Good morning Panther faithful and welcome to the first ‘optimist' post of 2010. If you unfamiliar with this series, each week after a game (usually Monday mornings) I write about not only who impressed from the previous game, but how they looked in terms of the future of the Carolina Panthers.
Last night's game v. Baltimore was a strange one. Both teams played out of character knowing that they would see each other when the game counts. Neither the Panthers nor the Ravens showed the dominant ground games we're accustomed to seeing, while on defense we didn't see any exotic blitz packages or stunts from either team. It was definitely a game where the sides were just feeling each other out, and from a coaching perspective I think they both only gave Thursday's game about 50%.
I would be remiss if I didn't spend a good potion of today talking about Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen. I was in two minds whether I needed to spend the time, but ultimately we're looking at the biggest story regarding the Panthers right now, and last night's game definitely didn't silence the discussions about competition, it amplified it. So won't you join me as we talk about the quarterbacks and the rest of the Panthers...
After the jump
Let start by saying that the starting QB position is Matt Moore's to lose. All last night did was give credence and a foundation to build an argument that there should be an open competition. Nine series do not a QB make, and even though Clausen was very impressive it's still very, very early to make any argument for Clausen to start over Moore; that being said, I understand why the rumblings will be there.
I want to urge people that throughout this process that we all remain consistent with our tone just to make it easier to form solid ground to base an argument off. What I mean by this is that I don't really consider it fair to chastise the organization for sticking with Jake Delhomme out of loyalty, whilst also advocating Matt Moore get the job outright due to him ‘waiting for his time'. Similarly, I would suggest to those writing off Clausen's performance last night to consider if they've ever said ‘Moore didn't look good in the preseason because he had to work with the backups' while also saying ‘Clausen only looked good because he worked against backups'. I think consistency of tone is extremely important.
I am a huge proponent and fan of John Fox and Marty Hurney, but their biggest sin has been having too much loyalty to their players are not enough loyalty to the organization. They have always been willing to give a guy a second, third and sometimes forth chance especially when said player has performed for them in the past. I believe that now Fox and Hurney need to be more clinical when dealing with their roster. The stars are aligning for the Summer of tough decisions to become a season of ones. The Panthers need to be a little less like the Carolina Panthers and a little more like the New England Patriots in dealing with their roster. Big strides were made during the offseason, but no longer can a guy get a roster spot based on what they did last year- they have to look at the best player for the 2010 Panthers. The team is still in flux (no, I wont use that buzz word ‘rebuilding') and the more moves that are solidified now the better the organization's future will be.
Matt Moore didn't do much wrong last night, but he didn't really do anything impressive either. I would love to pick his brain and try and understand how someone can look like Peyton Manning when the games count and look so underwhelming in the preseason. I know the offensive line was rough, I know he was playing against a stout defense- but we still saw some of the classic Matt Moore preseason mistakes. He overthrew receivers, didn't recognize the defense very well, and didn't call audibles he probably should have. The saving grace in all this is that Matt Moore has never looked good in the preseason, which is why he was buried at 3rd for so long, but the promise that he will be ‘good to go' when live bullets fly is only going to last so long; particularly when someone behind him is playing well.
After reading through the open thread comments and breaking down the film a fairly common theme I saw emerging both at CSR and from some other sites was ‘What did Clausen do to look so special?'. It's tough to quantify for someone relying on the box score to tell the tale, or someone who saw the surface level of his performance. What I saw from Jimmy Clausen was a player who did not look like a rookie QB walking into his first NFL huddle, he looked like a 5 year pro. For comparison I went back and looked at some footage of Mark Sanchez and Matt Stafford late in the 2009 season and for Clausen's 9 series he looked more comfortable at the line of scrimmage than either of those QBs did in December. The young QB entered the huddle and began immediately to identify blitzers to his OL, call out audibles and hot routes and generally look like a field general. This is that time where his confidence translates into something tangible on the field. He has an INT on his record that was undeserved, a TD that should probably be there and several other passes where he missed by just a hair due to pass rush (the quick release to Kenny Moore on the hitch comes to mind). There were three plays that stood out to me the most about Clausen:
Play One: On 1st and 10 late in the second quarter Clausen makes 4 separate reads and when he doesn't see anyone open he scrambles up the middle for 11 yards, sliding in a timely manor and avoiding a hit.
Play Two: With 5 minutes left in the 1st half Clausen audibles to a running play on the 5 yard line where Tyrell Sutton ultimately fumbles.
Play Three: Clausen threads the needle deep to Dante Rosario for a 19 yard gain.
So there you have it: Saving a broken play without taking a big risk, changing the play to a run based on what the defense is given and utilizing a TE for a big gain. These are the three elements I feel need to define a Carolina Panthers' QB.
Jimmy Clausen- Extremely Optimistic: See above
Greg Hardy- Extremely Optimistic: Sorry, why was Hardy a 6th rounder again? 5 solo tackles, 4 for a loss, 2 sacks, 2 QB hits. At one point Hardy stopped an entire drive... on his own, and was excellent against the run. It may be premature, but we could soon be saying ‘Julius who?'
Tony Fiametta- Extremely Optimistic: Another replacement who could make the loss of a beloved vet (Hoover) easier. Fiametta was a powerhouse in the blocking game, and caught passes when needed. It's tough to ask for much more from a fullback and Fi did a great job.
Tyler Brayton- Extremely Optimistic: Tyler had a chip on his shoulder last night, and with two early sacks working against Michael Oher it looked like he could get much more if he hadn't been injured.
DeAngelo Williams- Extremely Optimistic: It's D-Will, what more can you say? I saw only a few ‘real plays' from the Panthers true playbook and one of them was Williams' 20+ yard gain. He'll be reliable as ever in 2010.
Jason Baker- Extremely Optimistic: A 50.7 yard punting average? You have to be kidding me.
Matt Moore- Somewhat Optimistic: See above
Kenny Moore- Somewhat Optimistic: He did a lot to cement his place on the 53 last night. Compared to last year his route running looks much better and his hands look more reliable.
Dwayne Jarrett- Somewhat Optimistic: Another player where the stats don't tell the whole story. Jarrett looked lively early in the game and had his best plays erased by bad penalties. He has some life left in him yet.
Tyrell Sutton- Somewhat Optimsitic: Bad fumble aside, Sutton looked good in the time he had.
Eric Norwood- Somewhat Optimistic: Norwood looks like he can, and will be a factor on special teams. He also forced a valuable fumble.
Captain Munnerlyn- Extremely Pessimistic: I know it's early yet... but Captain's performance was more disheartening than anything else. He just doesn't have the tools to start against any starting WR in the NFL, but he'll still be valuable as a Nickel. Last night just proved how valuable Richard Marshall is.
Hunter Cantwell- Extremely Pessimistic: Was this the player we had heard so much about? Sure, he has arm strength but he has no poise and very little accuracy. Cantwell just doesn't throw a catchable ball; and when it is catchable there is no chance for any YAC.
Everyone who snapped the ball not named ‘Kalil'- Extremely Pessimistic: Pathetic, absolutely pathetic. Wet ball or not, there is no excuse for the amount of off center, high, low and every which way snaps last night.
Brandon LaFell- Somewhat Pessimistic: I don't think he will be on the ‘pessimistic' list for long, but LaFell was underwhelming last night. He didn't really get separation, and should have caught the Jimmy Clausen TD when he had a step and 4 inches in height over the opposing CB.
Armanti Edwards- Somewhat Pessimistic: He's just not ready to contribute yet. Sorry, but if you think otherwise you're being influenced by some outside emotions. Edwards' route running looks mediocre, he doesn't have a good enough first step to return punts with regularity and he looks like he'll get killed if he doesn't put some more bulk on his frame. He's a project and I believe he will be good in time, but I'm not hopeful he'll be able to meaningfully contribute in 2010.
I am surprisingly excited despite the loss last night. I could jump off the edge and cite a lost looking OL, underwhelming DTs and the lack of a standout receiver- but I think that is way, way too premature especially in a game where neither team wanted to show their hand. Remember when Ron Meeks needed to be fired before the regular season started last year? Yeah, me too.
90% Optimistic Heading into the game vs. New York