Welcome to our last installment of Better know your Enemy: The NFC South. Previews of confederate enemies, namely the Falcons, Tampon Bay Suckaneers, and the Taints have been dished out. Now we arrive at our last opponent of the swarthy south. Our final opponent from the NFC is also our last home game of the year. This is yet another 8-8 team that we get to face this year. But again, all 8-8's are not created equal. Lets see what to expect from this battle against the Carolina Kittens
Panthers are large black cats, natives of jungle habitats. Therefore we have a relatively inappropriately named team here. I hate that and it stanks. As Panthers are in no way indigenous to Carolina by any means. Most large cats in the area are actually cougars (much like the women who attend their games). Coincidentally its actually illegal to own a panther in Carolina, while its legal in Tennessee. Figures.
Other reasons to hate Carolina. Probable arrival of Gulf Oil, illegal to use jetski-s on the ocean side, meaning you have to use the stupid shallow calm water side, family vacations with your ADHD cousins, family vacations with your emotionally unstable ex girlfriend, having to drive an extra 2 hours to arrive at said vacation destination cause the only GD bridge across to the OBX is through Nags Head, dad refusing to take you to Sonic when you drive home. Also this team represents two states, which is retarded. It sets a bad precedent. Just wait for the Virginia Rednecks and Dakota Tornados to become teams. Pick a side! North or South. East or West. Dont mess with me! Failing to beat the patriots in their SuperBowl, Jake Delhomme, a probable terrorist who just retired (Muhammed), Tattoos werent legal until 2004, and the states have a very high hate crime rate, likely due to their continued KKK membership.
So yeah I hate em and they stank.
Feline zoology aside, lets focus on football. For the Kittens, they are a team that seems to be plagued by Bengal-like inconsistency from season to season. They've never paired two winning seasons together (they have two followed by .500 records). That having been said, their inconsistency hasn't dropped them off a cliff. They've had at least a 7-9 record every year from 2002 to now. Thats a pretty impressive streak. And remember, this was a team one game away from playing us in SBXL, so they're not exactly far removed from major success. Although they havent won a playoff game since then, losing to our eventual victims the Cardinals two years ago.
So with that backstory, lets focus on this season for them. And our matchup. The Kittens had an 8-8 record last year, largely due to the futile Jake Delhomo, who was shipped off to Cleveland, which is a punishment virtually equivalent to a terrorist being sent to Guantanamo Bay. Steve Smith is still aging, and it shows being that he got injured playing flag football. Which is like getting a neck injury from sneezing too hard. Muhsin Muhammed retired. Peppers isnt on the team anymore either.
This leaves the team with a lot of question marks. Matt Moore stepped in and played well towards the end of the season as time went on. Jimmy Clausen was drafted by the Kittens to possibly provide some competition, although I imagine Moore will start. But if he flounders, dont be surprised to see Clausen step in. Either way, we get to pick on a greenhorn in this game. This makes the lips of James Harrison water with anticipation. More on that later.
To me the end result here is that the Panthers have actually dropped off more than improved this offseason. They havent had a first round pick in two years, they're picks have been slow to develop. Although Everette Brown looks like he's going to take Julius Peppers spot, I dont see him breaking out much. End result, you have a defense with a lot of unpolished talent, and an aging offense which has nothing but a run game this year.
And we shall exploit that immensely. Steve Smith and Dexter Jackson look to be the 1 and 2 this year. Thats not exactly a fear inspiring combination anymore. And if the ball cant get to either one, well it wont matter. I dont care if its freefaller Clausen or Matt Moore throwing the ball, I think we'll be alright handling it. The offense's strength lies in the ground game. They had the epic feat of 2x 1000 yard rushers last year. Thats obviously our most important focus in this game. Defend the run, and stop the Panthers.
The Kittens' weakness is their closure. Despite almost 2500 rushing yards as a team, they found themselves 19th in scoring offense. Its strange to see such a bizarre gap, although we can relate with our redzone troubles last year. They also had turnover machine Delhomme screwing the pooch the whole first half of the year. Despite this, they still finished with a +6 turnover ratio.
Our defense has to avoid the big play from the run. You cant expect to hold them to 50 yards. But just keep that from happening on one play. We gave up a lot of big plays last year, and that cant happen this year. Its crucial in this game not to give Carolina any big field position gains. The passing game shouldnt be all that difficult to defend with a serious lack of playmakers in the air. And of course, we will have our blitz ready for whichever QB puts his hands under the centers nutsack on this glorious day. I for one cant wait to see that "crap my pants" look on their nubile faces.
On the flip side, we face a defense that also has some questions. One big one. What happens without Peppers?
This defense has been in the top 10 most of the last few years, and clearly Peppers has been a serious component of that. His consistent pressure out of a 4-3 has been a gamechanging power. But he is no longer on this team. Who makes up for his 10.5 sacks last year? The next best player had 5. Perhaps the 2nd round pick in 09 is ready to start. He had 2.5 sacks in limited time last year with 2 forced fumbles. But I'd be hesitant to expect much.
However, on the flip side. Who does he line up against. We have an equally big question. Our very own William Colon has fallen. I personally am hoping for Jonothan Scott from Buffalo to play thi year. I think he has upside. In addition, he played this team last year, and won 20-9. That could be a solid advantage that may not realize. It never hurts a players confidence to have beaten the team a year ago. He's the only one on our roster with recent experience against Carolina, and I hope he can offer some insight.
The secondary of this team is adequate and plays to a solid level. However again, it depends on that pressure. I think this game will be a lot easier than it looked last year without Peppers harassing Large Benjamin at every moment.
Our offense needs to take advantage of Carolina's relatively porous rush defense, and avoid passing. Although we tend to stumble a bit against 4-3's, we can likely take control against one with a few changing parts. Carolina allowed 125 yards a game. So lets hope Mendenhall can dominate against this team.
This game is a tough one to predict. Obviously we play a team that has some retooling to do, but this game is also week 16. Meaning a lot can change from today. We dont know who is going to be playing in a few areas, and neither do they. Lets hope that we can dominate the hell out of the year, and week 16 we'll be starting Dennis Dixon and Dwyer, but not because we need them to, but because we've already clinched the bejeesus out of everything.
As a side note. This game is the last one in Pittsburgh for the year. So I have a feeling we are going to come ready to play, hopefully to give the fans a last huzzah. On top of that, it means the Warm Weather Kittens have to come to the slush stadium of Heinz Field. I look for that to be a serious factor. If Steve Smith can break his arm in flag football in summer, just watch what happens when Troy P lays him out over the middle in the dead of winter. Lets pray for some snow to slip up DeAngelo and Stewart. I hate warm weather teams and they stank.