Good morning Panther faithful and welcome to the Monday Morning Optimist.
Can a step step forward still be considered a step forward if it's a baby one? This tends to be the by-line for yesterday's game in Tampa Bay. Offensively the Panthers didn't throw any interceptions, they also registered a 100 yard rusher- the second and first times this season respectively. Conversely, the Carolina Panthers' defense was utterly atrocious allowing Josh Freeman to complete 75% of his passes and giving up 186 yards on the ground for two scores.
Again it becomes one of those situations where one phase of the game is letting the entire team down. On paper Carolina putting up 300 total yards, 28 minutes of possession and 16 points should be enough to win a game, but not when you allow 421 yards. Couple that with some extremely questionable decisions by the game's referees and ultimately it was insurmountable for the Carolina Panthers offense.
I think it's tough to watch Sunday's game and not see that improvements are being made. Despite being without DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Tyrell Sutton and Dan Connor for the whole game and Travelle Wharton and Brandon LaFell for much of the game the Carolina Panthers managed to remain compeditive with the now 6-3 Bucs.
So let's look at the individual performances and some additional analysis after the jump.
There are certain things that I don't normally complain about in the MMO because I write them off as 'part of the game'; officating tends to be one of those areas. I feel that as many bad calls a team gets a year they'll normally get enough gifts that the result is normalized. That being said, it's hard to ignore just how bad the officiating was on Sunday for both teams. The NFL needs to stop with these 'points of emphasis' in the offseason and instead pull the zebras back into school to concentrate on the fundamentals and the rules already in place. My problem with the NFL rulebook as it stands: too much subjectivity. Simply put, too many NFL rules are left open to interpretation and we saw that in spades on Sunday.
It doesn't matter if you think the NFL has become a passing league, what does matter are the rules as they stand. All day Aqib Talib was hanging onto Steve Smith's jersey past the 5 yard marker like a 4 year old holding onto their mother's shirt in a department store. Finally in the closing minutes of the game the refs called the softest PI when the game was already out of reach. Beason got the same treatment earlier, but ultimately the difference was that Beason's PI came when the game was in the balance, and ultimately that call led to a score for Tampa Bay.
Then comes the takeaway by Charles Johnson that could have resulted in a TD being blown dead, then having inconclusive evidence to overturn despite it being clear that Johnson got the ball prior to the runner being down. That was yet another play that came at a pivotal moment in the game but without the correct result.
Finally we have what I believe to be the most disgusting play of the game by Tampa's resident pencil-mustached thug Aqib Talib. As Jimmy Clausen went for a 1-yard QB sneak and held up at the goal line Talib thought it prudent to rush the pile a good 2 seconds after the play was done and take a helmet led shot at the defenseless Clausen held up by the line. Ultimately Steve Smith was flagged for a personal foul for rushing in to defend his QB, but again it was one of those situations where one wonders "If that was Tom Brady and there was a concussion, how long would Talib be suspended?" It wasn't a maneuver that isa part of the average game, it was a clear attempt to prove a point, or an injury; either way it has no place in the game, and I hope he gets a call from the league.
So, there's my rant on the officiating... now we can get to some true football related ones.
I know it's more fashionable than Dolce and Gabbana to blame the quarterback for the Panthers woes, but Sunday again proved this really isn't the case. Did Jimmy Clausen light the world on fire? Hardly... but his 55% completion, no INT day should normally be enough for a Panthers win. Go back and look at the game logs for Jake Delhomme and you'll see an almost identical stat line in scores of Carolina wins.
However, most promising is that Clausen did take some baby steps. He still has issues getting the ball over the LoS, but as a whole he made strides. Look no further than his 34 yard pass to Steve Smith as an example of what he can do when he has time from the offensive line.
Clausen was 4/12 on third downs where he threw the ball, but the real question should be "Why did he have to throw the ball 12 times on third down?" simply put the Panthers need to stop playing for 3rd down and treat every down with the same urgency and care that they do the 3rd. Consistent 3rd and 12s aren't going to get it done with this team because that down and distance needs a competent OL to hold their blocks for a 5 step drop, and they can't get it done.
Jimmy still has plenty of growing up to do, but circumstances mean we'll get to see over the next seven games whether he continues to progress or whether we will need to be having the Andrew Luck discussion come April. As it stands here are Clausen stats as a starter:
52/105 (49.5%), 586 yards (5.6 average), 1 TD, 2 INT, 62.35 QB rating
I'll keep this up during the MMO in coming weeks and we can measure the changes.
Now, on to the personal rankings:
Mike Goodson- Extremely Optimistic: Despite the ugly fumble early on I will never slight a guy who puts up 100 on the ground and hit holes despite mediocre OL play. At this point if DeAngelo comes back and remains ineffective, while Goodson plays well you have to wonder if the Panthers will look at the two guys they have under contract (Stewart and Goodson) and wonder if there is a need to throw top dollar and Williams. This was an important game for Mike Goodson because he showed that he can play running back, as funny as that sounds. It wasn't just for flares of screens he was required to run the ball for three downs and did so admirably.
David Gettis- Extremely Optimistic: Not a game with a lot of 'wow' factor, but three targets, three receptions for 42 yards is an impressive game.
John Kasay- Extremely Optimstic: Have to give credit to the man who can't age. I believe it was Oldham who said "We're screwed when he retires" or something to that effect, and I agree. It wont be easy to replace John Kasay- there is good reason he retains his job to the point of having a KoS on the roster.
Captain Munnerlyn- Extremely Optimistic: Did a good job in coverage as a nickel, and had a great 37 yard punt return.
Jimmy Clausen- Somewhat Optimistic: See above.
Jordan Pugh- Somewhat Optimistic: Yet another great day returning the ball. Averaged 22 yard per return with a long of 26.
Officiating- Extremely Pessimistic: See above
Play calling- Extremely Pessimistic: Terrible offensive play calling has before par for the course for the Carolina Panthers. Early in the game he game plan seemed to play to players strengths, but quickly devolved into the same old same old. The other side of the ball was marred wit bad timing on blitz packages, especially the all out blitz on 3rd and 15 in the 4th quarter which was the defensive equivalent of Matt Moore's flea flicker against St. Louis. Rest assured though, we'll be told it was execution.
Defense- Extremely Pessimistic: If there is one area you can firmly blame on execution it's the defense. Arm tackles, bad positioning as a whole the unit was terrible.
Richard Marshall- Extremely Pessimistic: Usually when I say an entire unit was bad I don't double dip... but I figured 'why not?' Richard Marshall really isn't selling himself to be rewarded with the big contract he and agent Drew Rosenhaus thinks he deserves.
Jeff King- Extremely Pessimistic: Like Richard Marshall he is another guy that is making it hard to imagine he'll be offered an extension. Dropped passes, missed blocks and false starts were the calls of the day for King.
Jason Baker- Somewhat Pessimistic: Some of it is on the protection, but he had some terrible punts mustering only 31.6 yards average and a long of 35.
Baby steps ladies and gentleman... baby steps. There were enough positives to build on today that it's going to be curious how the rest of the season goes. Next week though is against Baltimore... and that will be a serious test for the Panthers and Jimmy Clausen who will have to deal with the stout Ravens defense.
20% optimstic about next Sunday's game against Baltimore
Music note: From feedback people tended to like hearing what I was listening to while writing... so this week's choice was "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" from French alt-rock band "Phoenix".