Merry Christmas eve Panther faithful. Last night's game was a microcosm for the Panthers' season as a whole. Carolina were outmatched by their opponents and helped them by ostensibly beating themselves with badly dropped passes, missed opportunities and costly turnovers.
It was a game where looking at the box score is misleading. Yes, Jimmy Clausen made mistakes, he definitely needs to get better and understanding and avoiding the pass rush... but in my belief the wide receivers let him down as much as he let them down. Fact is: Jimmy Clausen has a handlful of moments every game where he looks like he has a NFL future, a handful of moments that make him look like he has no business in the NFL and a larger set of plays that fall in between; we are left with a bell curve of mediocrity that doesn't sell him enough to stave off a top QB falling in the Panthers' laps during the draft.
That being said, in honor of Christmas cheer, peace on earth and goodwill to all men I think it apropos to concentrate on a good sign for the Panthers, rather than concentrate on an unsure one; the defensive ends as a group have really stepped up in the absence of Julius Peppers and proven that we may not need a top DE heading into the NFL draft.
Let's take a look at the DE's and give out our holiday cheers and jeers.... after the jump.
Based purely on sacks alone the Carolina Panthers had 31 sacks in 2009. Of these 31 sacks, 22 came from the DE's.
Thus far in 2010 the Carolina Panthers have 30 sacks. Of these 30 sacks, 17.5 have come from the DE's. Okay, so superficially the Panthers have dropped off, but don't think it's because they're lacking Julius Peppers, but rather Tyler Brayton falling off the face of the earth. Brayton accounted for 5.5 sacks in 2009, and has none in 2010. Instead guys like Charles Johnson (11.5 sacks), Everette Brown (3.5 sacks) and Geg Hardy (3 sacks). Three young players accounting for all the sacks of the DE's. This is very encouraging.
Of these three players there's one who stands out, Charles Johnson. What started as an amusing curiosity of comparing Johnson's sack total to Peppers' has transcended into putting Johnson in th annals of NFL elite. Think that statement is fraught with hyperbole? Think again.
Granted, there is one more game for most of the league to play, but as it stands right now Johnson is 3rd in the NFL among 4-3 DE in sacks. Let that sink in for a second: third in the NFL. More than Justin Tuck, more than Osi Umenyiora, more than Jared Allen, Trent Cole and the aforementioned Julius Peppers. The only players in front of Johnson as it stands are Atlanta's John Abraham and Tennessee's Jason Babin, both with 12 sacks.
I'll be the first to give myself a pat on the back for saying Johnson would surprise people this year, but truth be told he surprised even me. Perhaps most impressive is that he's amassed this number without any assistance from his opposite number in Brayton, nor has he benefited from a strong defensive line to make his life easier. Though it's a basketball term analysts always refer to great players as "creating their own shot" not having to rely on anyone else to make them look better than they are, well, Charles Johnson is "creating his own sacks" and proving that he is ready to be a force in the NFL.
Charles Johnson- Extemely Optimistic: See above
Derek Landri- Extremely Optimistic: Landri really has been good when given the opportunity this year. He doesn't get a lot of chances to shine but his 3 tackle, sack performance did that.
Greg Hardy- Somewhat Optimstic: What I like so much about Hardy is his natural ability to understand what move to use at what time. One of the largest critiques of Everette Brown is that he has a Dwight Freeney-esque love with the spin move, almost to a fault. Hardy on the other hand knows when to rip, run over his man or spin. While his name doesn't appear on the box score Hardy was busy all night long and looked to be threatening on numerous occasions despite a stout Pittsburgh OL.
One more game to go- Tangentially Optimistic: The pain that is 2010 is almost over. Once the Superbowl is over the clock is reset and everyone is 0-0 again. Only difference is that bar some act of god we'll have the #1 overall pick to play with.
Secondary- Extremely Pessimistic: Just terrible game by the entire secondary. Ben Roethlisberger shredded the cover-2 all night and while it can be toug for an individual to make a dent when the QB is carving up the zone it's also incumbent upon the players to make plays on the ball when they're there.
Wide Receivers- Extremely Pessimistic: None of the receivers did anything to help the QB last night. Whether it was David Gettis not fighting for the ball resulting in the INT, or Smitty yet again dropping passes it was ugly. Smith is now tied 4th in the NFL in drops with 9.
Offensive Line- Extremely Pessimistic: We need help... simple as that because they can't keep letting pass rushers through the line unblocked.
Not much else to say really.
Normally here I'd wax poetic about our next opponent, talk about 'winnable games' or other some such... but there's not much to say. 2010 is almost over and the promise of a new season abounds thankfully.
This is the last MMO for 2010 due to the Thursday night game, so I would like to thank each and every one of you for reading each week. I promise you, I love writing this for you guys each and every week and hopefully we'll have a lot more optimism in 2011.
Have a very happy and safe holidays!