A few thoughts about the biggest issues raised in the Carolina Panthers’ blowout victory over the New York Giants in Week 16. Instead of listing a ton of minor issues, we’re going to focus on one big idea for each team.
For the Giants, this loss doomed their playoff hopes and effectively started the offseason for them. That’s a disappointment given not only the Giants’ strong play the last two years but also their 5-0 start this year. But changes are necessary if the Giants want to return to the top of the NFC East and league-wide relevance. Among those changes:
*The defense has sputtered this year in a big way. The injury to S Kenny Phillips early in the season certainly hurt, but the most disturbing thing has been Big Blue’s inability to get pressure on the quarterback consistently. That was a hallmark of the Giants the last two seasons, and the additions of Chris Canty, Rocky Bernard, and Clint Sintim in the offseason were supposed to enhance that strength. Instead, that strength became a weakness, to the point that New York must consider changing defensive coaches to address the issue. And on offense, a line that has played together for years is starting to crumble, and the marginal talents of the individuals that once were hidden by cohesion are now starting to show. New York needs a talent upgrade there, even at the expense of consistency. There are still a ton of pieces in place for the Giants, but these issues must be addressed.
For the Panthers, the quarterback question has become front and center. Whenever I do a radio show here in the Carolinas, or just have a conversation with a local football fan, this is the question that’s at the forefront of the discussion. Jake Delhomme’s massive failings this year (as we’ll detail in a post on the biggest what-ifs of the season next week) cost the Panthers several games, and it would be foolhardy for the Panthers to go into the season expecting him to start. The Panthers will carry a $13 million cap hit for Delhomme next year, but if the league enters an uncapped year, that won’t prohibit them from cutting him. From my time observing and even covering the Panthers, I believe that they won’t be afraid to pay that charge if they desire to move on. But even if Delhomme stays, at most he can compete for a starting spot. Carolina cannot give him more than that. Backup Matt Moore, meanwhile, continues to show enough promise to be an intriguing starting candidate. After going 2-1 as a starter in 2007 – and winning league December rookie of the month honors along the way – Moore is now 3-1 as a starter this year. He has thrown three touchdown passes in each of the last two games against the Vikings and the Giants, and he has shown a knack for getting the ball downfield to Steve Smith and Carolina’s other receivers. Is Matt Moore, like Tony Romo, an undrafted gem? Is he just a December star? You don’t know, but if the Panthers want to enter next season with Moore competing with Delhomme, an imported veteran, or even a rookie to be the starter, that plan would be acceptable. I wouldn’t have given Moore that much credit a couple of weeks ago, but his continued solid performances make him a prospect. And since the Panthers don’t have a first-round pick – and since the free agent market should feature Jason Campbell and not much else – Moore is a candidate the Panthers must consider strongly.
Of course, if Carolina makes a change at head coach from John Fox or at general manager from Marty Hurney, all this goes up in the air. But that kind of change looks less likely with the team’s strong recent play, as it looks like Delhomme may have been central to the Panthers’ problems. And if that’s the case, Moore is a player to watch in the offseason.