At first glance, the 2009 Season for the Carolina Panthers could be viewed as a failure. Especially if you compare it to their 2008 campaign, where the Panthers finished 13-3 and made the playoffs.
It’s interesting, however, how the 2008 Season ended, because it was basically the same way the 2009 Season began. With Jake Delhomme killing the team with turnovers. A lot of us wondered if Delhomme’s Playoff Birthday Bash where he threw 6 interceptions would carry over to this Season.
First game of ’09, 5 picks. Um…Yeah it carried over.
2009 featured a lot of ups and downs of this nature and created a lot of questions going into 2010. I’m going to review the Offense, Defense, and look ahead to the future and try to answer some of those questions 2009 created.
Offensively the Panthers were about as consistent as a sack of potatoes. You don’t know what that means? Well….too bad for you! It means they weren’t consistent at all. At times they looked great, including Delhomme. I pointed out earlier in the Season that if Delhomme’s pass attempts are kept under 25 he plays well, more than that and you can expect a lot of turnovers.
That held true pretty much all season. The running game was still fantastic with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart both rushing for over 1100 yards, the first such tandem in NFL history. Pretty good I’d say. The crazy thing is that Coach Fox seemed to go away from that too early in games.
Even when leading, rather than leaning on the rush attack the Panthers would continue to place the ball in Delhomme’s hands. Crazy! I sat there watching the Panthers games wanting to kick John Fox in the head! You have two awesome running backs! Use them!!!
The Offense really turned around when Matt Moore was given the starting job over Delhomme, initially due to injury. He kept it with his performance, going 4-1 over the last 5a weeks of the Season with big wins over the Giants, Saints, and the Vikings.
Matt Moore basically managed the game, limited mistakes, and got the ball to playmakers Steve Smith and Jonathan Stewart. Stewart actually rushed for over 200 yards in the 41-9 blowout over the Giants, it was beautiful.
If I had to nail down one thing to pin Carolina’s Offensive struggles on, it would have to be turnovers. Carolina finished dead last in turnover differential at -18. You can’t expect to win on a consistent basis when you turn the ball over as much as Carolina did.
However, defensively Carolina played at a much higher level than the Offense. It’s been incredibly underrated how good the defense has been this Season.
This is kinda like looking at a really hot woman, who also happens to have a uni-brow. She’s super hot, but, you can’t take your eyes off that disgusting patch of hair above her beautiful blue eyes. The Carolina Panthers are the hot girl, the Defense is her gorgeous face, and the Offense is that Uni-Brow. You know she’s hot but you can’t get past the brow,
The Panthers defense is really good, but, that Uni-Brow Offense made it hard for people to notice.
Consider this, in four of their wins against the Saints, Vikings, Giants, and Cardinals, the Panthers gave up a combined 47 points, good for 11.7 points a game. Four of the best Offensive teams in the league were locked down by this Defense.
A lot of credit has to go to Cornerbacks Richard Marshall and Chris Gamble, who tied for the team lead in interceptions with 4. Carolina was ranked 4th in the league against the pass, giving up only 191 yards a game.
This is even more impressive considering the opposition, Carolina faced some of the premier Qb’s in the league in Kurt Warner, Drew Bree’s twice, Brett Favre, Matt Ryan twice, Tony Romo, Donavan McNabb and Tom Brady.
It could be argued that Carolina had one of the toughest schedules against passing teams, and still ranked 4th in the league. You have to give them a lot of credit for that achievement.
Linebacker Jon Beason had a great year as well, leading the team in tackles with 142 and 3 picks. Julius Peppers also rebounded with a strong season, leading the team in sacks with 10.5, he even picked off 2 passes. Carolina needs to bring him back because he’s one of the premier edge rushers in the league.
So looking ahead there are a few questions this season created that need to be answered for this team to have any hope of returning to the playoffs.
Let’s start with John Fox, after underachieving this season there’s been a lot of grumbling for the Panthers to cut ties with their longtime coach. Fox is the longest tenured coach in the NFL and early indications are that he will be back in 2010. He has 3 years left on his contract, so its safe to assume that’s the biggest reason he will return.
The biggest question I think is at Quarterback. Jake Delhomme has led this team to the Super Bowl, has the respect of the coaching staff and teammates, and has performed well in the past. But, Matt Moore made quite an impression in his 5 starts.
Most impressive is Moore only threw 2 interceptions in his 5 starts, compared to 18 in 11 starts for Delhomme. WR Steve Smith had a rough start to the year, but when Moore got the starting nod Smith appeared rejuvenated and got on a roll. He closed the year out on a high note with touchdowns in the last three games, including a 157 yard effort against the Vikings.
Coach Fox hasn’t announced who’s going to be his starting Quarterback in 2010 but it seems obvious who he should go with. Matt Moore is the guy who gives them the best chance to win.
Carolina is also going to have to decide what they want to do with DE Julius Peppers. He was Franchised this Season and played his booty off for a new contract. It seems unlikely the Panthers lock him up long term, but, with 2010 being an uncapped year and with the potential of no Football in 2011 I would guess Peppers will be franchised for another Season.
If that’s the case Peppers will make roughly $17 to $19 million, not bad for one Season. It’s crucial for the Panther’s Defense that he accepts the Franchise tag if it’s offered. Their 4th ranked pass defense is largely due to the constant pressure applied by Peppers on the outside.
So yes, at first glance 2009 could be considered a failure when compared to 2008. But, with the talent on this team on the Offensive side of the ball, and the enormous strides made by the defense, 2010’s Carolina Panthers could be even better than their Super Bowl team.
I know it sounds crazy, but I like Matt Moore at Quarterback, he’s shown he’s more than capable of shouldering the load. Steve Smith is still one of the most dangerous wide outs in the game, and Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams are the best running back tandems in the league.
Exciting things are in store for this squad and the fans have a lot to look forward to, I think the “Uni-Brow” will be long gone when 2010 begins.
About the Author
Written by Danny Shapiro
Danny Shapiro is 26 years old, married and a father to 2 boys, who he hopes one day to play MLB and support him and his wife in their old age. Danny's second love, mistress even, is sports and Danny is living his dream of being a sports writer right now, thanks to Prosportsblogging.com.