After last night abysmal performance against Dallas I sat on my sofa trying to think of some positives for today’s article. Every time I thought of one, it was passable at best and the pessimism was rife. So, forgive me if I appear a little more pessimistic today that my normal, chipper self.
It all starts at the top and in this case a special shout out needs to go to Marty Hurney. Why? It’s simple… we never should have franchised Julius Peppers in the first place. It was clear Peppers didn’t want to remain a Carolina Panther and his desire was questionable to begin with, so, rather than part ways (as bad as it would be) we got ourselves on the hook for $18 million dollars.
If we hadn’t spent that money it is likely Ken Lucas would still be a Panther, we would have depth at DT, our special teams could be better, we could have gotten a WR… the list goes on. Regardless of team need there needed to be a voice of reason to say "Is it right we’re putting so much money into one player?" There didn’t seem to be that voice, and now we’re paying for it. The franchise tag should be a tool to buy time to allow for a contract extension (see Jordan Gross) not as a means to keep a disgruntled player on roster who isn’t going to show up.
Before I break down the players and personnel themselves I feel I need to also mention John Fox. Fox was not mentioned in last week’s ‘optimist’ as I instead chose to focus on the co-coordinators. However, as it stands right now on Tuesday morning I have lost faith in our head coach. There was always a constant from the Panthers that you could rely on, a quantifiable "We’ll always run the ball first" mentality in Charlotte that was distinctly John Fox. Last night we saw that philosophy crumble, whither and die all within one half of football. The Arizona game was justifiable, after all we were down big early, and we had to throw to get back in it. Philadelphia was pegged on Jake, and rightfully so… he made bad decisions. Last night? Well, I don’t think anyone knows what happened last night. We were controlling the game going into the half, sloppy? Yes, but we were in control. DeAngelo Williams was averaging 6.8 ypc and the Cowboys didn’t seem to have a solid answer for him. Something changed at half time; something must have occurred in the locker room that caused the team to believe throwing the ball was the answer in the second half. Jeff Davidson will get his later in the column, but what has happened to pull this team away from John Fox’s philosophy?
Changes need to be made… but sadly, and realistically we can’t do it right now. I think the search for a new head coach needs to begin, but we don’t have any coaches in the organization who I would be comfortable turning the keys over to. The buzz from the fan base will be for Bill Cowher, who still hasn’t indicated he’s interested in coaching; however, we need to start the search. It’s a sad day in Charlotte, John Fox was clearly the best coach we’ve ever had… but the entire organization can’t crumble to save one man’s job and it appears he’s losing control of the team.
Thomas Davis- Very Optimistic: Davis is flying to the ball and flourishing in Meek’s defense. Davis ended with 4 tackles, 1 sack and 1 pass defended. He was involved in almost every play of the defense and was the source of a lot of Tony Romo’s frustrations in the first half. Davis did everything asked of him, and more.
Jon Beason- Very Optimistic: I debated whether to give him this distinction or not, but in the end I had to. He was another bright spot on the defense recording 10 tackles, 1 sack and 1 pass defended. Beason was furious on the sidelines towards the end of the game, and that’s something to be optimistic about. If the leader is as angry as the fan base about the state of the defense, then it shows he realizes there is a problem.
DeAngelo Williams- Very Optimistic: It’s not his fault if he’s not handed the ball. When he did have the ball in his hands he was lightning. 11 carries, 64 yards, 5.8 ypc. No excuse why he didn’t get the ball more though.
Dante Rosario - Somewhat Optimistic: The Ghost of Wesley Walls missed a bad block early, but redeemed himself in the second quarter. Being our only real receiving threat all night is enough to give him a bump.
Ron Meeks (first half) - Somewhat Optimistic: The blitz schemes were confusing Dallas, and the plan was working. It would have been amazing if the defensive players could finish a tackle. They need to bring in some rugby coaches to teach them how to tackle, in my humble opinion. The LBs were flying around so much it made us look like we were running and 3-4 and they got excellent penetration.
Jeff Davidson - Extremely pessimistic: My first vote for who needs to get the chopping block. I don’t understand how a man who can improve the run game with smart blocking schemes in 2008 can completely abandon it in 2009. If the plan was to throw the ball 35 times a game then we never should have drafted Jonathan Stewart and gotten a WR. Pathetic play calling: In the first half the play action pass worked because the run was a threat, in the second half, without the run as a threat, it only gave the pass rush more time to get to Jake. Davidson has proved ineffective, and unable to work with the Panther offensive personnel, it’s time to say bye-bye to Jeff.
Julius Peppers - Extremely Pessimistic: People predicted he would have a big game in big D as an audition for 2010. Well, it didn’t really go that way. Julius had less tackles than Nick Hayden… let that sink it. Furthermore he missed a bad tackle that resulted in the 40 yard gain by Felix Jones and was continually shut down by Flozell Adams and/or Jason Witten… absolutely pathetic play.
Charles Godfrey- Extremely Pessimistic: When he wasn’t slipping, sliding and missing tackles he was blowing coverage and allowing big gains; Completely inexcusable for our starting FS.
Jake Delhomme- Somewhat Pessimistic: Sadly, it seems that his arm strength is sinking faster than the Titanic. The first INT was all on Jake; could Moose have made a play for it? Sure, but that doesn’t excuse the underthrown ball. Before the Tommy John surgery Jake would overthrow on that play… maybe age is catching up with him. Second INT was on Steve Smith for not running the route, he said so himself. The ball was out as Smitty was making the cut; he just chose to go outside instead of inside. Jake had a very bright two minute drill that included two lovely passes to Dante Rosario, so he avoids ‘very pessimistic’, at least for now.
Ron Meeks (second half) - Somewhat pessimistic: Gets a ‘somewhat’ rather than a ‘very’ because the defense were tired and worn down due to the lack of offense. Still, moving away from the blitz was very disheartening, especially after seeing what our defense could do in the first half.
Steve Smith - Somewhat Pessimistic: I know he was being doubled all game, but that second INT can’t go without blame. As bad as we were playing we were still in the game at that point. On a quick throw like that a veteran can’t ‘improvise’ his route.
Final Assessment: 10% optimistic going into the Bye-week.
There isn’t a lot to look forward to except change, and the fact it’s a bye week. If there’s one thing I know about the Big Cat it’s that he won’t make major changes during the season, so expect John Fox and Marty Hurney to remain through the rest of 2009. Meeks should get a pass for now, as the defense showed some hope, but on the offensive end Davidson needs to go… now. The players look as frustrated as the fans, and while the players should not be absolved from yesterday’s loss a lot of it falls on the play calling.
We come back from the bye-week against Washington which is always an emotional contest in the Carolinas and definitely a winnable game for the Panthers, however, there need to be some changes. I won’t be looking at optimism heading into Washington until next week, when we see if any shake up has happened, but right now I don’t have a lot of hope. If this season ends up being as bad as it could be and we gave up the pick that could have gotten us Sam Bradford, then watch us become the cautionary tale for the league about trading draft picks.