In this edition we sit down with Homer (Jaxon) and Hater (Cyberjag) to discuss Ron Rivera's coaching ability and whether he can get the Panthers to the playoffs this season.
Homer: I believe Rivera will get the Panthers to the playoffs in 2013 and I will give you three reasons why.
Hater: Okay, this should be good.
Homer: Before I get into that let's not forget that Rivera inherited a 2-14 team with an epically bad offense and a mediocre (at best) defense. Though he drafted a QB that has gotten off in record fashion he was still a rookie and those dreaded rookie mistakes have without a doubt impacted game results. As the young QB matures and makes fewer critical mistakes the Panthers will improve their chances to win every week.
Hater: I get it, you've gone ahead and made your disclaimers and excuses. Because we all know that rookie QBs can't win, let alone get their team to the playoffs, right? Never happens...
Homer: Do I detect a little sarcasm from the guy that hates it when he's wrong? These are not disclaimers. What will get them over the top in 2013 is Head Coach Ron Rivera and here are three reasons why I believe this with maximum homerific enthusiasm. The first is Rivera has learned how to manage a coaching staff.
Hater: What did he do, take a correspondence course or something? Is University of Phoenix offering a 'If you can't figure out who's under the bus, it's you' class or something?
Homer: [laughing] You're not going to take this seriously are you? Just put your cynicism on hold for a moment and hear me out. Rivera has hired a good coaching staff but if he has learned anything from 2012, it's that he cannot give a coach too much freedom. As a defensive coach, Rivera was able to hire a like-minded DC in Sean McDermott whose schemes meshed with his own philosophy. They just lack the needed talent on defense to turn it around until this season. Conversely, it was on the other side of the ball -- where Rivera made mistakes (that he has now learned from).
Hater: You mean mistakes like the soft coverage late against Chicago, or the punt on fourth and nothing in Atlanta?
Homer: Um, yes actually. Thanks for bringing those horrid memories to life again. But that is the past and this is 2013. In 2011, OC Rob Chudzinski took the worst offense in franchise history and turned it into a top seven offense in a single season. Obviously, drafting Cam Newton had something to do with that, but kudos to him for designing an offense that played to Newton's strengths. But, giving his OC such complete freedom to run the offense ended up hurting the Panthers in year two. By the time Rivera stepped in after ten games to right the ship it was too late. The 2-8 Panthers could only hope to build momentum which they did -- by finishing the season 5-1.
Hater: So he knows how to manage people, but it takes him 10 games to figure out that they need managing? Let's get real, the reason they started winning is because they started playing terrible teams. Face it, if we had played Philly, the Chiefs, San Diego, and Oakland in the first half of the season instead of the second, you would be over here arguing about why the Panthers won't experience another late season collapse. Instead you blame the play calling.
Homer: That's because it WAS the play calling. Surprisingly to me, Chudzinski didn't suffer a blow to his reputation for it like Rivera did. He was quickly hired as HC by Cleveland after the 2012 season. I'm sure it surprised Rivera too though it should be no surprise the HC takes the blame when a team misses expectations.
Hater: Um, he got hired by the Browns. It should come as no surprise to anyone when they do anything unusual.
Homer: Point taken. Anyway, promoting Mike Shula to OC was the prudent thing to do for a guy that will put better definition around the type of offense he wants to see from this team. The offense that helped the Panthers close 2012 on a four game winning streak is what Rivera will emphasize as he gets more involved in offensive game planning in 2013.
Hater: So promoting the only guy who would agree to a one year deal is what prudent looks like now? Remember, the franchise savior you refer to as "Gettleman" refused to let Rivera offer more than a one year deal to any of the qualified applicants, even though he has two left on his contract. What does that tell you about management's faith in Rivera's ability to manage a coaching staff?
Homer: I think that was more a new GM making sure his hands are not tied beyond one season. Rivera will earn a new contract for many reasons; one of which is his ability to connect with his players. Though it may be cliché, I think it's a solid analogy that being a former player, Rivera understands what players need from their coaches in order to win on the field. Though calm and reserved in stature, Rivera has the respect and confidence of his team and conveys a real interest in the welfare of his players. He is also a no-nonsense guy when he needs to be, which is a result of a military family upbringing that pervades everything he does. It is all these things we heard from the players as 2012 closed out on a high note and we have continued to hear it this offseason, not just from returning players but from free agent signees as well. This team has a really good vibe at the moment and I think it will carry over into the season.
Hater: [golf clap] What a great speech! The players like him, and they want to play hard for him. For some reason though, it always takes them half a season to figure that out. You know who else played in the NFL? Jim Harbaugh. So did Mike Singletary. Guess which one is known more for his coaching skills, and guess which one is more like Rivera. The only thing Ron hasn't done yet is drop is drawers in the locker room as a demonstration of how the team has played under his direction.
Homer: [shaking head] Boy hater you are on a roll today. May I please finish?
Hater: It's hard to stop a train wreck, so go ahead.
Homer: Thanks. The third key is that Rivera will make good in-game decisions in 2013.
Hater: Hmm... sounds legit. I'll bite. Explain.
Homer: Okay, if there has been one area I could criticize Rivera up to this point, it is some questionable in-game decisions. Without being too specific and derailing this conversation further, we have debated his decisions to punt on 4th down (versus kicking a FG or going for the 1st down). We have questioned the timing of time outs or a lack of a time out. We have questioned his on-field personnel decisions whether it be who is playing or not playing. It's been a learning curve for Rivera as a field general without a doubt.
Hater: So are you going for the law of averages argument here? That he's made so many stupid decisions to date that now he will make smart ones to balance them out?
Homer: It's called a ‘learning curve'. Rivera will make enough right decisions to make the playoffs in 2013 because he is a very cerebral coach, a analytical thinker, and therefore a problem solver. He learns his lessons.
Hater: If you say so. Personally, I can't even muster up the sarcasm required to respond to that. You realize that he was smart enough to coach for Norv Turner for four years, right?
Homer: [laughing] That was a good one! Rivera learns from his mistakes which start with the fact he owns up to them publically, he understands the root causes of his mistakes and he gives solid plans on how to correct them.
Hater: So far you're describing responsibility, not intellect.
Homer: I know this because I see the good decisions he makes as well. Things like the use of the red flag and when to bench a player that has hit the rookie wall or become too fumble prone are some right calls he has made. The good decisions just don't stand out as much as the bad ones but we will see fewer bad decisions going forward.
Hater: We all see the good decisions. The trouble is, he makes them too late to do any good. Starting Nakamura until he loses a game for us? Letting Chud run the read option to death until our season is crushed (and hey, that's YOUR argument I'm using). So basically, you're telling me that we have a coach who has to get hit by a bus before he realizes that jaywalking is bad and he should cross at the corner. But to your point, once he does get hit by the bus he figures it out..."because he's cerebral and a problem solver who takes responsibility".
Homer: Now you're getting it, though my sarcasm meter is topping out. I'm saying that now that he has the final pieces to his defense and some talent on special teams Rivera has the Panthers primed to make a playoff run in 2013
Hater: Now that is a little rosy to say the least. I'm saying that for the third year running, we have failed to address the real issue that keeps the Panthers from winning. It's a cerebral issue, and a problem solving one, and it cares about the players. The Panthers will start out hot this year because they have some terrible teams early, like the Bills and Rams. But once we hit the mid-season and start playing the big boys, the coaching problem will truly be exposed and we'll be talking about the collapse and hopefully a new coach next year at this time.
Homer: No way! Rivera knows his job is on the line and his players are ready to step up for him and lay it on the line. He has a good staff and the right mix of vets and youth to play his schemes. At least that is what this Homer thinks!
That's a wrap for this edition of Homer vs. Hater! Be sure to make a selection in the fan poll.