Panthers Defeat Jaguars, but Offense Struggles

The important thing about Sunday's Panthers @ Jags contest was that the Panthers left town with a win. Thomas Davis tweeted that he'd take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day, and I think we all concur on that. However, it doesn't mean the team doesn't have a long way to go in order to be a playoff-caliber squad.

Defense Wins Games

Defensively, the team played well overall and it doesn't look like they'll suffer from the same issues they did last September, and that's a great thing. While the Jaguars are hardly an offensive juggernaut, they DO have some good young talent on the offensive side of the ball. It showed at times, but the Panthers defense was able to keep big plays to a bare minimum.

Remember, they played most of the game without their best player, MLB Luke Kuechly, who suffered a concussion on a tackle. It was just one of those freak things where the ball carrier turned just the right way for Luke to hit him with his head. It was not intentional; these things happen. The point is, Luke was undergoing the NFL's concussion protocol and failed it, so he'll have to hit certain points during the week that the doctors came up with before he can play again but the good news is he was up and jawing within about a minute of the injury so it would appear his concussion is more on the "milder" side. Thank goodness.

The story of the game was defensive back Josh Norman. He couldn't quite get a new deal signed before the season started, which mean he likely won't before the season ends. In the meantime, he's on a mission to prove why he needs to get paid. He made a statement yesterday with 4 tackles, an assist, a forced fumble, and a pick-6. That's quite a day for anyone, and he's playing for a contract. I'll even go so far as to say he's the premier cornerback in the entire division, ever since Atlanta let Brent Grimes walk in free agency a couple of years ago. 

He might have just gotten a liiiiitle more expensive.

Offense Scores Points

Offensively, things weren't going so smoothly as the driving engine coughed and sputtered and certainly wasn't firing on all cylinders. The running game was spotty Cam still throws most of his passes off his back foot, and the O-line was inconsistent.

I saw Michael Oher get burned on a "spin" move when Cam got sacked. Michael needs to study some tape and keep his balance; perhaps he can take a few notes from rookie Daryl Williams, who isn't as athletically gifted, but who apparently is a poster child for learning the techniques quickly. 

Speaking of Williams, he suffered a knee strain early in the game and didn't play the rest of the game. The bad news is it's an MCL sprain, which normally sidelines players for up to a month and a half or so. Hopefully, the MRI he had late this morning won't show even more damage, so hold your breath for the stellar fourth-round pick for now.

Injuries notwithstanding, the games go on. Mike Remmers will man that RT spot, and he's a known quantity so as long as he holds up, we know what we've got.

What really bothers me is the Panthers offense had issues the entire game, and the Jags were missing several good defensive players, like the destructive Sen'Derrick Marks. Marks is a Kawann Short clone, but with 4 years of NFL experience and 8.5 sacks last year.

Then, there were the "Dropsies" as the announcer correctly observed. In this case, it was Ted Ginn who had the butterfingers as Philly Brown seemed to be more confident. Perhaps "dropsies" are like "cooters" where it jumps from one person to another? I don't know, but Ricky Prohel, Carolina's receivers coach, is going to have to go back to some fundamentals in drills. Perhaps having his guys stand with a telephone pole in their face and catch the ball is in order - it forces people to use their hands to catch while preventing the ball from being "trapped" against the receivers' chest.

Yes, even in the 21st Century NFL, ancient drills still are used because they work. We won't get into the "Oklahoma" drill. 

If I had to describe the offense in one word, it would be the worst word to coaches' ears: INCONSISTENT. The NFL is a match-up league, yes, but it's consistency that lets a team build and get better as time goes on. They have to get the little things right before moving on to more complex things, expanding the playbook, or developing new plays that have a pre-snap look of a play that is run often and well. For example, you have to be able to pull off a good reverse before going to the reverse-pass, fake reverse, double reverse, etc.

Mike Shula and Cam Newton Adjusted to Kelvin's Absence

Yes, I actually have to give kudos to Mike Shula and the way he and Cam approached the passing game. Nobody can do anything about the dropped passes during the game, but "conventional wisdom" had said that Greg Olsen was going to be Cam's first, second, and even sometimes third read - all in the same play! 

The pair took care of that idea post haste. Cam completed passes to nine different targets and Greg Olsen only had one reception. He had a short TD catch called back to offensive pass interference, which I didn't see at ALL in the play, but Olsen and Cam's known familiarity caused defenses to give our Pro Bowl tight end more attention while Jerricho Cotchery grabbed a short TD pass from Cam.

I think Cotchery should be starting over Philly Brown and especially over Ted Ginn. He's the grizzled veteran who has been there, done that, and has the best hands of any of our receivers. Cam could use that resource to start games regardless of who is healthy on the other side - Funchess, Philly, OR Ted - to help him get into a good rhythm early on and hopefully not have to deal with so many early dropped passes. Keep an eye out this coming Sunday to see if Cotchery isn't indeed's the one big change I would make if I were Riverboat Ron setting the starting line-up for week two.

All in all, Thomas Davis had it right. It was an ugly win, but a win nonetheless. I think the team should be fine going forward so long as Luke returns to play in the home opener against Houston and Mike Remmers can stay healthy. With all the pre-season injuries, Williams' 4-6 week hiatus, and Kuechly getting his bell rung, the Panthers still won a decisive victory.

Someone please tell Gettleman that Norman's price looks to be a good bit higher at the end of the season than it would have been had he been signed already. One thing is clear, though. He's another game-changing defender for the good guys.

Stop Running Cam So Much!

Cam had 14 carries against Jacksonville, including a few "sneaks" or short-yardage dives. This is entirely too many carries for your $20 million QB. Stewie only had 18, and no other Panther had more than two, despite having a healthy backfield. The team has a mix of newcomers (Cameron Artis-Payne, Brandon Wegher), relative newcomers (Fozzie Whittaker), and incumbents (Mike Tolbert, Jonathan Stewart). I simply cannot see Cam taking all those hits over the course of a season and staying 100% healthy, since rushing attempts do not include hits, sacks, and/or QB hurries in the passing game. 

As long as the backfield isn't barren, like it was for much of the past two seasons beyond DeAngelo Williams, I think it's foolish to call more than 4 or 5 designed QB runs per game aside from the QB sneak. Cam means too much to the offense to lose, despite having one of the NFL's best backup QBs in Derek Anderson. Gettleman didn't open the suitcase(s) full of cash to pay $20 million per year for a running back taking snaps from center. 

I say call just enough QB runs by Cam to help keep the defense honest. The purpose is not so that Cam gets creamed on his runs or any such thing, but "keeping the defense honest" would help open up all the OTHER plays as defenders may have to hesitate that step or half-step to make sure it's not a QB draw or a read/option play. One run per quarter or so should accomplish this, and Shula could still call on Cam to run when it's a key play so long as he also calls a few QB rushing attempts on, say, 1st and 10 around midfield in the first quarter so as not to develop a statistical tendency that other teams can track.

Overall, I give the team a solid "B" for their opening game. Things might have been a lot closer if Jacksonville's defensive line had its best players available so that should light a fire under the offensive line, even if Mike Shula doesn't attempt to do so; he should!

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