Friday, July 31, 2009

Players who Must Step up in 09: Richard Marshall

We all know about the Panthers key cogs in their hunt for a championship. Little has changed in the offseason, as the Panthers will (barring injury in Preseason) return 21 of 22 starters from last season's 12-4 team. But, with a new Defensive Coordinator (and, pretty much new Defensive staff), the Panthers will add a few wrinkles in 2009. Despite there being virtually no new starters, there are still players who must step up in the coming season if the Panthers are to repeat as NFC South Champs and go beyond. I'll be highlighting those players throughout Training Camp and Preseason, before talking about the other key players.

First, let's talk about Richard Marshall. Marshall, entering his 4th season, has been forced to play second fiddle to Ken Lucas and Chris Gamble throughout his career so far. But, with the cap casualty of Lucas, Marshall will get his shot and will be the only new starter entering 2009. Despite being the "Nickle" corner for the Panthers, Marshall is far from inexperienced. He's started in several games thanks to injuries to Gamble and Lucas, and he's made some big plays along the way. Down the stretch in 2007, he outplayed both Lucas and Gamble in the final games. When Marshall has been put in to play, he's made the most out of it.

But, now as the starter, he's going to get a lot more exposure. During the final half of the season, when the Panthers defense absolutely fell apart, Marshall appeared to get lost on defense, giving up big plays. One game that comes to mind is the Tampa Bay game, where he and Lucas got burned down the field several times. Marshall needs to avoid such lapses now that all eyes are on him as the 2nd starter opposite Gamble.

Marshall has all the tools to succeed, though. He's got amazing athleticism, as he put on display last Preseason, intercepting an attempted pitch back to the kicker on a fake FG attempt by the Eagles. Marshall appeared to be a blur as he raced into the Eagles backfield, taking the intercepted pitch all the way for 6. And, again, he's made some big plays in relief of Gamble/Lucas when his number was called in 06 and 07, scoring a defensive TD in both seasons.

I, for one, am extremely excited to see what Marshall can do as a starter. All due respect to Ken Lucas, I felt all along that Marshall was the better corner. He's faster, more athletic, but just lacked the experience that the veteran Lucas brought. Lucas was much more physical, but as evidenced late last year, no longer had the athletic tools to be the shut down corner that he was in 2005. I've been waiting a while for this, and I can't wait to see what Marshall can do.

In the next few days, I'll be spotlighting Rookie DE Everett Brown as another key guy who must bring his A game every Sunday. In the meantime, Training Camp starts Monday. Get excited.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

OMG! Teh Panthers Needzzz VICK!

Okay, can we all stop with this whole Michael Vick to the Panthers? This is worse than the Brett Favre cheerleaders last offseason. I mean, at least Favre is a talented QB who could have actually helped the Panthers.

The national media is obviously very ignorant to how the Panthers run their organization. Jerry Richardson is no Jerry Jones, he isn't will to compromise his ethics to win football games. Yes, say all you want about Steve Smith last year, but I feel the 2 game suspension was more than enough to punish Smith. And, hey, punching a guy in the face is not exactly killing, torturing, and maiming animals, is it? Here are all the reasons why the Panthers will go nowhere near Vick (unless they want hints on how to kill dogs, of course)...

1. The aforementioned Richardson. He doesn't want the unnecessary media attention. Not to mention the fan backlash that he will face for bringing a CROOK into his team.

2. Vick's style of play (run first, run second, throw inaccurately third) doesn't fit with Carolina's philosophy. They are a run first team, yes, but they let their RB's do the running and rely on their QB to make the tough plays on 3rd down and late in games.

3. Jake Delhomme is the undisputed leader of this offense. Bringing in Vick would not only disrupt the team with unwanted distractions, but would also bring about an unnecessary QB controversy. Say what you want about the playoff game last year, but the Panthers would have have finished under .500 if not for Delhomme's fourth quarter comebacks last year.

4. Michael Vick is overrated. Once team's figured out how to contain his running, they really exposed him as an inaccurate QB who only has a strong arm. Now that he's been in prison for 2 years, the rust would take a long time to wear off. Not to mention the fact that he has to sit out until Week 6, which Carolina would have played 5 games before then.

5. It doesn't make sense.

There you have it. Write all you want media, but this Jake's team until he gets injured. End of story.

Monday, July 27, 2009

New Dallas Stadium is SO AWESOME!

The Dallas Cowboys owner is so dedicated to his team that, in the middle of the economic disaster, he spends over a billion dollars out of his own pocket to build a state of the art stadium. You know, the one with 100,000 seats and all that jazz. I wonder what it's like to go to a game there as the team with the star represents and the fans go crazy for Tony Romo...

Don't worry Panthers fans, I haven't turned. Far from it. You see, my family moved to Dallas this past summer and guess who happens to be paying "America's Team" a visit in September on Monday Night Football...and guess who just scored tickets to the game! Ha ha. Yes, that's right, not only am I going to the home opener this year, but I'm also crashing the Monday Night party during Week 3 of the NFL season as well! I'll be the only fool there with Panthers gear on, but I'll love every second of it.

Okay, Okay, I know I've been bragging about all of my future adventures going to see my boys, but for a guy who's been to 1 Panthers game (last October) his whole life, this is going to be exciting. I just hope our boys can put it together and not have a slow start to the season. But, I promise, coming up next week as Training Camp approaches, I'll be updating this thing with real Carolina news. Until then, envy me! Ha ha!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Section: 538, Row: 34, Seat: 9

That's where this guy is going to be on Sunday, September 13, 2009 around 11 AM EST. I can't believe it. I'm actually going to the Panthers home opener this year. Could life get any sweeter? Well, I could score a date with Jessica Alba, but this will do for now. Let's hope that the Panthers history of poor home openers takes a vacation for this year at least.

Can't wait, regardless.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Feeling the Fever?

It's hard to believe that it's already July, nearly mid-July...crazy. As the abysmal loss to the Arizona Cardinals in January continues to haunt, the Panthers are gearing up for another playoff run. As training camp approaches, I myself am approaching the upcoming season with a kind of guarded optimism. On the one hand, the Panthers are returning nearly every key cog of the 2008 team that went 12-4 and won the NFC South last year. The bad news, though, is that the Panthers have never had back to back playoff years.

In 2003, after that miracle run to the Super Bowl, the team started off 1-7, then made a courageous effort at a playoff run before falling to 7-9 in 2004. In 2005, the Panthers go 11-5, and get stomped by Seattle in the NFC Championship. 2006 and 2007 saw the Panthers go 8-8 and 7-9. Then, after last season, the Panthers win the NFC South for the 2nd time and get stomped by Arizona. To say that the Panthers are up and down is an understatement. In truth, though, their finishes over the past several years is a reflection of the NFL as a whole, with it's ridiculous parity.

I have a few other fears going into 2009. I fear the defense, with it's nearly complete overhaul in coaching staff. Let's face it, the defense was the weak link to this team down the stretch. Even though the Panthers went on a tear late in the year, it could have been even better if the defense kept it's end of the bargain. Think about it, with the way the Panthers moved the ball so easily (Carolina actually finished as the #4 ranked offense last year) if the defense could've gotten stops, the Panthers might well have won the Super Bowl this past year. With new coordinator Ron Meeks, hopefully that will bring some life to a defense that has the talent to be a top unit in the NFL. One guy to watch out for is Richard Marshall, finally getting the start over departed Ken Lucas. Marshall as all the tools, and his athletic abilities are top notch (remember that fake FG play last year in the pre-season?). Also, I just hope that Peppers earns his freaking 17 million this year...

Another fear of mine is Jake Delhomme. No, I'm not one of those dumb fans that think the Panthers should start McCown or Matt Moore this year (remember when fans said the same thing about Weinke and Carr, how'd that work out for you?). I just fear that after his embarrassing performance last year in the Playoffs is still in his head. I mean, he looked pitiful in the second half. I just hope that he can bounce back, just as he did after Tommy John Surgery, and continue to feed the ball to Steve Smith and lead the team in those late game comebacks he's so good at.

My final fear heading into the season is that difficult schedule. I mean Philadelphia, Washington, Dallas, both NY's, New England, Miami, Arizona, Minnesota and the always competitive NFC South, that's harsh. Only Buffalo, with it's 7-9 record, is the only opponent to finish with a losing record in 08. Granted, that doesn't mean a whole lot given the parity of the league, that's still a very tough schedule on paper.

Finally, I liked the draft picks (Everett Brown has me excited),though I really feel like the Panthers should have gotten some WR help. Sorry if I'm still skeptical over Dwayne Jarrett, but the guy has been nothing better than a bust so far. I just hope Muhammad has enough in the tank for another 900 yards to take the pressure off of Smitty.

With nearly everyone back, the Panthers look poised for another run at the Super Bowl. I'm very excited to see D-Will and J-Stew once again running wild on NFL Defenses...and the Delhomme to Smith connections once teams start loading up the box. If all goes well, Carolina will be back making noise in 09.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Somebody Wake Me Up!

Did that just happen? Did the Cardinals, who were abysmal all year long on the road, just blow out the Panthers, who have been nothing short of dominant at home? Did Jake Delhomme seriously just turn the ball over 6 times? Did the Cardinals out rush the Panthers 40 something attempts to 15? This can't be real. I must have been playing Madden 09 with the Rewind feature turned off and mistook it for real life. It's still sinking in that it's over. It feels like only yesterday Jake Delhomme hit Rosario in the back of the end zone and this crazy, up and down season officially begun. I can't believe it's already over.

I could spend my time on this post harping on the 33-13 beat down that occurred tonight, but what would be the point? The Panthers were beaten up and punked all night long and there's really nothing that I could say here that the scoreboard doesn't reflect.

Instead, I want to talk about Jake Delhomme. No, I'm not going to defend him after tonight, as that would be impossible. No, I'm not going to throw him under the bus, either. I'm going to lobby for Delhomme to have another shot next year. He's earned it. He deserves it, no matter how ugly and down right awful he was tonight, he's one of the main reasons that the Panthers were even in a position to stink it up in the Playoffs. Say what you want about our running game. Say what you want about Delhomme's 84 rating this year. Without Delhomme, this is a mediocre football team that at the very, very best finishes 8-8.

Just look at how the defense gave up double digit leads down the stretch (@ GB, @ NY, vs. NO) yet the Panthers still managed not to fall apart and win 12 games. Let us not forget, fans, that Jake Delhomme engineered at least 5 comebacks throughout the year(@ SD, vs. CHI, vs. AZ, @ GB, vs. NO). Those area all loses with McCown under center. I guarantee you that. There were also times early in the season when the Panthers found themselves down big (17-3 a couple of times) and Delhomme stepped it up, took leadership of the team, and willed them to victory.

Sure, Jake only threw 15 touchdown passes this year, but when your running backs score 28, you don't need to throw for a whole bunch. What gets lost is that Delhomme threw a career low 12 picks this year (with 7 of the 12 coming in 2 games). If anything, Jake Delhomme picked the absolute worst game to have his worst game, and will have to live with it for the entire, and overly long, offseason.

Jake Delhomme is one of my all time favorite Panthers. He's right up there with Steve Smith. All of the folks on the "bench Delhomme Bandwagon" over the past 3 seasons are feeling vindicated tonight, because they get to say I told you so (which is sh!tty on their parts) for the next several months and get to run their mouths about how awful he was in this 1 game.

But, let me say this about Jake Delhomme. He'll agree with you and he will shoulder the blame for this loss. He won't call out a defense that had one guy to cover, Fitzgerald, and couldn't. He won't call out the coaches for abandoning what got them to where they were (balanced rushing and passing attack). No. Jake Delhomme will shoulder all of the blame because that is the type of guy he is. He's the first to take the blame and the last to take any of the credit.

If by chance this game cost him his job in Carolina, it's going to be a shame. After all he's done for this franchise (helped lead them to 2 NFC Championship Games, 2 NFC South titles, damn near winning SB 38, and a 5-3 Playoff record), if my last memory of Jake Delhomme as Carolina's starting QB is a 6 turnover performance and a 33-13 loss, it's going to be a shame. A damn shame.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Believe: Cardiac Cats Avoid Disaster, Win NFC South

Just what in the hell is wrong with Carolina's once sound defensive unit?

This team didn't earn the nickname "Cardiac Cats" for no reason in 2003, and they've earned that nickname once again. Leading by 20 points twice throughout the game (23-3 and 30-10) the Carolina Panthers did their very best to lose this game, giving Drew Brees and Co. more than enough chances to pull off the upset. With nothing but pride (and a certain passing record) to play for, the Saints nearly threw the Panthers Super Bowl aspirations right down the toilet. Let's face it, the Panthers (who finish the season 8-0 at home and a mediocre 4-4 on the road) would not have won 3 consecutive road games in the Playoffs. They've just been way too inconsistent away from Mint St. However, they did themselves a huge favor by coming back and slamming the door on New Orleans' 9-7 aspirations. The Panthers also became the first NFC South team to win on the road within the division.

What more can you say about Carolina's offense. Often the joke of the league in 2006 and 2007 (averaging a pedestrian 16 a game those 2 years) the Panthers have become an offensive force the last 7 games of the year, scoring 224 points throughout that span (an average of 32 points per). To put this in perspective, the Panthers scored just 270 points in 2006, and only 267 in 07.

When was the last time you could say that, scoring wise, the Panthers are among the elite offenses in the NFL? Probably never. Jake Delhomme, despite being the most criticized player on the roster, was once again clutch. Leading the Panthers down the field in the final minutes, giving him his 19th career game winning, come from behind drive. Say what you want about his "slinging" the rock around with almost reckless abandon. There are few QBs as clutch as this guy when everything is on the line.

And, how about our boy DeAngelo Williams? His 178 yards rushing today gave him 1,515 rushing yards for 2008, surpassing Stephen Davis for most rushing yards in a season in franchise history, and proved once again why the Pro Bowl is nothing but a popularity contest. He's, for my money, the best RB in 2008 and I'll debate anybody all day on this.

But, as I opened up this thing, where in the hell was the defense in the 4th. They held the Saints vaunted offense to 10 points going into the final 15, then give up 21, nearly rendering the Panthers big day offesively meaningless (thank God we've got Capt. Clutch himself behind Center!). Look, I realize that the Saints have been the best offense in the league from a statistical standpoint, but these blown leads by the defense is concerning heading into the Playoffs. However, this bye week could do wonders as it gives Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Damione Lewis time to heal up.

So, where will this journey end for the Panthers? They've proven that they can run over and score points against anybody (including the NY Giants tough defense). The Panthers will score enough points in the Postseason to win the Super Bowl, they've just got so many ways to move the ball downfield. The problem with the Panthers, and I almost can't believe I'm saying this about a John Fox coached team, is the defense. Will they be able to make the key stops and hold onto the leads that the Panthers offense will build? If they can, I can safely say that the Panthers will be Super Bowl champs. With the way that the D has been playing, though, that's a huge "if".