The victory over the Detroit Lions was hard-fought against a great offensive team. The Lions also have one of the premier defensive lines in the NFL, and unfortunately, it showed.
Some of the issues are to be expected. Right guard Trai Turner is a rookie, and he's going to miss assignments at times. It's called growing pains.
However, Nate Chandler on the right side had his share of miscues as well. Yes, he's still "learning" the position, but in his 2nd season, he should at least know whom to block. It's the actual blocking part that can give him trouble - especially in the passing game.
Same thing for LT Byron Bell, but Bell seemed to hold up better in this game. He still gives up too much ground when he's engaged and needs to be more aggressive in keeping the shape of the pocket for Cam. Bell doesn't have the lateral agility to handle a decent speed-rusher.
Everyone struggled in the running game against Detroit, but Jonathan Stewart had a great game, considering the hit-or-miss holes he was looking at. Cam won the game in the second half with his throwing while the defense had several takeaways to keep Stafford, Megatron and company on the sidelines.
Detroit's front-four aside, they have a very pedestrian defense, however. Cam did look better than I expected he would, but this is not your Seahawks defense he was up against.
With all three offensive tackles being undrafted free agents, the level of talent just isn't there on the outside. They give it 110% every down, both Byron Bell and Nate Chandler, but I've said it since Bell became a starter on the right side: He is NOT a tackle.
Perhaps the Pittsburgh game Sunday night will tell us more. In the preseason, Jarvis Jones abused and misused Byron Bell, making him look really bad on a couple of plays and forcing Bell into a false start penalty as he tried to time the snap precisely in order to get maximum time to get set while trying to block him.
However, Carolina has gotten off to a 2-0 start and looked very good in doing so. We all have to keep in mind the competition level as well. The road opener at Tampa Bay and last week's home win against Detroit. Given the 56-14 thumping the Bucs took at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons last night, I'd say they're a great candidate for finishing a distant 4th in the NFC South. 4 wins would look like a good season for them this year.
It all means we don't yet know how our makeshift tackle situation will hold up when the meat of the schedule hits, starting in week six, when we begin a brutal stretch. Games at Cincy, at Lambeau Field against the Pack, home against Seattle and New Orleans, then at Philadelphia will really test the mettle of the entire team on both sides of the ball and should expose our weak areas to look closer into during 2015's draft.
This past draft didn't "break our way" after the first few rounds, but it did early. We missed out on Pierre Desir by one pick and traded up for The Fed Chief to assure some fresh help at cornerback. Depending on Bene Benwikere's development this season, CB may be a position that by draft time next year might not be a huge need. Depth? Probably still; yes.
As for now, Bene Benwikere occupies the nickel safety position while Gettleman continues his "one-year rental" program for areas where we don't have the money to upgrade.
It's just too early to know what kind of depth might be in the draft. It's possible we could get two tackles, or none yet again, if the value isn't there, but sooner rather than later that area needs to be addressed.
Ideally, I'm looking at LT, FS/SS, WR, SS/FS, CB with our top picks in 2015. I don't think it's a secret among fans that we need to address needs in the defensive backfield with some talented, low-priced rookies and next year's draft should provide Dave Gettleman with enough carrot-and-stick routine that he should be able to resist (as he has thus far) reaching, but still find a good value or two at some point when considering those five positions.
Here's my own rapid-fire breakdown of the positions I listed and why:
Offensive tackle - as I said, we've got three UFAs on the roster and two start. When Jordan Gross unexpectedly retired, it really increased the pressure especially on Nate Chandler. He and Bell can use some help early in the draft as well as a late flier on a RT-type if nothing else, to make things competitive in 2015's training camp. 1st or 2nd round; 6th-7th round.
Free Safety - Between Thomas DeCoud and Roman Harper, both safeties that were cast off from divisional opponents this past off-season, DeCoud seems to be the more consistent player. Oddly enough, that's what I'm seeing so far at least. He's serviceable at the position, but neither fellow will be a star player and free safety's a great place to get a ball hawk. 4th-5th round.
Strong Safety - Roman Harper has made some nice plays coming up to the line and making tackles in run support but has also been out of position on some plays. Remember that 54-yard run by Tampa Bay's fullback? That was Harper's fault. A thirty-something SS should be experienced enough to know that, given the situation with Tampa Bay inside their own five-yard line, the play call on offense would be a conservative one. Harper needs to learn to trust the coaches more and their defensive call and play with a bit more restraint and maintain his assignment. Gettleman tried to upgrade the SS position this year with 4th-round pick Tre Boston, but he has yet to contribute and I never liked that particular pick. Unless Boston shows us something and starting soon, his roster spot could be up for grabs by next spring. 3rd-4th round.
Cornerback - I think Benwikere is going to be just fine, and could move into one of the two starting corner spots as soon as later this season. Melvin White continues to steadily develop, but also was undrafted and has a fairly low ceiling for an NFL starter. He could develop into a solid CB2, but the team needs a very strong #1 corner that they haven't seen since Chris Gamble's departure. 1st-3rd round.
Wide Receiver - Here's my "wild card" spot. It indeed appears that Kelvin Benjamin was the steal of the first round, especially where Carolina was drafting. He is already the most dangerous WR on the team and should only improve from here. He's the Real Deal, folks, and can you just imagine a decent young WR opposite him? It would take pressure off the running game and open the playbook as wide as a dental patient's mouth. We could afford a speedster/project in the latter rounds here if one slides. Perhaps a small-school guy that would need a year to really contribute would work fine as long as Benjamin improves and Olsen's play remains steady. We really need to get younger at the position through the draft if Cam Newton is to develop to his full potential. Having a group of WRs that have zero career receptions in camp meant Cam had to "develop chemistry" with an entirely new crew, which hasn't sped things up. Depending on Breston Bersin's ability to contribute as a role-player, Gettleman might take two WRs next year....one early and one late in order to stabilize the roster at the position. 2nd-3rd round, 6th-7th round.
It's not really a huge secret where our weaker positions are. It'll be yet another thing to fill most of those positions with upgraded, value-pick rookies. The "projections" I made are based on team need and of course, Gettleman looks for value and just doesn't "reach" for a needed position. He will likely grab the best available, as usual, and hopefully will happen to be a position of need.
Just like the Kelvin Benjamin pick!
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