Okay, I know you thought I forgot about these week-by-week breakdowns, but I did not. I was just waiting until after the draft, and I was busy for most of the month of May, so I really didn’t have a bunch of free time.
But here goes the break down of the Panthers, who the Falcons square off against in Week 3 this year.
Offense: The Panthers offense definitely underachieved last year. Delhomme had a down year, and rookie DeAngelo Williams didn’t have the great impact expected of him. They’ve made only a few changes, principally at wide receiver, and also with new offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson, they will install a zone-blocking scheme up front that should better fit their personnel. Someone could point out injuries or inconsistency, but the simple truth is that this team didn’t convert third downs last year, and that was their downfall. Steve Smith is once again their sole potent weapon, but I won’t sleep on Williams. He played much better down the stretch last year after coming back from his injury, and if he can pick up where he left off he should be a 1000-yard rusher this year. Up front, they have concerns at left tackle with Travelle Wharton coming off injury, and nobody is probably ready to step up and replace Keyshawn.
Defense: The fact that they were a Top 10 defense despite having one of the 10 worst offenses in the league, is a testament to this unit’s abilities. For most of the first half of the year, Peppers played like an MVP. Rucker is getting up in age, and Jenkins is no longer considered the elite player he once was, so there are legit concerns about the defensive line, once considered one of the best in the league. Morgan is one of the most overrated middle linebackers in the league, and has been a minimal factor even when he’s rarely healthy as of lately. But the addition of Beason could give them an impact playmaker at that position with speed. The secondary has serious concerns at safety, but their cornerbacks are as solid as they come with Lucas, Gamble, and Manning.
Off-season: The only significant addition they made was signing David Carr as a backup QB. Besides that adding Deke Cooper and Chad Lavalais were arguably their second biggest moves. They really preferred to add by subtraction, getting rid of Keyshawn, Weinke, Chris Draft, Al Wallace, Kris Mangum, and Karl Hankton, all of them being valuable backups or starters. But that philosophy was brought about by the minimal cap space they had at the beginning of March.
Draft: Beason is considered a sequel to Vilma, and if he has the same type of impact typical of rookie linebackers taken high in the draft, he could be a really asset to their defense. But other picks like Dwayne Jarrett, Ryan Kalil, Charles Johnson, and Tim Shaw led many analysts to consider the Panthers draft among the best in the league. And certainly if all five of those players live up to their pre-draft billing, then the Panthers will have a solid corps of players down the road.
Overall: The Panthers still have the talent and ability to be a contender for the NFC crown. The key of course will be to get better play from Delhomme and also for the running game to make the necessary strides, both things that are capable of occurring this year. Of course the defense’s improvement will also help, but it’s probable that if Delhomme and Williams do what they’re paid to do, then the defense will be able to pick up the slack. It’s doubtful so many analysts will pick them as a Super Bowl favorite this year, but they could be a very popular sleeper pick, since they are essentially the same team that only got weaker at two positions: wide receiver and safety, two areas that aren’t essential for success in the NFL.
How They Match Up: The Panthers have always presented a formidable matchup on paper, but have struggled for most of Fox’s tenure finding an answer for Vick. Beason’s arrival should help in that regard, but it’s doubtful he’ll immediately be a force in the NFC South from Day One. The Falcons and Panthers mirror each other in a lot of aspects in terms of their style and personnel, at least they did when Mora was in town. Julius Peppers has given Todd Weiner fits over the years, and that probably won’t change with Weiner only getting older. Similarly, John Abraham gave the Panthers fits in the season opener last year. Essentially, the teams match up very well. And the victor is usually decided by which of the teams is hotter and better executes their game plan.