Jimmy Clausen is having trouble hanging on to snaps. (Photo by John Clark)
Welcome, to our new Friday format, which will be a little different than most days in that I’ll be giving you my candid observations from the week. I’ll take a lighthearted, but hopefully informative approach, which will be fun since my brain is typically fried by this time of the week. Let me know what you think. Hopefully this becomes a must-read for you each week…
CHARLOTTE – You know, the thing I really like about Carolina’s second-year cornerback/punt returner Captain Munnerlyn is he’s bold, cocky and fears nobody.
That’s what made him the team’s Rookie of the Year last season, a title I personally bestowed upon him but that comes with no trophy or prizes.
Earlier this week I asked Munnerlyn if it’s a scary proposition facing Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints offense and Munnerlyn’s wide smile basically said it all: Bring it on, baby!
“I look forward to it, actually,” said Munnerlyn, still riding high off his first NFL interception last week against Cincinnati. “We know they’re going to come out slinging it. So it’s going to be a DB (defensive back) kind of game. That’s the type of game we like. We’ll have a chance to get our hands on some balls.”
One thing you should know about the Saints – although they’re 2-1, folks down there are already panicking about how out of sync their offense looks. It doesn’t help that Reggie Bush is out of the lineup with a broken leg.
Bush may not put up big numbers, but he requires a lot of attention from defensive coordinators.
“I liken him to Marshall Faulk in his heyday,” coach John Fox said. “In that style of offense, it's just one more weapon that you have to defend and it creates matchups. Sometimes one guy (defender) wasn't enough. Like all great players, that's what you do - whether you're on offense, defense or special teams. Those are matchups you try to create and look for on game day.
“They've got Pierre Thomas, who is an exceptional back. But there are not many Reggie Bushes or Marshall Faulks coming out of the backfield in the National Football League. I liken those guys a lot; that's a compliment."
OK, Friday means injury report day, so let’s get that out of the way, first.
Injury report: Panthers starting right tackle Jeff Otah will miss his fourth consecutive start Sunday when the Panthers travel to New Orleans. Otah is listed as out along with linebacker Jamar Williams (neck). Neither is a surprise.
The good news is defensive ends Tyler Brayton (ankle) and Greg Hardy (foot) returned to practice on a limited basis Friday and are listed as questionable. Hardy told me earlier in the week that he would be ready by Sunday. Brayton is a bonus. As expected, guards Mackenzy Bernadeau (shoulder) and Travelle Wharton (ankle) appear set to go Sunday after practicing for the third straight day. Both are probable.
For the Saints, yes, Brees will play. The big question mark seems to be Thomas, who is questionable. If he can’t go the Saints will be without their top two running backs, meaning rookie Chris Ivory would get the start (and those in the Fantasy Football world are sent scrambling to pick him up).
OK, now to the fun stuff…
1. Insight of the week: While I don’t think there’s any ongoing feud between Steve Smith and Jimmy Clausen it was probably an eye-opener for the rookie quarterback when Smith came over to the bench and began shouting at him midway through his first NFL start. I’ve watched the TV tape several times and I can make out a few things Smith said, but not enough to comfortably quote him. But he was obviously upset. Clausen looked completely stunned by Smith’s volatility, although he’d surely been warned ahead of time. I understand Smith’s competitiveness and all, but geez, how about letting the kid get his jersey a little dirty before jumping on his back? Maybe it was Smith trying to establish himself as the alpha male, but the bottom line is this: Smith’s frustration with being double covered has been built up over years and I just think it’s a little unfair to take it out on Clausen in his first NFL start.
2. My advice of the week: I’m the first to admit that even after 20 years of covering the NFL I don’t know much about scripting plays, but I’m thinking the Panthers should run the ball on their second play from scrimmage Sunday. Hey, why mess with history? In last year’s game at New Orleans, DeAngelo Williams took a handoff on Carolina’s second play and raced 66 yards for a touchdown. In the season finale against the Saints in Charlotte, Jonathan Stewart did him one better, rushing 67 yards for a touchdown on the second play from scrimmage.
3. Foxism of the week: This should be fun. Each week from here forward I’m planning to dissect the Fox quote of the week (since we only have 13 more weeks to hear his words of wisdoms). I’m not picking on Fox. In fact, I think it’s an art form how he’s mastered saying nothing. And sometimes, he twists his words to do just that. Like on Monday when he was asked about going 0-3. “We are what we are and that is what I’m trying to change so we’re not that,” Fox said. Yeah, what he said.
4. Understatement of the week: There’s no doubt last year’s loss at New Orleans still irks Smith. The Panthers raced to a 14-0 lead, but then got really conservative on offense and allowed the high-power Saints back in the game. The Saints eventually won 30-20. Earlier this week, Smith seemed to take a veiled shot at offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson’s play-calling when he said, “You get some points early, you can’t shut it down -- bottom line. If you get up 14 of 17 points and then you don’t do anything after that -- especially against an explosive offense like that -- they’re not going to sit around and twiddle their thumbs. They are going to draw up plays in the dirt and do whatever they can to come back. So when you get up 14 or 17 or even three points and try to sit on it and hope for the best, it’s not going to work.”
5. Encouraging stat of the week: Prior to last year’s loss at the Superdome, the Panthers had won seven straight against the Saints in Jake Delhomme’s home state of Louisiana. All but one of those came at the Superdome. The other was at LSU’s Tiger Stadium the year Katrina hit.
6. Discouraging stat of the week: The Panthers had to be just kicking themselves in the head after watching tape as a team on Monday, especially after dropping four interceptions from Carson Palmer. Early on it seemed like Palmer forgot what uniform he was throwing to. The most costly drop, I thought, was by Chris Gamble. Simply put, if you pay a guy $6 million per year he’s got to come up with those plays. That was an easy six points.
7. Unrelated stat of the week: Baltimore's Anquan Boldin, the 29-year-old receiver the Panthers passed on this offseason, is seventh in the NFL in receiving yards (287) and tied for eighth in receptions (20) and has three scores. Likewise, Miami's Brandon Marshall, another free agent who came available this offseason, is playing well. He's fifth in receiving yards (290) and tied for third in receptions (22) and has one score. Carolina's No. 2 receivers (David Gettis, Brandon LaFell and Dwayne Jarrett) have combined for 156 yards on 10 catches and have no touchdowns. It's hard being patient, isn't it?
8. What I didn’t like from Week 3: There’s a lot of things I didn’t like about last week, but the play calling ranks right up there. I mean, honestly, do the Panthers have any trick plays in their playbook? I mean, at least something that makes you say, “Wow, I didn’t see that one coming?” I guess the problem is those tend to backfire on Fox from time to time so he’s a little gun shy in using them. You know, like the Gamble throwback pass on a punt return a few years back against Minnesota.
9. Funny story of the week: If you’ve been following closely, you know that Clausen’s fumbled snaps on Sunday didn’t come as a surprise. It’s been a problem throughout training camp. So a few of us sportswriters began wondering if Clausen’s hand size could be a factor. The funny thing was watching a half dozen writers gazing down every few seconds to get a look at Clausen’s hands while he spoke to the media on Monday. I'm not sure if Clausen became paranoid, but at some point he put his hands in the pockets of his sweatpants. By the way, I’m not into measuring the size of a man’s hand, but if I had to make a guess I’d say they’re medium. Not big. Not small. Just medium. I guess. I know one thing, they certainly aren’t as big as Vinny Testaverde’s mitts.
10. Wild prediction of the week: I have a feeling wide receiver David Gettis is on the verge of a breakout game, one of those seven-catches-for 124-yards-and-a-touchdown kinds of deals. It may not be this week, but I sense that it’s coming sooner rather than later. The kid is improving every week. He just needs a boost of confidence.
Catch you next week, folks!