Good morning Panther faithful! I have to start by saying one thing- Redzone Defense WOW! If case you didn't get a chance to see Sunday's game vs. Tampa Bay here's the single reason we won right here: The Carolina Panthers stopped the Buccaneers 5 times in the red zone, and another 3 times between 20 and 30 yards out. While these 20-30 yard stops are not technically red zone defensive stands, for all intents are purposes we had 8 occasions where the Bucs were knocking on the door and the Panthers defense said ‘No'. It was a good thing that the defense stepped up, because the Panthers offense was anemic on Sunday.
As good as the Panthers' defense was on Sunday there are still a lot of other areas to be optimistic about, and some others we need to be wary of. So please join me and I break it all down
After the jump...
In the end the big story for Panther fans wasn't getting a win, amazing red zone defense or stout running by Jonathan Stewart- the storyline for this game was Matt Moore. I'm mentioning Moore now because I'm not including him in my optimistic/pessimistic breakdown. Simply put, he didn't play either well enough, nor did he play poor enough to garner either distinction. However, I will be talking about his play in depth now.
Matt Moore was stepping into the perfect situation on Sunday. Despite not starting since late 2007 he was playing at home, against a 1-10 team, who didn't have their starting and no.1 CB Aqib Talib. If there was a more perfect scenario to step into for a young QB I don't know what is. Moore started well enough; he took care of the football, didn't take many risks and relied on his outlet routes to provide safe yards.
What Moore didn't do, however, was quarterback an offense that were able to effectively move the chains. 70% completion is worth nothing if you aren't moving the ball effectively. Delhomme barks out alignments and points out blitzing LBs to the OL and RB, he calls audibles to get out of clearly bad situations. The Matt Moore run offense did none of this, and it showed in the lack of productivity on the ground. Make no mistake, Jonathan Stewart's numbers look good in the box score, but for those of us who watched the game we know how many horrible situations he willed into big gains. His stats do not give his individual performance credit, as Stewart continually fought against numerous missed blitzes and backfield pressure every down. This was against a team who we've run all over in our previous two outings. Not all of this can be attributed to Matt Moore, but some of the blame has to be leveled on the QB for failing to identify blitzing players are alignments to the offense.
Another area it is clear Moore needs to improve in is leading his receivers. Out of his 14 completed passes only one was a clearly nice lead- the bomb to Steve Smith. The rest of the time he was throwing such that the receiver was getting the ball, but completely unable to get any YAC. When we have limited offensive weapons already you need to make the most of what you have, and Moore didn't make the most of what we had on offense.
Those points aside, he played decently. Finding Steve Smith as many times as Jeff King isn't going to get it done. In Jaxon's postgame wrap-up the poll had 20 people (at the time of this story) vote for Matt Moore to get the game ball. We have become so jaded by abysmal QB play in 2009 that Moore's mediocre performance is stunning to some people, and that's the reason we're 5-7 right now. What worries me if the areas he was lacking in aren't areas a 2 year player should be having issues, they're areas you typically see a rookie struggle in. From where I stand the game ball needs to go to the player who won the game for you, not the player who didn't lose it. If the Panthers' defense goes a very respectable 3-2 on Red Zone stops we lose Sunday's game.
I wanted nothing more than to be writing about Moore's 247 yard, 2 TD, 0 INT game this morning, or the 222 yard, 1 TD, 1 INT the game that numerous people predicted in the ‘Matt Moore prediction thread' but what we got was just average. Not good enough to win a game, not bad enough to lose one- just dead average. I hope Moore gets the start vs. New England this week. Then we'll really get to see the kid's mettle, because as it stands now I don't think I learnt anything new about Matt Moore from a ho-hum performance against a (now) 1-11 team, and this is a time we need to learn about him as a player so we know if he can lead this team in the future or if we need to roll the dice on a rookie QB.
Jon Beason- Extremely Optimistic: Beast, beast, beast! What an amazing game by Beason. Not only was he the team's second leading tackler, but he added two key interceptions. That is how you lead by example. Beason seems to be getting more comfortable in Ron Meeks' system too, at first he looked a little out of place, being using to the more plodding style of Trgovac's 4-3, but now in the cover two he's using his speed and power more effectively, great game.
Jonathan Stewart- Extremely Optimistic: As much as I would have liked to see DeAngelo Williams available for Sunday's game it was really nice to see J-Stew have an entire game to be the feature back. As I mentioned earlier, there were so many plays where Stewart turned nothing into something. Non-Panther fans see Stewart as an injury prone back without knowing his situation, we know him as the tough as nails bowling ball who will hit you in the mouth, then run you over- great stuff to see.
Ron Meeks- Extremely Optimistic: Meeks has pitched a tent in this area every week, and he's not giving it up now. Meeks' defense is better than good, it's great. This is, after all, the NFL. Look at the defensive injuries and tell me you aren't impressed with a pieced together defense- some of whom were on practice squads a few weeks ago and tell me 8 stops inside the 30 yard line isn't impressive. Yes, the players account for a lot of that, but credit has to go with defensive scheming too. During the game thread I was going to give him a ‘somewhat' ranking, but I can't do it; especially after the defensive won this game for us.
Chris Harris- Extremely Optimistic: Chris, Mr. CSR, you made us proud. 5 tackles, 1 end zone INT. Harris was flying around the secondary flat out making plays all day. It was great to see.
Everette Brown- Somewhat Optimistic: I like Everette Brown, I like him a lot. Brown had at least 4 QB hurries on Sunday, and contributed to an incomplete pass which was tantamount to a forced fumble. Furthermore, Brown didn't quit on plays- often being one of the fastest guys in pursuit to the sideline. He's young, but he'll learn. I like what I'm seeing.
Tyrell Sutton- Somewhat Optimistic: Great play from the undrafted rookie. He got limited looks, but averaged an excellent 6.3 ypc. I think he could have gotten some more runs, but he looked good. Perhaps he's the future of our ‘three headed monster' not Mike Goodson, who knows?
CJ Wilson- Somewhat Optimistic: Something has to be said when you're hanging on to a roster spot at 4th CB and you end up playing coverage better than a starter. Wilson was very impressive, and it was nice to see that Panthers give some other guys a look.
Nick Hayden- Somewhat Optimistic: Nice work by Hayden in limited time. The best way to justify staying on the roster is to make plays, and he got a much needed sack.
Offensive Line- Extremely Pessimistic: This group has no fight without Jordan Gross; the also open up no holes, protect the QB or get any push either. They have to play better, they have to. Right now, they're not doing anything well.
Richard Marshall- Extremely Pessimistic: When a CB leads your team in tackles, it's never a good thing. It usually means that said corner was out of position so many times that the opposing QB targeted that side of the field. Well, that's exactly what happened with Marshall. He was outplayed by CJ Wilson who ended up covering for him, and if Marshall is the best CB we have (as some believe) we're in trouble.
Chris Gamble- Somewhat Pessimistic: INT good, PR bad. A takeaway and a giveaway balance each other out. From there you go to his coverage and he was caught out of position a few times. Not a great game for Gamble.
The Panthers are now 5-7, and if the ball bounces the right way I definitely see this team being able to finish 8-8 or even (are I say) 9-7. I gave Jake a mulligan on his game vs. Philadelphia, so I'll give Matt Moore a mulligan on this game. I personally intend to treat the game vs. New England as his first start. People can talk about Moore playing ‘mistake free' until the cows come home, but in full games where Jake Delhomme has been asked to throw equal to, or less than 25 times his stats have been:
466 yards, 5 TD, 3 INT, 83.65 rating
The fact remains that when Jake is asked to do what Moore did yesterday he'll play well, ask him to throw 30-50 times and he'll fail. I hope Moore gets a shot to throw those 30-50 times so we can see if he can get it done or not. Until then, the jury is still out on Moore and this season as a whole.
65% Optimistic about the future as we face the New England Patriots