Good morning Panther faithful and welcome to the Monday Morning Optimist. It was an astonishingly ugly game on Saturday night as both the Panthers and Jets showcased their defenses while neither offense was allowed to achieve anything. For the Panthers the game was marred with terrible special teams play as the Panthers turned the ball over on three separate occasions on punt returns, once to a muffed punt, once to a fumble and once to a returner touching a dead ball. Despite these three special teams' turnovers and two interceptions the Jets managed to only muster nine points to the Panthers three.
If you look at the lack of offense (175 total yards gained) and then realize that the Panthers are still without Steve Smith and Jonathan Stewart they really did quite well. The cliff's notes version of today's optimist is this: The defense is an embarrassment of riches; the offensive depth is just an embarrassment. So, let's break it all down...
After the jump
For the moment I feel it necessary to open the optimist each week with a look at the quarterbacks because this is still one of the biggest storylines for the Carolina Panthers. Neither QB will be featured today in any rankings as I think both played middle of the road. Each had a bad interception, but really without adequate protection and decent receivers it's tough to know how much more either Matt Moore or Jimmy Clausen could have done with the weapons at their disposal.
Right now I see both Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen as polar opposites of the same quarterback:
Moore commands the huddle better and has a more accurate deep ball, give Matt Moore a pocket and he can make almost any mid-long range pass needed. His drawback however is that sometimes he holds onto the ball too long before making a decision to throw which can lead to defenses getting a jump on his passes, or closing on the receiver early.
Clausen is better at the line of scrimmage and calling audibles. He's more accurate on short to mid routes and can do more when the pocket is collapsing (which we saw plenty of on Saturday). His drawback is getting a little jumpy after the snap and throwing before the play has fully developed.
Ultimately, I feel safe in saying that I believe Matt Moore has a better arm and Jimmy Clausen has better instincts. Now for Moore I believe he can develop those instincts over time, conversely I think Clausen can get into the weight room and develop his arm. I still don't see this being a QB battle, but at this point I would really like to see what Clausen can do with the 1st team OL, just because the backups are so terrible it would be nice to see what he could do with a pocket, any pocket; now I know Matt Moore didn't exactly have eternity in the backfield, but there is a distinct difference between 1.5 seconds and less than a second.
Today's optimistic rankings will be dominated by the defense, and the pessimistic ones by the offense. As bigdavis featured in his play by play breakdown there were over 20 Panthers on defense who made an least one impact play during Saturday's game, so I'm concentrating on the guys who really stood out against the Jets.
Everette Brown- Extremely Optimistic: Flashes of Dwight Freeney on Saturday night. I hope those flashes will become his regular illumination as Brown was all over the field. I heard from the cadre of fans behind me ‘Was that 91 again?' and it was at that moment I realized that I think the light bulb is coming on for Everette Brown adding to the list of Des who have made an impact already.
Dan Connor- Extremely Optimistic: 6 tackles in one half... let that sink in for a second. Whatever communication errors there were against Baltimore were eradicating against the Jets. There were almost two defensive huddles going on a BoA, one between the whole defense and then a second one between Connor and Beason with Beast obviously tutoring ‘The Con-Man' (adopted Saturday night, I don't know if it will stick).
Jon Beason- Extremely Optimistic: The thing that's funny about putting Beast at LOLB: he creates a head game for the opposing offense, and on Saturday night the Jets looked scared to run the ball to Beason's side of the field. The two times they did so resulted in a 7 yard loss (tackle by Beason and Landri) and a 0 yard gain (tackle by Louis Leonard and Dan Connor). While Beason may not put up those 125+ tackles in 2010 it almost feels like he's influencing the game more. Every down Sanchez was watching Beason like a hawk and pointing him out. When you're one of the top 3 linebackers in the league and the other team fear you good things happen.
Eric Moore- Extremely Optimistic: M-cubed is the 3rd Moore on the Panthers' roster, and still the most unlikely to earn a roster spot... but he's doing the absolute most with the time he has and making a strong case to take Hilee Taylor's spot.
Captain Munnerlyn- Extremely Optimistic: This rating is solely from a defensive perspective, not his special teams play. What a difference putting Captain back at nickel makes. He really is about 10 times better covering the slot than he is 1 on 1. The Panthers' pass defense looks completely different with their full compliment of DBs available.
Nick Hayden- Extremely Optimistic: Hayden is showing up this preseason in a way we haven't seen before. He is looking very comfortable at DT and making big plays. I always believed the Panthers would have DE's step up in 2010, but when guys like Nick Hayden, Derek Landri and Ed Johnson are making plays at DT you start to see the first permutations of something special on defense.
Chris Gamble- Somewhat Optimistic: Only gets bumped down a little because he should have gotten the pick. Did you see Braylon Edwards make a catch on Saturday? I sure didn't... that's because of Gamble. He doesn't do anything flashy, but he rides the hip of his man all game and is a total nuisance to a #1 WR.
Too many more to name... great work by the defense.
DeAngelo Williams- Somewhat Optimistic: D-Will was D-Will... he did exactly what he always does and that is a good thing.
Jason Baker- Somewhat Optimistic: 9 punts by Baker... 9! Held a good average, pinned them inside the 20 on one and had a long of 61 yards. Good work.
A thing to understand if you're new to these posts is that these rankings start anew every week. They're merely a barometer by which I enter the next week. If a player fumbles 3 times they are ranked down, but these are erased with a 200 yard performance the next week. So, please don't be too offended if your player of choice is mentioned.
Armanti Edwards- Extremely Pessimistic: Edwards got the benefit of the doubt somewhat last week... he doesn't this week. Simply put, he needs to get better. Edwards was going to be relied on for one thing this season, punt returns and they were beyond ugly. I'm not sure if he let Pugh know on the first punt to get out of the way, but regardless it was a comedy of errors. The muffed fair catch was the icing on the cake. I can understand fumbling the ball when you're looking to make a return and have defenders bearing down on you... but with no pressure in an FC situation it's just bad. Sure, on paper he caught 2 of 2 passes, but his route running wasn't very crisp, he didn't get very good separation and one of those receptions was willed into happening by Jimmy Clausen on a broken play.
Brandon LaFell- Extremely Pessimistic: Size and strength, size and strength... these need to be the hallmarks of Brandon LaFell's game. He failed to get separation, didn't use his body well enough and left yards on the table when he did make a reception. He needs to get better, and he knows it (from Sunday via twitter): "Gotta get better startin 2day..."
Everyone on special teams not named ‘Kasay or Baker'- Extremely Pessimistic: Brother, can I buy a block? The special teams' blockings, coverage and returns are all beyond dismal. The last thing I want to see if us having to put Steve Smith back there on PRs just to fair catch it (I don't want any contact) but at this rate we need someone who can catch a football to do something. One bright spot who should probably also be exempt is Wallace Wright, who was good in coverage.
Mike Goodson- Extremely Pessimistic: Jaxon said it perfectly; it's tough to see him showcase his speed when he can't beat the first tackler. Goodson is playing his way off the team right now with backwards returns, sideways running and backfield ‘dancing' with no gains. Sutton has cemented himself as the #3 in my opinion, and unless something changes I think we'll be drafting a late round RB to be #4 come the 2011 draft.
CJ Davis- Extremely Pessimistic: Davis is going to be singled out for basically missing every single block on Saturday night. Most costly was a play in the 4th quarter where instead of making a safe block he threw his body at the defender hoping to make a big play; he whiffed and a 20+ yard gain was 7 yards on a screen pass.
Anyone who snaps a football not named ‘Kalil'- Extremely Pessimistic: When first cuts roll around we need to troll the landscape for a backup center, because this is ugly. There is no good way Clausen or any of the other QBs can show what they've got when working with low, high and sideway snaps.
Too many more to name... terrible job by the offense.
Two special mentions from my live experience.
Panthers' stadium announcer- Extremely Pessimistic: Okay dude, I get that you may not know the names of all the Jets players... but ‘Tank Knight' really? You went for ‘Knight' over ‘Tyler'? He also forgot Ed Johnson's name at one point and gave up, while getting the down and distance wrong frequently.
Hipsters Inside BoA- Extremely Pessimistic: Hipsters clearly invaded the stadium as skinny jeans and loose Wes Welker jerseys were seen in the row in front of me. Their coiffed, professionally styled mullets were almost too much to handle.
Belligerent Jets' fans- Extremely Pessimistic: Okay, so maybe this couple didn't take too kindly to me referring to them as ‘The Situation' and ‘Snookie' but this belligerent loudmouth couple would stand and applaud every bad play while saying, and I quote ‘Mark Sanchez is better than Tom Brady'. These weren't the true blue Jets fans, but it was ugly.
The defense looks outstanding, and scary. I'm hoping with a less vanilla playbook and the return of Steve Smith and Jonathan Stewart the Panthers' offense will fall in line too. Only time will tell but with 1st cuts looming we'll soon know who's impressing and who's lagging behind.
80% Optimistic Heading into the game vs. Tennessee