The Panthers dropped the ball again on Sunday after a dominating first half, letting the Seahawks score 31 unanswered points against us. We can clearly see, from this game alone, every single glaring mistake that has been our downfall the entire year. The worst part is that it's not getting better. We've been doing this for 14 weeks now and we haven't really seen any improvements from Week 1 to Week 12.
After the jump, we'll look at 5 steps to get us back on track this season...
Step 1: Blowing up the Offensive Line
It's just inexcusable. We have the 2nd worst pass protection in the NFL, 2nd only to maybe the Chicago Bears and the Martz offense system (which is going to get Cutler killed someday). We give up 1 sack every 11 pass attempts (a 9.1% sack-rating, adjusted for number of passes). Only Chicago is worse, giving up 10.1%. That's simply inexcusable. The worst part is, we've been bottom-feeding in this statistic for the entire year. Travelle Wharton and Jeff Otah being hurt isn't an excuse, but it certainly doesn't help matters. Gary Williams, Geoff Schwartz, and Mackenzey Bernadaeu simply are not NFL-starting caliber players. That jail-break play where Seattle rushed 3 (or 4?) lineman and all 3 of them got into the backfield was simply pathetic. Clausen was sacked within seconds of the snap.
Step 2: Improved Quarterback Play
Don't get me started. Really just don't. I don't want to hear about how Clausen can be the future because quite frankly I don't care. You're absolutely kidding yourself if you think Clausen's performance is in any way acceptable at this point. 3 Weeks into the year? Yeah sure, I can sympathize with the guy being thrown behind a shoddy line with an inept offense and rookie WRs. It's Week 14 now and it's time for Clausen to man up. We've said this for two weeks in a row now... He'll take 2 steps forward, and then 3 steps back or vice versa. Sunday was more of the 3 step back variety. In Week 10 against the Bucs, he set the bar for himself with a decent, albeit not stellar, game. That performance then became the bar and he has not raised it since then.
Like I said, I really don't care if Clausen is our franchise QB or not. Whoever is under center, whether it's him, Luck, or some schmoe off the street, needs to step up to the plate and play up to expectations. He simply hasn't done that since then.
Step 3: Tackling Defensive Tackle
So, when we released Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis, we had the answers behind them right? I mean, we traded for Tank Tyler and Louis Leonard, both who ended up on IR last year, and they were going to come back strong and step into the role these two very serviceable veterans had filled for years. Right? Well, no not quite. Tank and Louis were cut before the season even started and that alone should have been the harbinger of bad things to come. This was a big gamble we took, relying on a myriad of the who's-who of defensive tackles to plug up the middle that we had never really seen play before. This position needs to be addressed immediately. Either through Free Agency if we want to "win now" or through the draft if we think we can get by for now.
When you let a team, that is the worst in the NFL, double their season average against you... That's just wrong inexcusable.
Step 4: Parlaying Overabundant Wealth
Jon Beason, James Anderson, Thomas Davis, Jason Williams, Dan Connor, Jamar Williams, Eric Norwood... All seven of these players are either starting-caliber or future starters and we simply don't need that much talent on our roster at the linebacker position. I would wager to say that no other team in the NFL has as many playmakers at linebacker than we do, so we need to figure out how we are going to let this situation play out. The whole "Let's move to a 3-4 Defense" idea doesn't seem like a good idea to me. We've seen what happens this year when you take a Pro-Bowl MLB in Jon Beason and move him outside of his position. He suddenly becomes only good when he was excellent. Now imagine doing that for every single linebacker we have, and you'll start to understand why we shouldn't make that change.
Here's the problem though... Of all those seven players mentioned, only two of them are Free Agents, and Thomas Davis is going to be resigned this off season. Sadly, that leaves James Anderson as the only Free Agent in an already over-stacked Linebacker corps. So we can resign Anderson and trade someone else or we can let Anderson walk into free agency and use our wealth at the position to absorb this hit.
Running backs are in the exact same position. The emergence of Mike Goodson has made some people question whether or not we need to retain DeAngelo Williams. Ya know... Just the guy who only holds about every major rushing record on the team. But, I found myself being hypocritical by thinking that we could let Anderson walk but not Williams. So in the end, the same path applies. We can allow Williams to walk into Free Agency, or we can resign him and then trade someone else. One thing no one seems to think about is possibly trading Jonathon Stewart if Williams is resigned...
On the whole, what would make us a better team? I think you're crazy if you believe that resigning Anderson and DeAngelo wouldn't make us better. Think about it this way... If you resign them, you retain your starters and are able to turn unused wealth into draft picks. If you let them leave, you simply replace them with starters already on your team. To me, the option is obvious: you get more with the former than the latter.
Step 5: Self-evident Coaching Correction
We made one huge mistake this year and you can be the judge on which is worse: either letting John Fox stay or starting a rebuilding process in his last season. John Fox will not be back next year. You know it. I know it. The front office knows it. The players know it. If we were going to rebuild, we needed to start at the top with the head coach. Because of the unique situation brought about by the uncapped season, I believe this was the perfect year to cut away the dead-weight money we had tied up. But starting a youth movement without a head coach has gotten us into a situation where the coach has placed blame for this situation on the front office and said things of our two young quarterbacks like, "Neither one of them played good." Furthermore, I don't believe John Fox knows how to develop a quarterback. That glaring flaw is self-evident by the way quarterbacks have regressed since the departure of Mike McCoy. Jake Delhomme went from one of the NFL's best QBs in 2005, to one of it's worst in 2009. Matt Moore struggled to really get anything going this year and he may never play the game the same again now. Clausen faced the same problems and he's a rookie to boot, which just compounds the issue.
John Fox is a good coach. He's respected by everyone in the league. He will at least leave here with a .500 record. He took us from 1-15 to the Super Bowl and 2 other play off appearances. But he was not the man for this job. His teams from year to year have been nothing if not inconsistent, winning games everyone thought they had no chance in and losing games they should have dominated. And he's all but lead us back to where we were when he started: 1-15.
Can't say if a new coach would have prevented it, but I certainly don't think it would have hurt. Plus, the next coach won't have the Davidson-handicap.