This is the second in a series of four articles in which I will analyze the the top 5 game changing moves that each NFC South team has made to date and how it will affect their chances at a Super Bowl run.
Keep in mind, however, that I truly am a Saints fan; but I am just reporting the facts objectively and placing each team on an equal playing field.
Today, the Carolina Panthers are on the board.
In 2009 the Carolina Panthers had high expectations after being able to retain 20 of their 22 starters from the 2008 season, a year in which they went 12-4.
However key injuries they suffered on the defensive line with, coupled the loss of Ma’ake Kemoeatu, along with the imploding of Jake Delhomme, led to a depressing 0-3 start.
With Jake Delhomme throwing more intercpetions then touchdowns and opposing teams gashing the Panthers run defense, they struggled to get any momentum going into the 2009 season.
Towards the end of the year, however, the Panthers rattled off three straight wins against the Vikings, Giants, and 2nd/3rd string New Orleans Saints.
These 5 game changing moves in the 2010 off season, however, may or may not give the Panthers an edge for the upcoming 2010-2011 season.
1. The loss of Julius Peppers to the Bears: Peppers, who was a Second-Team All Pro player and a Pro-Bowler in 2009, was the only force along the Panthers defensive line.
Peppers recorded 10.5 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and two interceptions in 2009 along with a touchdown. No other Panther player recorded more than 5 sacks.
In the 2009 campaign, the Panthers recorded a total of 31 sacks, including Julius Peppers stat line. Take away Peppers’ 10.5, and the Panthers only accumulated 20.5 sacks in 16 games.
The Pussycats, who are now without Peppers, are relying on second-year pro Everette Brown to step in and have an impact in his first year as a starter along with Tyler Brayton.
If the Panthers cannot get after the quarterback in a division with the likes of Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, they are in big, big trouble.
The pass rush must be addressed prior to the beginning of the 2010 season either via trade or free agency.
2. A season-ending ACL tear for OLB Thomas Davis: Thomas Davis, who was emerging as one of the better defenders on the Panthers’ squad early in 2009, tore his ACL early in the season in 2009.
Just days into mini-camp this off season, Davis re-tore that very same ACL in no-contact drills.
What a disappointing way to lose your entire second season after recording 71 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 2 interceptions in 7 games during the 2009-2010 season.
The Panthers also let Na’il Diggs, their other starting linebacker, go to the St. Louis Rams this off season. This means the Panthers will have two new starters at their linebacking corps in 2010.
While Jon Beason, their Second-Team All Pro MLB, naturally mans the middle of that defense, the Panthers are considering moving him to the weak-side of the defense.
This would then allow Dan Connor, who is most effective at MLB, to then play the middle of the field.
James Anderson and the Panthers new acquisition from the Bears, Jamar Chaney, would then compete for the remaining strong-side linebacker spot.
But whatever happens, the linebacking corps will be considerably weaker than it was when Thomas Davis was on the field.
3. Drafting Jimmy Clausen: Once upon a time, Jimmy Clausen was a projected top 10 pick in the draft.
Surely the Panthers never dreamed that when they were picking in the second round, they would have Jimmy Clausen, the allegedly “most pro ready quarterback in the draft,” who virtually fell into their laps.
After Jake Delhomme single-handedly made the Panthers season implode, they finally inserted Matt Moore into the lineup late last season, who went on to accumulate a 4-1 record to end the year.
If Matt Moore was that effective, you must be wondering why the Panthers drafted Clausen at all.
Here is the answer: Clausen has more potential. He has a higher ceiling than Moore, who went undrafted, does.
Furthermore, should Matt Moore somehow epically fail at the beginning of the 2010 season, John Fox will have a guy he can fall back on and trust.
He could then insert Clausen into the lineup and see if he yields any better results, the ultimate insurance policy.
Clausen, who ran a similar type of offense at Notre Dame, is in position to succeed in Carolina. He already knows most of the terminology because of experience in Charlie Weis’s pro-style offense at Notre Dame, and he has a great running game and offensive line in Carolina that he can use as a crutch.
The Panthers were lucky they landed this kid.
4. Steve Smith breaks his arm playing flag football: How on earth does an NFL football player who is regarded as one of the toughest players in the game break his arm playing flag football with a bunch of teenagers?
Ask Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers.
Smith, who is the only proven wideout on the entire team, will not be there for Matt Moore or Jimmy Clausen during the upcoming training camp.
Muhsin Muhammad, last year’s number two wideout, has now retired.
Dwayne Jarrett, who is the current number two wide receiver, has been a bust ever since he was drafted out of USC.
Brandon LaFell, Armanti Edwards, and David Gettis are all rookies who will probably not light the world on fire in their first year in the league.
Steve Smith was the one receiver that Moore and Clausen should have been able to count on; but with his injury, neither quarterback will be able to develop a rapport with him.
This means that the Panthers passing game, which was already very anemic, has just taken another step back
That’s not what you need if you have playoff aspirations in a league that now relies so heavily on the pass.
Way to go, Steve. Really smart.
5. The retention of head coach John Fox: Before I say anything, let me address the picture above of John Fox.
That will be the look on his face when the Saints wail on his pathetic team.
Alright, that’s enough roasting for today.
Prior to the end of last season there were rumblings that Bill Cowher would replace John Fox as head coach of the Carolina Panthers in 2010.
That would’ve been a terrible move because Fox already had “his guys” on the team and well established his own system of running the football and playing sound defense.
If another head coach came in and changed the system, the personnel that he put in place with the team would struggle to adapt to the new schemes.
Fox is also one of the most disciplined head coaches in the league and will stick to the game plan even when things are not going right.
That’s what you look for in a head coach, and the Panthers would have been foolish to let him go.
The Panthers have already suffered some key injuries throughout the off-season that have really put question marks around their chances at a playoff berth.
However, if they can somehow navigate through all of these injuries and make the playoffs, they would be a very dangerous team to face in the postseason.