Now that the Locklear controversy is over for now and he will start on Sunday, I’m ready to think about the game. Acutally I’ve been thinking about this week’s game since Sunday night, and I’ve come to a conclusion. Don’t believe the Carolina hype! There is a lot more to their act than what the national media is building, and here’s why.
I’ll admit, on Monday/Tuesday I was starting to buy into it, but then I found some perspective. Consider the following. Only one team has won 3 road playoff games to make it to the Superbowl, the ’85 Patriots. The Panthers have beat up on two very inexperienced, choke prone QBs and are now suddenly unbeatable road warriors (so were the Redskins’ remember?)?
It’s no accident that Carolina’s four-game road winning streak in the playoffs ties a league record — it’s almost impossible to sustain playoff success when you have to travel and don’t get a week off to rest for it.
Now, take an honest look at the Panther team. No doubt they have been playing very well, and they are a good team. So are we. We’re supposed to fear the Panthers because they’ve won 3-straight games, all on the road. Well, coming into Seattle, the Redskins had won 6 straight, 4 of which were on the road. Of course, we’ve won 12 meaningful games straight.
We’re supposed to fear the Panthers because they went in to New York and beat Eli’s Giants. No doubt putting up 23 points on that LB depleted NY defense, down to street free agents and practice squad LB’s starting in the playoffs. Of course, this is the same NY team that the Redskins beat 35-20 two weeks earlier. And the Giants were desperate enough in their defensive backfield that they coaxed Terrell Buckley out of retirement to cover Steve Smith! Yes, the same defense that the high flying Redskins’ offense scored 35 on. Of course, we held them to 10 points even with 3 turnovers.
We’re supposed to fear the Panthers because they went into Chicago and beat the #2 seed. I’ll be honest, I was surprised they scored 29 against Chicago. While I’m being honest, I was completely shocked that the Bears played straight 2 and 3-deep zones most of the game leaving their #2 corner, Tillman, alone with Steve Smith. Is there any coincidence that Tillman was victimized three times by Smith, all on some strange plays? Two of the long TD passes were with Tillman flat-out falling down halfway into the route, and it was an easy 6 for Delhomme to just throw it up there. The third strange one had Tillman actually intercepting the ball, but Smith wrestled it away from him on the ground and the ref had no choice but to award the ball to Smith. Note that these 3 plays were 120 yards out of Smith’s 218 for the day. Anyway, leaving Tillman on Smith one-on-one? That’d be like us leaving Herndon 1-on-1 with Smith. Sorry, I just don’t see that happening.
We’re supposed to fear the Panther defense. I mean, they shut out Eli right? Well they also allowed 21 points to an abysmal Grossman led Bear offense. Grossman’s numbers were appalling, he went 17/41 for 192 yards and 1TD/1INT… 41 attempts for a QB who’s played 6 quarters this year? And they were in the game until the end?
Are you afraid? We heard a lot of the same before the Redskins game. Actually, these Panthers are more similar to the Skins’ then you may expect… better QB, better receiver (not that much better), better cornerbacks, but no Sean Taylor and a 3rd string RB.
Finally, the home field advantage might be the biggest thing this Sunday, and not just because of false-start penalties or the inability of Delhomme to check out of trouble. I talked to an older gentleman behind me at the game on Saturday and while I don’t know his name, it’s pretty obvious he’s played some ball in his day (a huge, older african-american man that looked like he could play offensive guard RIGHT NOW). Anyway, he told me something very interesting, something that you normally don’t hear about. He said the noise affects the offensive line the most out of any position on the field, period, and here’s why.
In today’s game, so many times the offensive line makes last-second adjustments to their blocking patterns, particularly on running plays. The problem is that the lineman can only turn their heads and look around, but they can’t make any hand checks or anything non-verbal or else it’s a false-start. This guy told me this was a gigantic factor on Saturday, because it was so loud the Redskins o-lineman couldn’t hear their center changing blocking assignments. He told me to watch Lofa right before the snap, and he was right – Lofa would come up to the line a few seconds before the snap, and would move the d-tackles to different slots based on Lofa’s superior knowledge of the opposing D (he also said that according to who he has talked to, Lofa is the smartest, most prepared rookie linebacker in franchise history, and is probably one of the most advanced rookies to ever play the position). Anyway, after he said that, I swear to God on 3 straight running plays, Lofa would run up to the line and adjust Tubbs and Darby to different angles. Then, you’d see the entire Redskins line look around at each other trying to adjust, but it was so loud that they can’t hear the center just a few yards away! The guy told me that’s one of the biggest reasons this year that the Hawks only allowed one 100+ yard rusher, and that was to Tiki Barber on a very long run, deep into an OT game. And, he said o-lineman are creatures of habit and they will never make a drastic change to their line calls just for one game, so they come in and try to wing it. They have no idea how hard it is until that first quarter or so, and that all they hear is white noise at the line. It’s crazy. Clinton Portis said as much, he said in the entire first quarter, he couldn’t hear a thing standing right behind Brunell! Anyway, it was pretty interesting and I was laughing, the guy was uncanny in his timing!
Bottom line? The Panthers deserve respect, they’ve accomplished a lot. But don’t listen to the so-called experts predicting that Goings will top Shaun Alexander by 40 yards (Don Banks of SI wrote that Goings will top Shaun by 40 yards this Sunday!). But, they aren’t just going to roll over for us. Obviously we can’t have 3 turnovers again, but two of those were special teams f-ups and the third was a phantom fumble by Shaun who was untouched. We won’t see that again. I just know we are the better, more complete team and we’re at home. Don’t believe the hype. Smart money’s on the home team…
Seahawks 27, Panthers 23. I’m bringing the digital camera on Sunday, hopefully around 6:30 OR 7:00 I’ll have some memorable photo ops!