So the Panthers are 0-3. Humbug. That's not the place we wanted to be 3 weeks ago. "3-0 is a whole lot better than being 0-3." Even John Fox will agree to that. However, there are things to hope for if you're a Panthers fan. The Panthers problems have all the potential in the world to have a successful offense and thus a successful team.
Think about it. How much has our offense really changed in the last year. Our offensive line? The only new untested guy in there is the Geoff Schwartz, and even he'll be replaced by Otah once we come back from the bye week. Our running backs? We still have two of the best backs in the league. Our wideouts? Number 89 still here, and even though Moose is gone can we really say he's a god among men when compared to the young guys we have now?
My point is this. The key cogs of our offense are still here from the end of 2009. Remember? When we slaughtered the Favre led Vikings and the New York Football Giants by a combined 67 points in back-to-back games? In my eyes, this offense is a sleeping giant. We have so much potential hidden deep inside our team that threatens to break out and shock the NFL at any given moment. We're like a muscleman in a straightjacket, lashing out and tearing to pieces anyone that twitches in just that perfect way, returning into the corner of that white, cushion-covered room and garbling through white foam about the glorious days of times long since past.
So beware Saints. Beware. You may come into this game thinking you have an easy win. But here in Carolina, we decide when it's time for us to win or lose. We are the guardian of our fates. We gave those games to the Giants, the Bengals, and the Bucs. As charity for forsaken teams. No. No. No one has beaten Carolina yet this season, we've been busy beating ourselves. We're a team searching for a spark, a defining moment where all doubt disappears and a team realizes their true greatness.
And where better than against the Super Bowl champions themselves?
The Saints are a 4-3 defense built to provide pressure on the opposing QB. As such, the Panthers have an advantage against the Saints in running the football. While the Saints give up an average of 145 rushing yards per game, 30th in the league, the Panthers in the darkest straits still manage to average in the middle of the league in running the football at just under 98.3 yards per game. Their passing defense is a little bit better, just above average in the league at allowing 217.3 yards per game for the 15th ranking in the league. I fully expect the Panthers to attack the Saints with a heavy dose of Smash and Dash, and hope that we can revive the running game from last year.
Our keys to the offense are as follows.
Don't beat yourself! Clean up those turnovers!
It's far past time for the Panthers to stop fumbling the ball all over the field. Interceptions and fumbles, those are what have killed us our last 3 games. Our defense is under-performing simply because the other team has had the ball given to the other team so many times by our offense. With a renewed emphasis towards the running game to exploit the weakness of the Saints in addition to a dryer field, I fully expect that to change.
Establish the running game.
Forget passing for the moment. Unless the Saints do something ridiculous like stack 9 men in the box like the Bengals did last week, there will be a big opportunity for the Panthers to establish their running game. We need to get back to dominating the line of scrimmage and blocking on the second level. There were some encouraging signs near the end of the game against the Bengals, but we can't wait till the game is out of reach to start playing again. Our line needs to penetrate and block those linebackers, and Tony Fiametta needs to make sure he gets his blocks off. If you give him a hole, Deangelo Williams can make some plays. We all remember when Double Trouble combined for over 2,000 yards last year. It's not too late to do it again.
Respect the Pickle.
When the Saints inevitably stack the box with 8 or 9 men, we have to start getting the 1st downs. Remember, Jimmy Clausen wasn't brought into Carolina to be a star. That may change next year if John Fox goes and we get a pass-happy OC as our new head coach, but until Fox leaves the running game is going to be the bread and butter of this offense. We have to keep putting Jimmy Clausen into 3rd and manageable situations and give him a decent play to run. There are a lot of simple plays though that a rookie can run to gain big chucks of yardage when the middle is stacked. The RB screen for instance, and the slant route to Steve Smith for instance. Simple plays that have a high completion percentage. And as we are successful, the box will start to loosen up a little bit, and that's when our running backs can get back to making those big chucks of yardage they were so famous for next year.
Finally, it's not too late to turn this season around. But we have to hit on a hot streak, and fast. Remember, football is a game of momentum. When the Panthers made the Super Bowl in 2003, they did it because Jake Delhomme brought the team out of the dumps. If they can pull ourselves out of the kitchen for a moment and start playing like men, the Panthers can win this game.