Yesterday's game was a congruent tug of war between dreams and nightmares. The first half on Ford field was a dream, the Carolina Panthers were given a window to the future, albeit a fleeting one. The offense was clicking in both the run and passing games, the defense was aggressive and opportunistic, while the special teams excelled in both the return game and coverage. It was a glimpse into what this team can, and will become- an affirmation that the coaching vision for this team is both successful and shows promise. Meanwhile the Lions were going through a nightmare, a team with lofty Wild Card goals that was being manhandled by a two-win team, then the second half happened.
While fans were taken to the Fox studio to hear talking heads break down the game, the clock struck twelve in the Motor City. The Panthers were whisked away from the lap of luxury and returned to being the pumpkin we remember, rather than the gilded carriage we were treated to for a half-hour. It was a tantalizing and cruel tease for fans desperate to forget about last week's game against Tennessee. The fact remains the same as it has for the entire season, we're still not very good. There are no coaching adjustments, no trade moves, no presto signings that can upgrade the talent of this team enough to turn things around... this is a process, and while the process sucks we can at least do our best collectively to see the worth from yesteday's game- and I'll attempt to do that...
After the jump
The myriad of emotions the fan base has following a loss is most curious. Here I feel like I need to stop for a second to take an aside and define my terms: When I say 'fan base' I'm talking about the entire spectrum of Panthers' fans, when I said 'community' I'm talking very specifically about the collection of fans we have here at CSR; is that straight? Let's move on. As a whole I feel our community is right on the money with their feelings about the team, but the fan base has become recently populated with morons. I'm not sure whether it was an influx of Cam fans, people who are fed up, or a combination of both, but the lack of football knowledge, or understanding is astonishing right now. This lack of understanding is unleashed on an unwitting collection of people on Twitter or Facebook.
There were two common threads from 95% of the fan base this afternoon:
1) Fire the coaches
2) Fire Marty Hurney
I've tried to look at this thinking from every single angle and neither statement make any sense to me at all. The coaches inherited a 2-14 team with very little talent across the 53, then they lost the #2 receiver, the starting middle linebacker, the starting outside linebacker, the starting RT, the starting RG... despite losing five starters they managed to patch together a top 10 offense and are doing everything they can with a defense lacking any semblance of NFL talent as a whole. Personally, I think it's wholly remarkable we've lost as close as we have to such a collection of great teams. Lest we forget, we are still coming off being the worst team in the NFL and playing one of the league's toughest schedules.
Then we get to Mart Hurney, and I'm even more bewildered. With the exception of Everette Brown and Armanti Edwards what's the ammunition against him as a GM? I get the feeling some fans were waiting with cat-like readiness to bitch whatever the outcome this off-season, had we let DeAngelo Williams go they would have complained about it, and by keeping him they've complained about it. I know I'm never going to win with these people, so I need to ignore them, but the ignorance is astounding. I think it's remarkable that in losing Jon Beason we were able to replace him with Dan Connor, and when Connor went down we could replace him with Jordan Senn... all three of whom were drafted by Hurney. The brightest spots on this team were all drafted by Hurney with the exception of Olsen and Shockey, and they were traded for as signed by him. The next predictable critique is the lack of spending, which I would counter with asking you to try and ask your boss if you can expense a few thousand dollars this morning, getting told no, and then being chewed out for not spending it anyway; sometimes you have to play within the confines your boss has given you.
Enough about the facepalm-able nature of our fans though, let's get back to the players in a game where a few need to be given credit, and some need to be chided.
Double Trouble- Extremely Optimistic It's really nice to put these guys on the better side of the ledger this week. Both DeAngelo and J-Stew excelled in their own areas, D-Will ran be ball spectacularly as he amassed 73 yards on just 10 carries, while Stewart was brilliant out of the backfield working with screen and swing passes. Slowly but surely we're seeing Chudzinski understanding how to use his backs, something he never had in Cleveland or San Diego. Williams ran like he was shot out of a gun against Detroit, and with a full head of steam it's near impossible to stop Stewart. Only thing I'd like to see more is some more touches for both of them as they totaled 25 on Sunday, but their overall usage is rising.
James Anderson- Extremely Optimistic There's been a great deal heaped on Anderson's shoulders as the LB who survived the beginning of 2011. As such he's been relied on to not only be a defensive standout, but also a leader on defense. In both facets he's done extremely well this season. Yesterday he was no different as he sealed his side of the field and made plays finishing with 10 tackles, 1 INT and 2 PDef. It's relieving to see that 2010 wasn't a fluke for Anderson who's on pace to eclipse his numbers from last season. It will be great to see Beason return with a dominant Anderson at his wing.
Brandon LaFell- Extremely Optimistic I'm really curious to see the dust settle on this season, the Panthers inevitably part ways with Legedu Naanee and see how they proceed at WR. While some are willing to pencil in David Gettis as an automatic as the #2 receiver, lest we forget he was more or less in the doghouse throughout training camp. Should Carolina elect to not draft a receiver, or pursue one through free agency it will be fascinating to see if LaFell has done enough to win the job. He's a curious case because he's a possession receiver, and a big play receiver... he's both, but neither. I don't believe he'll ever be a #1 receiver, but he has an innate ability to carve up secondaries and find a soft spot to make a big play.
Kealoha Pilares- Extremely Optimistic I don't care than he needed to kneel out much of the game, when you shatter the team's KR record and give us the first TD since Rod Smart you'll make it to this grade. It wasn't an amazing day as a whole for Pilares, but it was a great return... and as such he cemented himself as the returner.
Thomas Keiser- Extremely Optimistic Say what you will about this new coaching staff, but there's no doubt they have an eye for talent. In the first half Keiser was a dominant pass rusher who kept the Lions off balance, while he disappeared in the second half (or rather the Lions clocked better) he still deserves credit for a good game.
Jordan Senn- Somewhat Optimistic Senn doesn't really have any business playing MLB at 224lbs, but I think he could be a dark horse to take over as an OLB in the future. He has great lateral and closing speed, just not the strength to stand up players at the LOS in the run game.
Defensive Tackles- Extremely Pessimistic Song remains the same here, and will remain the same until we have some time to upgrade talent. No sense in beating an already dead horse here.
Cam Newton- Extremely Pessimistic Before we all rage, please remember this is a one game ranking. When it's all said and done Newton will be great, of that I have no doubt. On Sunday though he laid an egg though. Cam ran the ball well, but so did DeAngelo and J-Stew, so it's hard to quantify whether he did anything they couldn't have. In passing he was sailing his passes, being inaccurate and making bad decisions. Over 100 of Newton's passing yards went to safe screen and swing passes, he didn't throw the ball down field very well at all. Cam is at his best when he uses his arm to allow his WRs to make plays on the football, and he's at his worst when he falls in love with his arm and tries to force plays. Yesterday he was focusing too much on forcing plays, and that's where he faltered.
Sherrod Martin- Extremely Pessimistic If I could be a fly on the wall to understand what has happened with Martin I'd be a happy man. He's regressed far more than any player on the Carolina Panthers and as a result he's constantly out of position and seems to lead the team in arm tackles. Somethings got to give.
Jordan Gross- Extremely Pessimistic Pretty mediocre game from Gross yesterday, and as such the strains of 'Matt Kalil' is hard to ignore. It would behoove the Panthers to take the younger Kalil and move Gross over to RT in 2012.
Ryan Kalil- Somewhat Pessimistic Did okay in the blocking game, but his consistently low shotgun snaps didn't help Cam succeed at all on Sunday.
There weren't many terrible parts to the Panthers game on Sunday, but those terrible parts were quite abysmal and cost Carolina the game. It's frustrating, it's annoying, but it's a process. Next week we'll win, I guarantee it. I say that because it is my fervent belief the Indianapolis Colts are intentionally tanking 2011, and we're still trying to win- it's as simple as that.
80% optimistic in the future of the Carolina Panthers