseason. I, for one, thought that Goodson was such a talent and threat that Davidson would introduce some wrinkles into the offense merely to get Goodson involved, but I have been wrong. Tyrell Sutton, the Panthers 4th back surprisingly saw a little bit of action against the Saints, having 3 runs for 15yds. The Panthers also have not used the Wildcat, or any trick plays very much, staying with the conservative pound up the middle scheme. Much of this success on the ground must be attributed to the Offensive line picking up their game as they have created more running space for the backs.
Smitty still hasn’t had a breakout game, and much of that is due to Jake. In the past two games, the Coaches have changed the philosophy of the offense, pilling up running yards in order to limit Jake’s throws, to limit INTs. Although no one has been able to stop our running game as of the past 2 games, the Cats have much to improve upon and look terrified to throw the ball. The ‘Moose’ has been out a couple of games, and Jarrett has filled in adequately for him, his best game being the Saints, in which he had 4 catches for 30 yds. Although this is not great, and not very good, it is adequate provided that Jarrett has had limited chances to make plays. Tight Ends have been very useful in both the running game and especially the passing game as Jeff King, Dante Rosario, and Gary Barnidge have added some spark to the passing game. Kenny Moore, although a standout in the preseason, has only had 4 catches for 47 yds, but much of his low productivity can be attributed to his limited playing time.
Overall, the Panthers Offense and running game in particular, although sputtered early, has improved through the first 8 games. But, if the Cats are to become a playoff caliber team, they have more to improve upon as they must find some passing game and get Smith involved.
Although the D was the weaker part of the team at the beginning of the year as they seemed unable to grasp Meeks Tampa 2 system, they have actually come together and have become the stalwart of the team, now being a top ten D and top pass D.
Although the pass D has gotten much better, much of the improvement on the D side of the ball has been at the line. Julius Peppers, although a no-show at the beginning of the year, has upped his game and now has 28tckls, 7scks, and 3 FFs. At the other end, Tyler Brayton looks much improved from last year and is a contributor in the pass rush, having 25 tckls, 2scks, and 1FF. On the interior, where the Panthers were woefully inept at the beginning of the year, Hollis Thomas and Tank Tyler have filled in quite nicely for what have been a slew of injuries at the DT position. Thomas and Tyler have most importantly been able to seal up the interior 2 gap, allowing the LBs to freely bounce around and make critical tackles. Altogether, D-Lew, Thomas, and Tyler have had 33 tckls from the interior, which is solid considering 2 of them have played only a limited # o’ games. Everette Brown, the Panthers 1st round pick (well, for what they spent on him) has been limited to some 3rd down plays and has been good thus far for a 3rd down lineman, having 8tckles, 1sck, and 2FFs. The much overlooked 3rd DE, Charles Johnson, has made a splash in his small amount of playing time as he has racked up 13 tckls, 3scks, and 2FFs. Overall the Panthers line has been pretty darn good, and Julius Peppers has called it ‘the best rotation’ he has been in yet!
The ‘Backers have been beyond excellent this year, they are super-awesome tackling machines! Thomas Davis has really adapted well to Meeks new system, having 61 tckls, 2 INTs and a sack. Jon Beason hasn’t been a slouch either though, contributing 63 tckls, 2 scks, and an INT. Diggs also has 16 tckls and a sack, and Anderson having 16tckles and sack. It is important to note that the Backers have the most tackles of the entire D, which ultimately means that they have been able to stop the run almost by themselves, without much need for the secondary to come down and play a role.
Although not many thought it at the beginning of the year, the Secondary has surprisingly become great, becoming the #1pass D in wk 8. Gamble, although has not been ‘lock down’ per se, has been a steady corner accumulating 24 tckls and 1 INT. Richard Marshall, the past year’s nickel back, has really upped his game as a starter, having 31 tckls and 2 INTs. Capt. Munnerlyn, the Cats 7th round pick, has been a great surprise at the nickel back position, having 23 tckls and really impressing people with his speed. Dante Wesley and CJ Wilson have been fine backups and fine fill in CBs thus far. Harris has been his usual self, a hard tackler, contributing 26 tckls. Godfrey has been adequate, but by no means great, contributing 21 tckles and a sack. The real surprise this year has been Sherrod Martin, the Cats 2nd round Safety, who in 2 games already has 10 tckles and 2 ints. Martin could replace Godfrey due to his stellar performances, but due to Fox’s tendency to stick with the vet, he’ll probably choose Godfrey. All in all, the Panthers secondary has been much improved over last year, as it was the weakness of many games, including the Arizona playoff loss.
Altogether, the Cats D really has adjusted to the Tampa 2, although it has taken some time. Meeks has these players playing fast and aggressive, flying to the ball and making plays now in the past couple of games. The Panthers D really has given the offense the chance to win the game and has been very good in the red zone. What is most interesting to me about this D is the new found flexibility that Meeks has implemented. Although the Cats stick to their usual 4-3 and Tampa 2, they refreshingly have been mixing it up lately, introducing the “Joker” package with 3 down lineman, 2 backers, a ‘Joker’ or ‘spy’, and 5 DBs. This flexibility has worked because the Panthers have fast players, which has enabled them to play packages like this. In addition, the D-line also has shown flexibility, moving Pep left and right, Brayton and Johnson inside and out, and rotating players like the rookie Brown. All in all, Meeks has implemented a wonderful D that has complemented our players ability very well.
The “Kicking game” this year has been fairly atrocious, but can be attributed to the inexperience that this group has. Kick and Punt returns have been average, and at times horrendous (I simply look away during punt returns hoping for the best!). Goodson, although very talented, has not been a breakaway threat on Kick returns and Kenny Moore has not great at punt returns either. My personal favorite at PR was Munnerlyn, being that he is very shifty, fast, and able to get to through the scrum, although he has a tendency to get nervous waiting for that ball to come down. You name it and the Panthers special teams has allowed it, a Punt block, kick block, letting the other team have a PR for TD, KR for TD…basically the Panthers ST has been pretty awful.
Conclusion & Prediction
At this point, the Panthers are 3-5, but as I have been saying, the Fans have much to be optimistic about, as Fox has righted the ship that ran astray, getting his players playing at a high level once again. The Panthers playoff hopes are pretty slim now that they have lost to Nola, mainly because the rest of their schedule is fairly brutal: ATL, MIA, NYJ, NE, MINN, NYG, and Nola once again. The good news is that the Cats play 5 at home and 3 more on the road. Because the Cats are playing at a high level once again, and are down from this last loss to Nola, I can envision a win over ATL, but am skeptical that it will happen unless the passing game gets together. So, unfortunately, I think we will lose another to the Falcons, though it will be close! Fox almost always has his players revved up for a big game, and I expect the Panthers to play big on natl TV versus the Fins. The home TB game should also be a win, but other than that the Panthers play a pretty tough stretch and I would not be surprised to see the Panthers win only 1 of the last four left mainly because they are a one dimensional team. Although the Panthers are playing well, they have dug themselves in a hole early in the year. In the last half of the year, the Panthers will probably only win 2-3 games, unfortunately. Although I originally stated that the Panthers would go somewhere between 7 to 9 wins, I think it is probably more realistic now to think that it will be between 6 and 7 wins. I still hold that the Cats won’t win the NFC South Title, and from here on out it is most likely that they won’t win a wild card due to the competition for those spots. I would absolutely love to be wrong, and the Panthers to go on a mean winning streak and sneak into the playoffs, but am doubtful of that at this point. The best the Panthers can do this year is try to break even at 8-8, but that won’t happen, it will be another losing season following a great season for the Panthers. At this point, it is too difficult to tell whether Fox will be fired, but one thing is for sure, and that is that Jake won’t be our starter next year (although I could be wrong, which I would hate to be in that case)….
Prediction: 6-10 or 7-9 season