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September 30, 2010

Panthers' pass rush hurting

Between them, Panthers defensive ends Tyler Brayton and Greg Hardy have two good wheels.

That’s going to make it tough to chase Saints quarterback Drew Brees around the Superdome on Sunday.

Brayton and Hardy have not been ruled out, yet, but neither has practiced this week. Brayton is battling a high ankle sprain that has lingered since the preseason, while Hardy has a foot problem he says is related to the new cleats he wore last week and unrelated to his foot injury at Ole Miss (some enterprising marketer should get this man a shoe deal).

Rookie defensive end/linebacker Eric Norwood has been getting increased reps this week after he was inactive for the Bengals’ game. Norwood was relentless in his pass rush at South Carolina, finishing as the school’s all-time leader in sacks and tackles for loss.

But he is thinner than he was in college. And you wonder if at 6-1 and 241 pounds, Norwood will be able to do much other than a speed move against offensive tackles who outweigh him by 100 pounds.

The Panthers are tied with three other teams with an NFL-low two sacks, just one of which was recorded by a defensive lineman. Despite the departure of Julius Peppers, Brees said Carolina’s front four still can be disruptive.

“I don’t know about the number of sacks, but I do see them getting pressure on the quarterback. Making them having to adjust, step up and just kind of making things a little uncomfortable in the pocket,” Brees said.

“I think they’re a pretty athletic and skillful group. I know they’re a lot of new faces on that D-line, obviously with the absence of Peppers now there are some new guys in there. … But I see a group that flies around and, with the pressure package, they have been trying to get after the quarterback a little bit more.”

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on September 30, 2010 at 06:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Carolina Panthers links for Thursday

    Thursday's Carolina Panthers links:

Sorensen: Clausen will be the best passing quarterback the Panthers have ever had / Charlotte Observer

Panthers poised to run wild vs. Saints? / Observer

Notebook: DL not slowed by constant change / Observer

Win tickets to Bears at Panthers / Observer

Panthers switch up film study for accountability / Gaston Gazette

Smith defuses rumors of spat with Clausen / Gazette

Saints Brees nursing sore knee, says he's fine / N.O. Times-Picayune

Brees will wear knee brace on Sunday / Yahoo! Sports

Posted by Observer Sports on September 30, 2010 at 07:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

September 29, 2010

Panthers playing from behind

If you were slow getting to the stadium or settling into your sofa last year when the Panthers and Saints played, you missed out.

On the second play of each game, a Carolina tailback took off for a long touchdown run. DeAngelo Williams went 66 yards in the loss at New Orleans; Jonathan Stewart bolted 67 yards in the January win in Charlotte against what colleague Darrin Gantt called the Saints’ JV team (they rested most of their starters for the playoffs.)

Such a start Sunday would put the Panthers in an unfamiliar spot – on top.

Through the first three games, Carolina has led for 10 minutes, 41 seconds of the 180 minutes of game time. The Panthers’ only leads came in Week 1 at New York, when they led the Giants 3-0, 9-7 and 16-14 (at halftime).

But since Lawrence Tynes’ field goal put the Giants up 17-16 with 9:03 left in the third quarter, Carolina has been tied or trailed ever since.

That’s not a blueprint for success for a team built to run.

It’s also a tough way to keep your quarterback upright.

Forced to throw while trailing late in every game, Matt Moore and Jimmy Clausen have taken some big hits. A couple resulted in fumbles, another sent Moore to a New Jersey hospital with a concussion.

It would be interesting to see how this young team would react to playing with a lead in the fourth quarter. The Panthers have a proven 1-2 punch at tailback and a line that has shown it can wear down a defense late in games.

But they have to get a lead first.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on September 29, 2010 at 06:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Local knowledge: New Orleans Saints

     Who better to ask about the Saints than the guys who cover them every day? We asked New Orleans Times-Picayune beat writer Mike Triplett five questions about the 2-1 Saints in advance of this week’s game with the 0-3 Panthers:


    1. Have the Saints sobered up yet? Seems like the entire offseason was a well-deserved celebration. Any concern that the hangover, for lack of a better word, catches up to them?

    I think they’ve put any concerns about the idea of “over-celebrating” to rest, for the most part. Their offense hasn’t been firing on all cylinders yet, but they did start the year 2-0 with some tough wins against Minnesota and San Francisco. So they certainly haven’t come out flat and lifeless. Plus, they stayed relatively healthy throughout the summer, so we didn’t see any signs of a team that wasn’t ready to get back to work.

    I do believe in the general idea that it’s hard to be as motivated and driven in the year after you win a Super Bowl, though. That’s just basic human nature. And you have to believe that even someone as driven and hard-working as Drew Brees must have been affected somewhat by a jam-packed summer schedule of the field, which included a book tour. But I don’t think any of that will keep the Saints out of playoff contention. They’ve still got Brees playing the quarterback position as well as anyone in the league, and Sean Payton calling plays. Plus, they brought back almost the entire roster from last year.

  I don’t expect another 13-3 season or No. 1 seed. But they sure look like a team that can win in the double digits, and once they’re in the playoffs, they’re a veteran team that knows how to win.
       2. While he's out with a broken fibula, will the Saints miss Reggie Bush more for what he does himself, or for what he creates for others  (i.e. as a decoy, or a threat which other teams have to game-plan for,  opening things for others)?

0929reggiebush      It’s a little of both, obviously, but you do bring up a good point. For all the people who still consider Bush a “bust” or an underachiever, he has been a very valuable role player in a Saints offense that has ranked first in the NFL three of the last four years. Payton loves to create and exploit mismatches with all the offensive weapons at his disposal. Sometimes he’ll get Bush matched up against a linebacker and exploit that. Other times, Bush might be drawing away a top defender – like a Jon Beason – while Brees fired the ball downfield to Jeremy Shockey or a receiver.

  So without Bush, the Saints offense becomes a little more traditional and perhaps it’s easier to defend in that sense. But there’s no shortage of weapons on this team. Take a look at last week, when receiver Lance Moore stepped up with six catches for 149 yards and two touchdowns. Plus you’ve got Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, Shockey, David Thomas, Jimmy Graham, Pierre Thomas (who will be questionable this week with an ankle injury) … it’s a long list.

    Atlanta coach Mike Smith said last week that it’s not necessarily easier to defend the Saints without Bush in the lineup, because now it’s the coaches’ job to figure out where those extra 10-12 touches will go.

       3. Has any of the first-year magic gone away from the Gregg Williams- led defense? Do you see the same spark there as last year?
    Not really. After forcing 39 takeaways in the regular season last year, they came out this year and forced four more in the first two games. The defense didn’t take the ball away against Atlanta, but ball security is one of the things the Falcons and Matt Ryan do best. I imagine the Saints will be looking to rattle Jimmy Clausen in this game.

  Williams loves to blitz, but that’s not his only method for rattling and confusing quarterbacks. He really loves to keep them off balance, and sometimes he does that by dropping back in coverage. The Saints have 28 different defensive packages, including several 3-4 packages, which they used heavily in Week 1. 

  Williams was a huge addition for the Saints last year, as was safety Darren Sharper (who is out with a knee injury for at least the first six weeks). But they aren’t the only ones. The emergence of cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter was just as important, and they make the whole defense better.


       4. Have the Saints been fortunate in finding the right guys to play WR, or would Drew Brees be able to do this with any set of wideouts in the NFL?

0929brees     I’m sure that’s a little of both, but they do have some really talented guys in the mix. In fact, I’ve long said that I think Marques Colston would be a perennial Pro Bowler pushing 100 catches per year for most other teams, because he’s such a big target with great hands, that he’d be a security blanket for most quarterbacks.
    The other guys all add nice versatility to a deep offense. Lance Moore is a shifty receiver who catches everything and is reminiscent of a Miles Austin or Wes Welker type. Devery Henderson is primarily a deep threat, though he has become a reliable possession receiver as well over the years. And Robert Meachem, the only first-rounder in the bunch, has the biggest upside with his speed and size, but he’s been slowed a bit this year after offseason toe surgery.
    In turn, I also think Payton and Brees have made these guys better, because they all know the ball could come to them at any time. I’ve never seen a quarterback who’s more willing to throw to the open man, regardless of who he is.

       5. Historically, this division has been unkind to attempts to repeat. Why do you think the Saints will or will not be able to buck the trend of the annual NFC South shakeup?

    This goes back to that idea of the Super Bowl hangover.

    Carolina, Tampa Bay, Atlanta and New Orleans have all been good examples in this decade, missing the playoffs after Super Bowl or NFC Championship Game appearances. … Like I said before, it’s happened so many times to so many different teams, you can’t ignore the possibility that human nature will lead to a letdown.

There’s two things working in the Saints’ favor, though. One, the division is thinner than ever, with both Carolina and Tampa Bay rebuilding, so it will almost certainly be a two-way race between the Saints and Falcons. And two, Drew Brees is a Hall-of-Fame-caliber quarterback in his prime right now. He’s right up there with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, who have their teams in the playoffs every year.

-- Darin Gantt

Posted by Observer Sports on September 29, 2010 at 09:55 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

Carolina Panthers links for Wednesday

Wednesday's Panthers links:

Why the offensive line is struggling / Charlotte Observer

Louis Leonard out; Raiders OL in? / Observer

Scott Says: Convoluted Panthers quotes / Observer

Panthers give $25,000 to Classroom Central / Observer

Panthers cut Leonard, look for OL help / Gaston Gazette

Saints sign K Carney, but keep Hartley / N.O. Times Picayune

Posted by Observer Sports on September 29, 2010 at 07:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

September 28, 2010

Panthers release Leonard

    The Panthers released defensive tackle Louis Leonard Tuesday, cutting bait on a guy who never reached expectations here.

    Leonard was dogged by knee and ankle problems through the offseason, and failed to live up to the potential he showed last year. He played well in two games, with 11 tackles and a sack before breaking his ankle on the final defensive snap at Atlanta.

    His departure means they have a spot on the 53-man roster, and still more questions than answers at his position. They start Derek Landri and Ed Johnson, and have Nick Hayden and undrafted rookie Andre Neblett in reserve. It also leaves them with nothing to show from the 2009 trades for him and Tank Tyler, who was released before the opener. They gave up fifth- and sixth-round picks in this year's draft to obtain them.

-- Darin Gantt


Louis Leonard was dogged by knee and ankle problems. (STAFF FILE PHOTO, JEFF SINER - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com)


Posted by Observer Sports on September 28, 2010 at 04:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (53)

Carolina Panthers links for Tuesday

Tuesday's Panthers links:

Panthers offense scraping statistical bottom / Observer

Fowler: Lame-duck players may be the problem / Observer

Notes: Clausen says he needs to get a grip / Observer

Panthers trying to stay optimistic at 0-3 / Gaston Gazette

Clausen struggles with center exchange / Gaston Gazette

Saints still have confidence in RB Ivory / New Orleans Times-Picayune

Saints trying out kickers / New Orleans Times-Picayune

Posted by Observer Sports on September 28, 2010 at 07:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

September 27, 2010

Panthers' QBs can't find the grip

John Fox apparently is sticking with Jimmy Clausen at quarterback, although the Panthers’ coach didn’t exactly give the rookie a ringing endorsement.

Fox said Clausen would “more than likely” be the starter Sunday at New Orleans. Fox then pointed out that the Panthers’ offensive problems go beyond the quarterback position – the same thing Fox said when he benched Matt Moore last week.

Fox said Clausen did “pretty well” identifying defensive fronts and was “pretty quick” getting rid of the ball. But it seemed pretty clear Fox was irked that his quarterbacks continue to hand-deliver the ball to the other team.

After watching Moore and Clausen lose 10 of the Panthers’ NFL-worst 12 turnovers, Fox is now categorizing the giveaways.

“The variety last week was more sack-fumbles. This week they were just fumbles, whether it be in the run game or the center-quarterback exchange,” he said. “But either way, they’re turnovers that give the short field for the opponent.”

In tennis, you’d call the Panthers’ turnovers against Cincinnati unforced errors.

No one was blasted from the blind side or clocked going over the middle.

Two of Clausen’s fumbles came because he couldn’t handle the snap (left guard Travelle Wharton fell on one of them); the third was on a botched handoff that looked to be the fault of tailback Mike Goodson.

Someone asked Fox whether the rain played a part in the fumbles.

“Either way, it was what it was,” he said. “They played in the same weather we did.”

If the Panthers hit their average with four turnovers this week at the Superdome, it won’t be because of the weather.

--Joseph Person

Posted by Observer Sports on September 27, 2010 at 06:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)

Fox: Clausen "more than likely" to start

    Panthers coach John Fox said rookie QB Jimmy Clausen would "more than likely" start this week against New Orleans.

    As a nine-year veteran of translating Fox, that means yes, in fact, he will.

    He didn't offer much in the way of specifics, but seemed generally encouraged by Clausen's play -- other than the fumbles.

    He was in one of the moods he gets in from time to time, blowing off any suggestions of specific areas of weaknesses.

    Asked about the offensive line problems, Fox said that "unlike the media," he wasn't getting into specific areas of concern.

    -- No real update on LB Jamar Williams (neck), but had an interesting exchange when asked whether any of the existing reserves could play in the middle.

    "We have an alternate plan," he said, without delving into the alternate.

    If nothing else, that points to the fact that they're at least a bit uncertain about the prospects of playing LBs Nic Harris, Jordan Senn or Eric Norwood as defensive regulars.

-- Darin Gantt

Posted by Observer Sports on September 27, 2010 at 12:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (47)

Carolina Panthers links for Monday

Monday's Panthers-Bengals links:

Spark? Panthers flame out in loss to Bengals / Observer

Fowler: In wasted season, stay with Clausen / Observer

Sorensen: Time to trade Steve Smith / Observer

Notebook: Offensive line still struggling / Observer

Scott Says: Five things I didn't like / Observer

Tom Talks: Panthers tired of beating themselves / Observer

Steve Smith disappointed in lack of work / Observer

Panthers defense regrets dropped chances / Observer

Bengals banked on field position in soggy Charlotte / Observer

Key moments, grades, game statistics / Observer

Photo gallery from Panthers vs. Bengals / Observer

 Frustrated Panthers fail to improve / Gaston Gazette

Notebook: Missed opportunities haunt Panthers / Gazette

Grades / Gazette

How good could Bengals be with an offense? / Cincinnati Enquirer

Bengals get ugly win vs. Panthers / Enquirer

Clausen no hero in starting debut / Enquirer

Bengals fifth down / Enquirer

Clausen has his share of struggles / CBSSportsline

Posted by Observer Sports on September 27, 2010 at 07:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)