I had the good fortune to take the 90 minute "road trip" from Columbia (SC) up to Charlotte to catch the game. Unfortunately, I was sans camera so no visuals. (Some jerk went into my car a few weeks back and stole my bag. I forgot about the camera until I went to find it. Grrr... still pissed--at the thief and at myself for not locking the door.)
The 12s represented nicely in Charlotte. I saw a gaggle of folks wearing "Irvin 51" t-shirts, all autographed by Bruce. I said to one guy, "Boy, Irvin must have 50 people here." He responded, "Oh. It's definitely more than 50." A bunch of other 12s told me that Chris Clemons brought a whole busload to the game. I'm not sure where he's from, but Clemons played at Georgia. Athens is only 3-1/2 hours from Charlotte.
(Quick sidebar: What the hell is wrong with people? Some a--hole was wearing a Rae Carruth jersey and had the temerity to pin a pink breast cancer ribbon to the back. Let that sink in. A grown man in his 40s was wearing a Rae Carruth jersey. In public. Rae Carruth.)
Anyway, a few game notes below the fold...
1. Good heavens, the defense. The Panthers, who lost only 20 yards in offensive penalties on the day, essentially had one good drive. They punted seven times. I thought it would be a good matchup for our defense generally, but this was a slow asphyxiation.
Cam Newton, for all the "what happened to Cam Newton talk" has been pretty good this year, high profile turnovers notwithstanding. He came in sporting a 60%+ completion rate with a high yards per attempt (8+). Seattle's defense just befuddled him. It was the pinnacle of "Tom Izzo defense" on a football field, forcing Carolina to live on mid-range jump shots.The most telling sign was on their first or second drive. Steve Smith had a chance to extend it by selling out for a pass over the middle. He short-armed it. It happened right where I was seated (way up). So it was crystal clear. It was a perfectly innocuous, almost subconscious hesitation. Ever so slightly, Smith's focus shifted off the ball onto Kam. The throw wasn't perfect, but hardly poor. The hesitation came from film study and nature more than fear. There is NO punk anywhere in or near Steve Smith. He is easily among the toughest skill position players in the NFL. But, every OC in the league is telling receivers: against Seattle you secure the catch, get what you can, get on the ground. That inevitably leads to minute hesitations that disrupt timing. We saw the same hesitation on Newton's 4th and goal throw. Rivera (fresh off a week of full-throated criticism for Cam's fumble in the Atlanta game) did not challenge Seattle with power. Second, Cam (as he was all game) was genuinely surprised by the pursuit speed. He never got his shoulders square to the LOS so he could get something on the throw.
2. On offense, the process > the scoreboard. You want to see more than sixteen points against a defense this vanilla. (Although, it's worth noting the Panthers have got healthier along the front four which really helped them against the run. Also, the dropoff at CB from Chris Gamble to Captain Munnerlyn isn't huge. The Cap'n is a good young CB.) The pick six potentially soured a dominating day by the defense. Let me go all caps here for clarity. THE PICK SIX WAS 100% ON WILSON. IT WAS A POOR THROW THAT COULD HAVE COST THE GAME.
Still, look at the drive chart. Seattle had 10 legit drives. They picked up at least a first down on nine of them. (The 10th was the pick six.) They punted four times (including the free kick). The offense moved the ball, and without a dominant day running. Wilson had 7.9 yards per attempt. Obviously we need to see TDs, especially in the red zone. But a good bit of Seattle's red zone struggles come down to playing for field goals early in games (and to my mind wasting good field position)*. The conservative play-calling in the red zone has been harmful. I won't quibble about kicking the field goal on the opening drive. But on the 2nd quarter field goal, that 4th and 3 was a perfect go-for-it scenario. The gamble could scarcely be more worth it. You won't run Lynch behind Carp and Okung or throw to Miller to extend a great drive but will kick an onsides kick to open the half on the road? Worst case scenario Carolina gets the ball at the 21. Sometimes, especially when an offense is mistake-prone, the coach has to reward it for putting together a good drive.
Seattle also had at least 10 yards in penalties on four drives. The flags are hurting. Giaco even got himself benched. Now to be fair, the PF seemed like a "Dennis Rodman" call. Giaco hit a guy who was in bounds--barely--before the whistle. But, you can't play at the edge of the rules when you have a rep. Simple as that.)
*To my never-ending frustration it seems far too many coaches conflate "conservative" with "low risk". The former is about orthodoxy. The latter is about expected points given field position.