And the season is FINALLY among us. No more vanilla game plans, no more roster games, no more speculation on who's starting or what color shoelaces they're wearing, today we find out. And it's about time.
One of the worst things about coming off a miserable season is the mood of the fan base. When you were 9-7 a year before, people are excited and thinking about what needs to happen right for the home team to be a blowout favorite in the Super Bowl.
That's what they've been doing across the NFC South this past week.
In Carolina, on the other hand, it's a question of what we have to do right to merely be bad (4 or 5 wins), instead of miserable.
I think the first step there is, don't try and be like Arizona, but I'm getting a little ahead of myself. Here are the three biggest worries that I've read about this past week.
1. Cam has no accuracy. Yeah, he kind of stunk it up in the preseason when he was looking at mid-range passing to receivers. But he was throwing off his back foot in most of them, and had obviously been told not to run much. In game four, during his only drive, he was comfortable with the plan, and went 3-5 with completions of 6, 9, and 10 yards.
One of his misses was a frozen rope to Shockey where he was being dragged down from behind and had absolutely nothing but arm behind it. And it still would have gone for a 20 yard first down had Shockey not been being mugged on the play (nice no-call, refs...).
He also ran the ball on a nifty 19 yard scramble that happened way quicker than anyone realized. For someone his size, he sure gets down the field quickly, right?
Oh, and he didn't throw to his backs, or to Greg Olsen. Those are two high percentage play types that we all know are going to be staples of the offense. And in the first couple of preseason games, we found out that they were ready so we didn't really show them again much.
BTW, when Chud ran the offense in Cleveland, he called plays to the Tight End 31% of the time. And the backs were the intended targets 23% of the time. Both of those numbers are bigger than what we saw in the preseason. It's almost as if they were trying to see what they had at WR instead of showing the world what they had at TE, huh?
Oh yeah, one more thing. Mr. "Isn't Accurate" completed almost 67% of his passes last year at Auburn, in his first year of running the offense. Newton may not be a laser-rocket-arm guy, or he might. But what he absolutely is, is someone who moves the chains.
Not too worried.
2. We have no defensive front. Well, that's certainly true, we don't have a "Williams Wall" plugging the center of our defensive line. And we only have three DTs, two of whom are rookies.
And we have two very talented DEs, and a LB corps that's among the best in the league. We also have a scheme that doesn't rely on an interior push to generate pressure.
Consider this. There are several fat guys out there waiting for phone calls. Guys who are ready and willing to be this year's version of Hollis Thomas. But none of them have been contacted. We cut last years starters. We cut all our depth. We barely made an effort to find a stud DT during free agency.
If a Haloi Ngata was THAT important to our defensive scheme, don't you think that the front office would have acted like it?
On offense, everyone and their brother knew that Chud was going to use his Tight Ends a lot. So we went out and got Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen. The Panthers now have the best group of TEs in franchise history.
But at DT, we still have nothing. And there weren't any reports that we made a serious run at anyone. Tell me how that makes sense.
Our head coach is a former Defensive Coordinator, and he came up under Jim Johnson. Our Defensive Coordinator last worked for Jim Johnson. And Jim Johnson was amazing at bringing pressure from all over the place, even without having name-brand defensive tackles.
Remember Jeremiah Trotter though? Johnson made him famous as one of the best run stoppers in the game--from the middle linebacker position.
And the last time I checked the roster, we have a fairly talented middle linebacker.
Last season the Panther defense looked like world-beaters for a while, until the offense made them play for 30 minutes a game and they wore down. And that was with Derek Landri and Ed Johnson starting.
This is a long shot, but we just "might" be ok here, at least against the feared Arizona Cardinal offensive line.
A little worried, but I have faith in Rivera/McDermott.
3. The Cardinals got Kolb!!! Give me a break. First of all, they're still the Cardinals. This is a team that the media has hyped as a potential winner in just about every year for the last decade except 2010. Go figure that out.
Name the last season where Arizona didn't "finally" do something right in the off-season that was going to help them figure out how to win football games. They've changed coaches, changed stadiums, signed former pro-bowl QBs, and now they've signed a former bench warmer who is supposed to lead them to the promised land.
That's right, they got A.J. Feeley. Oops, I mean they got Kevin Kolb. Same thing though. Kolb had a couple of good games for the Eagles and was suddenly granted superstar status despite folding like a cheap napkin when the games counted for real.
Call it the Matt Moore experience, except Philly managed to con Arizona into giving up the house for him.
Kevin Kolb shows some nice accuracy in the short game. Kolb has no deep game. Kolb is comfortable in the WCO, but has never played in a vertical offense. Kolb gets really jittery under pressure, to the point where his mechanics suffer and he makes poor decisions.
Call that the Jimmy Clausen experience. And this year it's Arizona's turn to be burdened with it.
You want me to worry about Kolb because he looked good in the preseason? Um, ok.
The last word on this guy that I have has been said for me, at ProFootballFocus.com. Have a read, and then have a laugh.
Not worried at all.
Last year, the Panthers beat the Cardinals with Jimmy Clausen at QB, Nick Hayden and Derek Landri at DT, and with DeAngelo Williams, Thomas Davis and Chris Gamble out. That defense allowed 12 points, and it was one that the Arizona coaches had a lot of tape on. And that offense was directed by Jeff Davidson.
So tell me again, what should I be worried about today?