Thursday, September 29, 2011

Newton is Top Rookie

The first of what will likely be a truckload of honors for Cam Newton this season rolled in on Thursday, as he was named the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month for September. Hands down, the top rookie in the league over the first 3 weeks of the season. This just in: Newton is good. At least as good as advertised, if not better. Congrats to him, and the rest of the offense for getting him some run.

Panthers facing Chicago in week 4, and this one promises to be a good one. If Carolina has done nothing else, they have shown that they will compete until the gun sounds at the end of the 4th quarter. They were finally rewarded with a win against Jacksonville, and Carolina hopes it can be cyclical.

Back to the previous blog post--I stand by my prediction, the Panthers could have blown the Jaguars up, had it not been for a monsoon. It was like the storm cloud floated to the stadium, saw the game, and decided it would be fun to watch. Jacksonville's lone touchdown came during the driving rain in the 2nd quarter. Give Blaine Gabbert credit for being able to make that throw in that soup. Head Coach Ron Rivera would later say his team needed to defend that kind of play better.

When it comes to Chicago, stopping Matt Forte will be key, and keeping Jay Cutler uncomfortable will also be paramount. Offensively, Carolina has to contend with Julius Peppers up front, which is an all day job. Look for the Panthers to allow Peppers to over-pursue, and try to hurt Chicago with dump-offs to running backs.

Carolina also has to pay particularly close attention in special teams with Devin Hester returning punts. Makes for a long afternoon if you have to punt to Hester all afternoon, but keep this in mind: the Panthers have proven they can move the football, and if they are able to do that, run the clock to their advantage, Carolina has as good a chance as any to win this one.

Having to make a prediction: Give me Carolina 20-17 over Chicago.

Quick NASCAR hit, can anyone stop Tony Stewart? He's won both races to start the Chase, has the points lead, after starting off tied for 9th with 2000 points (all Chase drivers started with 2000 points, with 3 points added per regular season win). Heading into Dover, Stewart leads by just 7 points, but with the new system, 7 is nice. Not comfortable, but nice. Dover will be a key race in the Chase, but the true wildcard in the playoffs will come in Talladega, the week after the series runs at Charlotte.

Race prediction: This is the week the #48 teams gets on track to make a run at title number 6. Give me Jimmie Johnson on the Monster Mile.

Mike Solarte

Follow me on Twitter!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Spraying to all Fields

Been too long between posts (my bad). Thoughts on a variety of topics.

Look for the Carolina Panthers to get their first win of the season Sunday against Jacksonville. I have noticed this team turning a little edgy, and who could blame them. They deny it, because they know the reality is that they are winless, but they honestly feel they they should have the reverse record. Give Head Coach Ron Rivera a lot of credit. In a short amount of time, he has a team that still has plenty of players from last years disaster of a season believing they can compete with anyone. More than that, they are doing it. Jacksonville could get crushed on Sunday. Seriously.

Thoughts out to Panthers LB Thomas Davis, who is out for the season after suffering a third tear of the ACL in his right knee. The guy has so much heart and determination, it's a shame that he has been hit with this again. I'm not calling his career over. No way. The guy has too much desire and love of the game to write him off. When he does eventually retire, it will only be because he says its over. Until that time, he's an NFL player, just on IR.

On Saturday, I was railing on my twitter account (@MikeSolarte) about the Maryland Terrapin uniforms. I can't sugar coat it--those things are hideous. I lay the blame on Oregon (and Nike CEO Phil Knight). No school should have more uniform combinations, than offensive sets in their playbook. Oregon, your colors are green and gold. Maryland, you guys sport red, white and black. Stick to it. Duke, you aren't exempt either. Ditch the black based basketball uni's and stay with the blue. It looks better, and doesn't make people wonder who is on the floor.

Tough loss for UNC against Georgia Tech on Saturday. Heels fought back from a deficit, and tied the game at 28. Giovani Bernard is a pleasure to watch. Untimely mistakes, and Georgia Tech's ability to move the ball cost the Heels a win. Not the end of the world, as this team will learn from it all. Losing isn't fun, but the Heels played well enough to win. They just came up short. And stop with the "justice" thoughts about the 10-second run off at the end of the game. The NCAA changed the rule after last year's bowl game, and they got bitten by it. Saying it's justice is nothing more than being a hater. I'm not a UNC "fan," just a fan of good games. This was a good game. Leave it at that.

Lastly, I'm hoping Webb Simpson can put up a nice 65 on Sunday to give himself a chance to win the Fed Ex Cup at the Tour Championship. He's had a monster year, and it would be pretty cool to see a homegrown talent (Raleigh native, Wake Forest grad, and now Charlotte resident), claim the big prize at the end of a breakout year.

Mike Solarte

Monday, September 12, 2011

Confused by Panthers Euphoria in Wake of Loss

Excuse me, but I don't understand the Panthers euphoria over Sunday's game.  Yes Cam Newton was spectacular (a rookie debut record 422 passing yards and 2 touchdowns; & rushed for 18 yards and a TD), but last I checked Carolina came up 7 points short and lost the 2011 season opener.  If I may borrow a line from former NFL head coach Herm Edwards, "You play to win the game!"  And after a lackluster 2-14 season, winning should be all that matters to the Panthers and those that cheer for them.  There are no moral victories in the NFL.

Look, I get it, Panthers fans are enthralled with Newton and they have every right to feel that way.  This team didn't score 21 points in a single game until week 7 last year when they got their first win versus San Francisco 23-20.  But Carolina was up 21-14 in the 4th quarter and couldn't hold on.  Not only that, they lost to a team they beat last year without Cam Newton.  Yes, fans want to see improvement, but when you have a chance to win -- especially on the road in the NFL -- you need to take advantage of it.

That is why I was so surprised by the excitement of the fans and even the media that cover this team in the wake of Sunday's defeat.  I can guarantee you no one in the Panthers locker room is patting themselves on the back after the loss.  Not the coaches, not the players and especially not Cam Newton.  A die hard Panthers fan told me he hoped the Panthers could win 6 games this season.  Certainly and improvement from last year's 2-14 campaign.  Well guess what, Sunday was one of the winnable 6.

--Jason Brown

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Panthers fall to Cardinals

It will go into the record books as a 28-21 loss to Arizona, but the Carolina Panthers did more in their opening 60 minutes than they did throughout, arguably, all of 2010.
First the obvious. Cam Newton had a ridiculous NFL debut. 24 of 37, 422 yards, 2 TD's, 1 INT, and a QB rating of 110.4. His counterpart, Kevin Kolb put up a big day of his own, 18 of 27, 309 yards, 2TD and a rating of 130. Statistically, Kolb won the matchup, but Newton is a rookie, and looked as comfortable as he could be, given the compressed training camp schedule. He was pretty darn good.
While many are touting Newton's start (and they should), more cause for concern is the Panthers rushing attack, which mustered just 74 yards on 27 attempts. Eight of those attempts belonged to Newton, so the running backs (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart) came home with this: 19 carries for 56 yards. The Double Trouble tandem never got on track for a number of reasons. First, the cards loaded up for the run, mainly because the Panthers had killed them with it in the past, and second, they appeared to be blitzing on two of every four dons. I'm just offering that up as a reason why the ground game struggled. End of the day, it has to improve.
Defensively, the front line bent, but didn't really break, as Cardinal runners totalled 100 yards on the day. Officially, they got credit for 99 yards, with Kolb coming in at -1. Still, the birds didn't gash Carolina as many had feared coming in. What they did, however, was take advantage of the Panthers willingness to bring pressure, as evidenced on the Early Doucet touchdown. Five wideouts, covered by 4 with safety Jordan Pugh playing centerfield. Pugh needed to be playing short center (you softball players know that position), and Doucet simply outran everyone to the paint.
The Doucet TD was the first big gaffe, the second was the punt return for touchdown from Patrick Peterson. It looked like 4 players had Peterson surrounded when he caught the kick, and he just ran away from everyone. Special teams needs to be just that-special. They weren't on that one play, and that was the difference in the game. Please don't flood me with "bad blitz pick ups," because I'm not buying it. Arizona brought heat the whole game, and Carolina did a good job to pick them up most of the time. To Newton's credit, he held the ball, rather than make an ill-advised throw and possibly a pick.
The loss stings, but after last season, this game provided more than a glimmer of hope. It was one of those huge spotlights that car dealers in Chicago would use when they wanted to attract attention to their lots for sales. It was a massive searchlight in the sky. After a 2-14 campaign last year, Panthers fans have reason to believe this team will be competitive. They may not win much, but they will come out and battle each week. They'll need that same mentality next week, when Green Bay rolls into Bank of America stadium.
My guess is, they will bring that with them.
Mike Solarte