Carolina Panthers Retrospective
FUN FRIDAY: Panthers look to end dubious streak, 10 other observations E-mail
Written by Steve Reed   
Friday, 29 October 2010 17:44

Carolina's defense is looking to turn turnovers into points. (Photo by John Clark)

   CHARLOTTE – James Anderson is always up for a good brain teaser, so I asked him earlier this week if he remembers the last time the Carolina Panthers scored a defensive touchdown.
   Anderson paused for several seconds before it finally came to him.
   “Peppers… Arizona… Last year!,” the linebacker exclaimed, referring to Julius Peppers’ 13-yard interception return against the Cardinals in Week 7 on Nov. 1 of last season, which for the Panthers means 16 games ago and almost a full calendar year.
   You’re right, I told him.
   “Hah, I knew it! Man, it’s been awhile hasn’t it?” Anderson said. “We’re going to need to change that.”
   Defensive coordinator Ron Meeks would love nothing better.
   Meeks emphasizes turnovers and scoring every day in practice the way third-grade teachers emphasize “I” before “e” except after “c.”
   And the Panthers have been proficient at forcing turnovers with 50 takeaways in the last 22 games.
   In the 15 games since Peppers’ touchdown, Carolina’s defense has forced 37 turnovers… yet they’ve not scored.
   In fact, Peppers’ interception return is the only defensive touchdown for the Panthers since Meeks took over as defensive coordinator in 2009. If you go back even further, the Panthers hadn’t scored a defensive touchdown since the first week of the 2008 season, which means they’ve only had one defensive touchdown in the past 37 games.
   It’s ironic the Panthers haven’t scored more points on defense, especially considering how much emphasis Meeks puts on them in practices. In fact, Meeks insists that when a defensive player picks up a fumble or intercepts a pass during practice it’s mandatory they don’t stop running until they’ve reached the end zone. So, even as some coaches are blowing the whistle, they must keep running.
   “And we have to do that at full speed,” said cornerback Richard Marshall. “The hope is it becomes second nature and it carries over to the game. We preach getting into the end zone in practice and we preach it in a game. It just hasn’t happened yet.”
   But Marshall believes once the Panthers get one the flood gates will open.
   “You can talk to anybody in the league, on any team, and they’ll tell you that once you get one turnover they often start coming in bunches,” Marshall said. “I think the same thing applies when it comes to defensive touchdowns.”
   Injury report: Don’t expect to see DeAngelo Williams on Sunday. He’s doubtful with a sprained foot, which means Jonathan Stewart will start. I’d be surprised if Williams even makes the trip to St. Louis. Also, tackle Jeff Otah will miss his seventh straight game with a lingering knee injury, while wide receiver Devin Thomas is doubtful with a groin problem.
   Trivia question: Sam Bradford is the ninth Heisman Trophy winner to either play for the Rams or be drafted by them. Can you name the other eight? (Hint: two of them were drafted by the Rams but never actually played for them). The answers are listed at the bottom of this article.
   Here are my 10 observations from the week:
   1. Insight of the week:
If you’re thinking Sunday’s game against perennial NFC West doormat St. Louis will be a cakewalk for the Panthers, consider this: First, the Panthers are 1-5 and there’s no such thing as a cakewalk for them, and second, the Rams have won their last three games at home this season, defeating Washington, Seattle and San Diego after a close loss in their home opener to Arizona. Simply put, Bradford may get a little rattled on the road, but he seems to play well at home.
   2. My advice of the week: If you’re the Panthers, don’t get too overconfident if you have the Rams in third-and-long on Sunday. Bradford has been particularly clutch in that situation this year. On third-and-11 or more, Bradford has completed 11 of 14 passes with 10 of those completions going for 172 yards.
   3. Foxism of the week: I learned a long time ago that you’re not going to get anything from John Fox when it comes to injured players, especially a star like DeAngelo Williams. But earlier this week one young, eager reporter was bound and determined to pry the information out of Fox, which is basically impossible. When asked if Williams will play this week, Fox offered this familiar, yet vintage response: “If I knew that I’d probably be doing something else, like at the racetrack.” Hey, you asked for it, you got it.
   4. Understatement of the week: The Panthers need to get out of the blocks a little quicker. The Panthers have been outscored 45-9 in the first quarter. Meanwhile, the Rams have outscored their opponents 34-6 in the first quarter. So watch, I can almost guarantee the Panthers will score on their opening possession. It always happens that way.
   5. Encouraging stat of the week: In his three career starts, Stewart has averaged 150.3 yards per game with three touchdowns. Oh yeah, and the Panthers are 3-0 in those games. Makes you wonder why they don’t start him more, huh?
   6. What I liked from Week 6: One week after I wrote that David Gettis and Brandon LaFell looked lost running some routes against Chicago, both came back with exceptional games last week.
   What I thought was most encouraging is that Matt Moore finally seemed to get the timing down with his young receivers. There were a number of routes where the receivers made their cuts and turned and the ball was right there. That shows Moore is gaining some trust that the rookies will be there for him. Now that we’ve all gone goo-goo, ga-ga over the rookie receivers, let’s see if they can do it in back-to-back weeks.
   St. Louis is a fast track and speed guys like Gettis generally do well on the turf. I’m expecting he’ll return with another quality performance on Sunday against a Rams team that ranks 18th in the league in pass defense.
   7. Related thought of the week: Nobody is happier about the rookies’ breakout game than Steve Smith. Smith knows that if they continue to develop it will only relieve the double coverage he faces every play. At this point, Smith probably forgets what it’s like to face one-on-one coverage, but you can bet he’ll salivate if he sees it. Coordinators probably aren’t going to change their approach to defending the Panthers based off one game, but if Gettis and LaFell continue to progress Smith could have some big games in the second half of the season.
   8. Unrelated thought of the week: I don’t want to read too much into this, but for the first time I got a negative vibe from Thomas Davis on his possible return. Davis has always been extremely optimistic that he’ll be back, but earlier this week he seemed to leave open the possibility he might not play this season – or at least not as soon as he originally thought.
   Davis told me his goal is still to be back for Tampa Bay in two weeks, but the second part of the quote bothered me. I’ll let you make your own judgment.
   “That’s still my goal,” Davis said of playing this year. “If it happens, it happens. If it don’t then it was a nice go at it, you know?”
   9. Memory of the week. St. Louis is home to some great memories as well as some horrible ones for the Panthers.
When some Panther fans think of St. Louis, they recall Smith’s incredible game-winning touchdown reception from Jake Delhomme in double overtime in the 2003 NFC divisional playoffs. Eight days later, the Panthers were going to the Super Bowl.
   I recall another game that didn’t turn out so great. Remember when the Panthers trotted out Matt Lytle as their starting quarterback in 2001 and decided to throw the ball on their first three plays against the Rams? Lytle had a strong arm, but to say he lacked touch is an understatement.
   By the second quarter the Rams had built a 31-0 lead.
   Marshall Faulk, who had missed the previous three games with a bruised right knee, ran for 183 yards and two touchdowns – in the first half! Faulk’s backup, Trung Canidate, had 145 yards on 16 carries, including a 23-yard touchdown run.
   The Rams wound up winning 48-14. The Panthers would go on to finish the season 1-15.
   10. Wild prediction of the week: Man, I’m becoming Nostradamus with these predictions. Last week I wrote Matt Moore would have a big game and lead the Panthers to a win. (OK, OK, I said three touchdown passes and he only threw two – but remember, Gettis dropped one!). Anyway, here’s this week’s prediction: Mike Goodson returns a kickoff for a touchdown. Goodson has been close this year, but hasn’t quite got the last line of defense. I think this might just be the week. The Rams have already surrendered a touchdown off a kickoff return and Goodson took one to the house in the preseason.
   Trivia answer: WR Eric Crouch, Oklahoma (2008), RB Charles White, USC (1979), RB John Cappelletti, Penn State (1973), QB Terry Baker, Oregon (1962), RB Billy Cannon, LSU (1959), RB Glenn Davis, Army (1946), RB Les Horvath, Ohio State (1944) and RB Bruce Smith, Minnesota (1941). Crouch and Cannon were drafted by the Rams, but never played a regular season game for them.