Carolina-New Orleans: Grading the Panthers' NFC South-Clinching Win
The Charlotte Observer publishes grades after each Panthers game for the position groups based on their performance in the game. This column has always been my favorite part of Panthers post-game coverage, so I thought I'd try handing out my own grades. I hope to make this a weekly piece, but I can only try.
Jake Delhomme had maybe his most efficient game of the season, completing 70 percent of his fairly minimal attempts and throwing for 250 yards. However, for whatever reason, he held the ball for too long on many snaps and nearly got sacked several times as he severely tested a makeshift offensive line. He also relied on Steve Smith's incredible playmaking ability a little too much during key times of the game. At times he looked as though he refused to throw to anyone but Smith.
Running Backs: A
Both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart made big plays at big times, even though the cobbled-together offensive line didn't block especially well for them. Williams did everything except score, but he probably could have if Davidson and Fox had called a few more running plays in the red zone. Stewart got his 10th touchdown of the season.
Wide Receivers: B+
Just about every one of Steve Smith's catches were huge parts of scoring drives, and Muhsin Muhammad scored a touchdown and was a reliable short-range target if nothing else was open. DJ Hackett, who has been switched in and out as the third receiver with Dwayne Jarrett all season, even made a big catch. Blocking was decent, though neither back broke off a long run.
Tight Ends: B
The tight ends weren't involved much, particularly in the passing game. Blocking was okay, but the running backs did most of the work. Saints linebacker Scott Shanle was allowed a straight, unhindered path to Delhomme for a bone-jarring sack that had Delhomme grabbing his back and elbow afterward. You have to think that that sack was the result of a TE missing his blocking assignment.
Offensive line: A-
Even though two starters got hurt during the game and didn't return, Delhomme was sacked only once, and the running backs had better holes up the middle than they did on outside runs.
Defensive line: B+
Brees was under pressure for much of the day, and a hurried throw of his resulted in safety Chris Harris's first interception of the year. Brees was also sacked twice. Injuries forced the Panthers to go with finesse and quickness instead of brawn and power on the interior of the defensive line. Subsequently, New Orleans running backs Deuce McAllister and Mike Bell, who came off of the practice squad for the game, averaged 4.5 yards per carry, though neither scored.
The linebackers had a quite game due to the number of times New Orleans passed. Furthermore, the Saints let Brees throw deep more often than usual to maximize his chance of breaking Marino's record. But while the Saints got past the defensive line pretty easily on their minimal carries, the linebackers didn't let them get away. I'm guessing the linebackers made all of their tackles in the running game, and that's why the Saints' running backs didn't have better games with Carolina's defensive interior up front in shambles the way it was.
Defensive backs: C-
The only reason that the defensive backs don't have a D+ or worse is that Chris Harris got his first interception of the season, even if it was just lucky because the Saints receiver he was covering pushed him out of the way to the right, straight into the path of the throw. The secondary got burned time after time. Even though it was Brees back there, 153 yards passing and three touchdowns in one quarter is ridiculous. This pass defense was supposed to be a decent unit. But Brees reduced this group to a bunch of mindless chickens with their heads cut off.
Special teams: B+
The kickoff coverage team allowed a big return early in the game—though the Saints only managed a field goal after getting excellent field position—and John Kasay missed a field goal the hard way. But Dante Wesley picked up a fumble on a Saints kick return and ran it back for six, and Kasay was won the game with a late field goal, even though the game never should have come down to that.
The coaches may as well have told the offense to assume the "victory" formation with 25 minutes of game time left, because the Panthers played their most conservative football up 30-10 in the third quarter. And it nearly cost them the way it did in New York. The problem yesterday was not the team—this team was plenty good enough to have blown the Saints away by the end of the first quarter. The coaches held the team back. Fox better as hell not draw in like this again in the playoffs.
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