Monday, December 14, 2009

3 to go next time by....

The Carolina Panthers have 3 games left on the 2009 schedule which no one will give them a chance to win (they will be underdogs in all of them, including the 2 home games they have left), and have only a few things left to play for. A .500 record for the season, jobs for next season, and the role of spoiler in the case of New Orleans. That, of course, is only if the Saints win their next 2, and are on the brink of a 16-0 season.

It has been a rough year. The defense fans had hoped to see is just now gelling, and it is doing so without some major parts. Depending on who the Panthers retain (or are able to retain), the defense could improve. Lots of possibilities on that side of the ball.

Offensively, there is work to be done. The QB position will likely be addressed. The 2nd receiver position will likely be addressed. Surprisingly, the offensive line depth that has been tested, has responded pretty well. No team can ever have too much depth, and the Panthers likely wouldn't mind a little help there behind the starters.

Special teams are still somewhat of an issue. John Kasay's range appears to be falling off each year--he is still string straight more often than not, however, he's not a threat for 50 yards anymore. How does the franchise transition away from the last original Panther? The classy way, which is how they have handled things in the past, would be for Kasay to call it quits on his own. Forcing him out would be ugly. I couldn't imagine the Panthers doing that to him, given what he means to the franchise as a person.

There continue to be thoughts that Coach Fox and GM Marty Hurney could be on the way out at season's end. Would that cure the ills? I don't think so. I don't think firing Fox and/or Hurney is the answer. Stability, to me, helps build consistency. This year has been anything but consistent, though. Jerry Richardson is not a knee-jerk kind of owner. He assesses, and evaluates. The thing Fox and Hurney have in their favor is Richardson's playing career. He's the only owner that actually played in the NFL. He knows what it's like to lose key players to injury early in the season. He knows how important that chemistry is.

My guess is that he's not happy with certain aspects of things on his football team, and may make changes, without gassing the leaders. I could be wrong about all this, but the big picture outweighs the short-term action/reaction.

More on this week's matchup later in the week.

On my drive down to Charlotte from Raleigh on Sunday morning, I had the chance to listen to WEEI Radio out of Boston. It was their pre-game show, leading into their NFL coverage. Studio hosts (whose names escape me), joined by former Pats TE Christian Fauria. Fauria spent part of the 2007 season with Carolina as his career was winding down.

They were doing the usual pre-game breakdown--the Pats offense v. Carolina's defense, vice-versa, and so on. I was a little surprised, and somewhat disappointed to hear Fauria describe Panthers WR Steve Smith as "a cancer," and "unstable." Now, I know he was in the Panthers dressing room, and interacted with Smith, but unstable? He went on by saying, "take the most unstable person you know, multiply that by a million, and that is Steve Smith." It makes great radio, I know, but it also is a bit of a knife to the back. Maybe the two didn't get along. Maybe Fauria just didn't like the attention Smith got in the offense. I don't know. That seemed to be a bit over the top for my taste.

It's been a frustrating season for the Panthers, so much so, that now even former one-year stopover players are getting in their shots.

Mike Solarte

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