Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Time to empty the clutter in my brain

It's been far too long, but after watching the Panthers loss to Cincinnati, in a poorly played game by both teams, I needed a day or two to reboot.

I am curious as to why the Panthers are in this pickle. Why they felt the need to jettison so much of their experience. I know there were some sizable contracts attached to that experience, but it's almost like the plot line from the baseball movie "Major League." The team owner, Rachel Phelps, instructs her baseball people (scouts, GM, etc), to bring in certain players to training camp. The intent is for her team, the Cleveland Indians, to be so horrendous on the field, that attendance figures will fall to the point she can relocate the team to Florida.

Of course, the Panthers aren't talking about relocating, but they have so many guys on the roster that are young and inexperienced, it makes me wonder if ownership isn't simply playing out the season as they anticipate a very possible lockout next season. Next year, the Panthers will have some decisions to make about personnel, but as it stands now, no collective bargaining agreement exists. Is 2010 just a throw-away?

For the record, I am not accusing the Panthers of tanking the 2010 season. I am definitely not accusing the players of not trying their best. I see it on the field each week. They are trying. They are busting on every play. It just feels like they brought a knife to a gun fight. Hard to be successful when you don't have the tools to get it done.

The Panthers are a 1/3 mess. At 0-3, much of the blame falls on the offense. They are woefully one-dimensional, which makes them a defensive coordinator's dream to scheme against.

"OK guys, here's what we are going to do. We're putting 8, maybe 9 in the box, and we'll force Carolina to beat us through the air. Their running backs are focus number 1, so if we contain the run, we win the game."

Since laying blame is easy (although most of the time unfair), the offense gets the dirty end of the stick pointed at them. Hard to blame the defense or special teams. By my count, the defense was on the field for 74 plays against Cincinnati (not including special teams plays). That is a ton of snaps for that unit to be on the field. Carolina needs something from the offense. Anything. Won't be easy as they meet New Orleans this weekend.

Off football for a second, the NBA season is on the horizon, with training camps opening league-wide this week. Charlotte Bobcats are in Wilmington, back after a 1 year break from their road camp. I like the optimism shown by the players, but I wonder how far behind the rest of the Eastern Conference they are. So many teams went out and did what they could to upgrade. The Bobcats were so tightly pressed to the luxury tax number, they really couldn't do anything. I think they are still a top 8 team, but they will be a in a bigger battle this season to find a playoff spot.

And speaking of the Eastern Conference, camps just opened, yet the good folks at ESPN (and basically everyone else in the NBA universe) seems to have gone all Dennis Green on us, and crowned the Miami Heat as champs. Why do I say this? Well, for starters, ESPN is camped out at Heat camp at a military base in Florida. And not camped out with a reporter, but with a travelling studio set, complete with an anchor, and a pair of analysts. To me, that is a bit much, and it also the reason there will be even more LeBron and Heat hate. It makes the Heat public enemy number 1 in the NBA fan world. So much attention paid to three guys that have never played together for an entire NBA season, ramps up the pressure on them to new heights. Not only do they have to win the title, but they will have to break records in the process. Way too much heat on the Heat. Flipside of that, imagine what joy the detractors will have if the Heat (gulp) fail.

I will credit LeBron with a good line from his interview with Rachel Nichols, when asked about being booed. Paraphrasing, he said people boo because of fear, not because they don't like them. He pointed out people booed Michael Jordan. Why? Because they hated his game? No, they were afraid of what Jordan was going to do to their team. I did agree with him about that.

Charlotte Checkers opened up training camp on Monday, and as a hockey guy, I am excited. The Checkers move into the American Hockey League this year, and fans will notice a difference in play. All due respect to the former ECHL Checkers, the AHL version is faster, and will be more skilled. The players on the ice are, in essence, one phone call away from the NHL. All the players know that as well, and they work their tails off to ensure their phone is the one that rings when the time comes. Head Coach Jeff Daniels is a former NHL forward who is a wonderful student of the game, and has done a nice job as a Head Coach within the Carolina Hurricanes system. This will be a fun team to watch, so make it a point to check them out.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wild week rolls along

Panthers taking on Cincinnati on Sunday, and Jimmy Clausen gets the start at QB, his first in the NFL. Don't know that will be the difference, but why not shake things up? If Clausen has a big day, the Panthers could roll from there. If he struggles, the Panthers will be in for a long afternoon. I'm not sure which way this one will go, but the smart money game plan says pound it on the ground with Stewart and Williams, a dash of Goodson for good measure. Sprinkle in the occasional toss to Smith, LaFell, Gettis, Jarrett (2 of those last 3 should play), and play keep-away with the football. The longer Carson Palmer and the Bengal offense stays on the sidelines, the better it is for Carolina.

Defensively, the Panthers have to find a way to get to Palmer. 19 sacks in the pre-season, but just 1 in their opening 2 games. That simply indicates the stakes are higher, and as such, teams are game-planning to protect their QB's. On the flipside of that, the Panthers have surrendered 8 sacks in their first 2 games. That would suggest that teams are finding weaknesses in the offensive line, and taking advantage.

The recipe: tighten up the offensive line, run the ball, make Palmer uncomfortable, and keep Clausen confident. If Carolina can cook that up, they could break into the win column.

NASCAR hammered Clint Bowyer with a 150 point penalty, after they found his car had issues in the way the body was married to the chassis, following the Loudon race--a race Bowyer won, and moved up to 2nd in the points. Stripping him of 150 points basically wipes out the race win, but is it fair? Points leader Denny Hamlin ran 2nd, and got 2nd place points, but since he finished 2nd to a car that was deemed illegal, shouldn't everyone move up a spot in the points? That is a discussion for another day. The point I want to make is this: take all 12 cars in the Chase back to the R&D center and look all of them over. Bowyer's case is different, as NASCAR warned that team they were close to breaking rules in Richmond, and there would be another inspection after Loudon. Isn't the Chase supposed to be the 10 race playoffs that determine the champion, and should be above board in all aspects?

I am not accusing any team of deliberate cheating. Far from it. I am calling on NASCAR to ensure that the champ will be the guy that has the best Chase, and not the est way of getting away with rules violations. For instance, Jimmie Johnson finished 25th at Loudon, but nobody wants to inspect his car. I'm not suggesting there is anything illegal on the 48, but how would anyone know? Keep the field level, look at all of the Chase cars, regardless of finish. Make all the teams play by the same rules.

OK, enough ranting for tonight. If anything strikes a nerve between now and Sunday, I'll light this candle again.

Mike Solarte

Monday, September 20, 2010

Panthers-Bucs, and The Aftermath

Not only did the Carolina Panthers lose20-7 to the Tampa Bay Bucs on Sunday, it also cost QB Matt Moore his starting job. Jimmy Clausen will start this Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.

I do not expect the Panthers offense to start churning out touchdowns as a result of the switch, but Head Coach John Fox had to try something. I believe him when he says the change was not an indictment of Matt Moore, but rather trying to spark Carolina's listless offense. Even though the ground game is averaging just under 4 yards per carry, they still seem to be missing a beat somewhere (my guess is RT Jeff Otah's absence has something to do with it). The Panthers have just 2 offensive touchdowns in the 2010 season, which includes preseason games. Something had to give.

I had to shake my head at the Twitterverse on Monday. Those calling out Moore as being a sub-standard NFL QB. It's real easy to say a guy doesn't belong in the NFL when he struggles. It's also easy to forget that Moore was the guy that beat the NY Giants and Minnesota Vikings last season, when both teams had something to play for. The Giants to get into the playoffs, the Vikes for home field advantage. I throw out the Saints win, with the Saints sitting 90% of their starters.

I also think it ridiculous that so many detractors wouldn't know how to hold a football, much less throw one to a wide receiver.

Did Moore struggle? Yes. Should a change have been made? Perhaps, likely yes. Consider, though, the job of quarterback isn't all glamour. It's a tough racket. I know it's his job to win games, and be productive. It's not as easy as it might look. Cut the guy a break. You may have to do the same for Clausen is he struggles, and the Panthers go 0-4.

Mike Solarte

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Panthers, racing, and more

Knocking out a couple quick thoughts on this lovely Thursday.

  • Look for the Carolina Panthers to hit the win column this week. Tampa Bay did not look impressive against Cleveland in week 1. Yes, they came back from a deficit, but they did it against a Cleveland team that simply doesn't know how to win, yet. They capitalized on a pick-6, and then wore down the Browns. The Panthers have more talent, and should bounce back from many correctable mistakes in all three phases. If the Panthers get run off the field, it might be time to think about panic on a season that could be over, long before it begins.
  • Derek Jeter is getting blasted for not being hit by a pitch, yet taking the awarded first base, because the home plate umpire thought he got hit by the pitch. Couple things in play here. 1) If Jeter played for your team, would you expect (or want) him to tell the ump he got the call wrong? If you answered yes, you would, then let me be the first to call you a liar. I believe in the spirit of fair play, don't get me wrong. Think of the situation. Yankees-Tampa. Two teams fighting for the divisional lead. Any and every advantage must be optimized, and that includes errors by officials. Baseball uses video replay very minimally--which I think is a good thing. 2) I have no idea how a ball hitting a wooden bat (on the butt-end or elsewhere) sounds like a ball hitting a human, however, the mistake was made. The umpire bought Jeter's acting job, and as a result, Jeter is being labeled as a cheater. Jeter is no different than any player. If the ump tells him to take his base, he's 90 feet up the line heading to first. Bottom line: if baseball wants to use video replay in a minimum fashion, and leave the on-field blue shirts to run the game, then the on-field guys simply have to be better.

Loads of high school football coming your way on the Discount Tire Friday Night Final at 11. I'll hit the blog Sunday (or Monday) after the Panthers and Bucs.

Mike Solarte

Monday, September 13, 2010

Panthers-Giants:The Fallout

Something I will attempt this season, is write the "day after" blog. The day after a Panthers game, win or lose. Generally, I have found that when I write something the day of the game, I am not seeing things clearly, so I go back, watch game tape, etc. So here goes.


Matt Moore struggled. Let's be honest. He threw three interceptions, all coming in the end zone. He has to make better decisions there. Even if it means throwing it into the seats, a throw-away is better than a turnover. Moore went 14-33 in the game, 182 yards, and a touchdown. His QB rating of 32.6 wasn't sparkling, so there is room for improvement.

The offensive line had its issues as well. Moore was sacked four times in the game, but one in the 4th quarter may be the reason Moore suffered a concussion. 3:50 left in the game. If you have it recorded, check it out, or just watch News 14 for our replays of it. The line has to be better in pass protection. As for running the ball, a little bit incomplete. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for 21 carries. That number is WAY too low for that tandem, trailing 15 points or not. The Panthers success is predicated on the run. 21 attempts by your stud running backs doesn't cut it.


Some poor execution led to some big New York plays. Putting that into perspective, RB Ahmad Bradshaw finished the game with 20 carries for 76 yards. He picked up 39 yards on just one of those carries. Take that one out (have Carolina play some better defense on that one play), and Bradshaw ends up in the neighborhood of 40 yards for the game. Brandon Jacobs, the petulant backup RB, had 12 carries for 44 yards. He gained 22 on one carry. Again, better defense on that one play, and Jacobs is around 25 for the game. Carolina did their job against the run.

Against Eli Manning, Carolina wasn't bad, either, but breakdowns cost them dearly. Hakeem Nicks had a monster afternoon, with three touchdown catches. Giants receivers should have had a bigger day, though, as three times, Manning throws hit their hands, only to bounce skyward, and into the waiting arms of a Panther defender. Opportunistic interceptions, no doubt, but it wasn't like the Panthers jumped a route, and had a clean pick. They still count, don't get me wrong, but we're being honest here. I liked what I saw from the defense, for the most part. Room for improvement, no doubt.


Mike Goodson needs to keep doing what he's doing. He's showing more and more that he just might be the answer to their kickoff return problems. Captain Munnerlyn averaged 19 yards per punt return in the game, not horrible by any stretch.

J.J. Jansen makes his first appearance in the blog (I think), as we saw him commit an error as the long snapper. Jansen said after the game, it was a wet ball that played a part in the botched snap on a punt attempt, but he fell on the grenade, and said that wasn't an excuse. Jansen has been solid since his arrival, and no doubt this appeared to be a once-in-a-great-while thing. Even Jason Kyle (now with New Orleans) had screw-ups, but you'd have to look long and hard to find them, much less remember them.


During the game, I received a text message asking if this was the most disinterested I had ever seen John Fox during a game. I don't think he is disinterested. Fox is a professional. He will do his job to the best of his ability. I was led to wonder, though, why the Panthers were throwing the football so close to the end zone late in the game. Carolina trailed by 15 points, with 11:30 left in the game. They string together a 12 play, 51 yard drive, in just 3 minutes, and get to the New York 4 yard line. They then attempt three straight pass plays, rather than dance with the running backs that brought them. This is not about a lack of confidence in Moore, but more about why their best weapons remained holstered. 8:40 remained on the clock, when Moore was picked off by Terrell Thomas. Why throw it there?

Let me also say this: The Panthers coaches have forgotten more about football than I will ever know, but from an outsiders viewpoint, 8:30 was plenty of time to try and get a score (with the running backs being involved), get the defense back out there, only trailing by 8, and making a game of it.

Overall, this Carolina team might be better than a lot of people give them credit for, myself included. They need to clean up the issues, however, and that won't be easy. This is a young team, and generally, young NFL teams make mistakes. It's how young players learn. For this team to be successful, though, they will need to learn quickly.'

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Panthers-Giants and more

At long last, it's game week for the Carolina Panthers, and if you are feeling confident that this team can contend for an NFC title, I'd love to know why.

I'm not dissing the Panthers, I just want to know why you are confident. I have some doubts.

Defensively, the Panthers are young, but they are flying around (at least they did in the pre-season). They are so active, and swarm to the ball, it was fun to watch in the exhibitions. Special teams seems to be improving week to week, and that, too is a good thing.

Offensively, there are concerns, and there really shouldn't be. That unit went 4 games without an offensive touchdown. That is hard to do. Stats LLC says the Panthers are the first team in at least 14 years to accomplish that feat. This unit, however, is the most in tact of the football team. Three of the five starters from last year's offensive line are back, although Jeff Otah has yet to play after having arthroscopic knee surgery at the start of camp. Matt Moore finished the season at QB, and he's back. DeAngelo Williams returns, as will Jonathan Stewart, but like Otah, Stewart didn't see the field in pre-season. Steve Smith is back as well, but he missed the pre-season too. Lots of unknowns, but with all due respect to the work done by Stewart and Smith in their careers, Otah might be the most valuable missing piece. Moore doesn't have his usual pocket comfort, Smith may not be able to get open, and Stewart can't run around the right side of the line without Otah doing his thing. No word yet on if he'll play Sunday against the Giants.

The Giants were smashed in their home finale last season by Carolina, in what would be the final regular season game played at the old Giants Stadium. The same two teams will christen the new place (a gorgeous building located right next to where the old one stood). As if the Giants needed it, they have additional motivation for Sunday.

I like the Giants in this one, but not by much. It could be a 7 point game, but if the offense can't find its way, it will be much worse.

Want to throw in my .02 on the Ryder Cup. Can't wait to see if Team USA can retain the Cup./ Tuesday, Captain Corey Pavin picked Tiger Woods, Stewart Cink, Zach Johnson and Rickie Fowler to complete his 12 man team. I love the picks, even the Fowler selection. At 21, Fowler has yet to win on the PGA Tour. The same can be said for teammate Jeff Overton, who made the team based on points. Fowler has a 7-1 record in Walker Cup play, and his fearless style will serve him well in match play. This USA team is a nice blend of old and young, but don't count out the Europeans. I'm still picking the US to retain the Cup in what promises to be a wonderful weekend of golf from Celtic Manor, beginning on October 1st.

Thanks for checking out the blog, and if you are a drag racing fan, be sure to check out Sports Night at 10, as we go one-on-one with Top Fuel Driver Antron Brown!

Mike Solarte

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

TV Ads Portray Worst of NFL Fans

I haven't written anything in a long while because there hasn't been much on my sports radar that has grabbed my attention or raised my ire. Finally something has.

These NFL Direct TV ads bother me. Now before you jump to conclusions, it's not because I work for a cable company. In fact, it has nothing to do with what Direct TV is providing.

What has agitated me so much is the content of the ads. I'm sure you've seen them. It's the commercials where a neighbor or a waitress or a cab driver is complaining about how someone is rooting for an NFL squad other than the hometown team. Consequently said neighbor, waitress or cab driver does something mean-spirited in retaliation.

Sure at first you chuckle, but the truth is this kind of behavior goes on at NFL stadiums. Don't believe me, then why has HBO's "Real Sports" done more than one expose on the topic? What I want to know is when did it become criminal to root for your team of choice no matter what city you're living in? I know there are hundreds upon hundreds of stories where fans who are just at a game to root for their team, only to be accosted by the hometown fans because he or she is supposedly wearing the wrong jersey. In most instances, alcohol is a big reason for the bad behavior. It's something the NFL has tried to crack down on with its rude fan policy where folks can text security about unruly acts.

The sad truth is these NFL commercials from Direct TV only reflect our society; and while they may seem innocent enough, in some way it really only encourages bad behavior. The commercials may depict throwing snow on someone's walkway for wringing rag water into somebody's tea, but imagine the lengths someone could take it to after watching one of those ads. Hey, it's OK to have a healthy rivalry, but if I were the NFL I'd find a better way to depict it.

Jason Brown