Ask The Old Guy: Working through a streak

Ask-the-Old-Guy-week8

CHARLOTTE — Four-game losing streaks are bad. Times are tense. People are on edge. Emotions run hot. And that's just at the grocery store.

And as it pertains to mailbags about the Panthers right now, it also creates a fairly negative atmosphere. It's understandable, to an extent. Things are not going well, and negative reactions are always louder and more visible than positive ones.

But one of the advantages of hanging around a long time is realizing that as bad as it looks, it can always be worse. Having covered a 15-game losing streak in 2001, and the grease fire of 2010, I've seen true dysfunction. This ain't it.

We'll see what the next few weeks bring, as the Panthers are on the verge of getting some key pieces back from injury. Not having Shaq Thompson in the middle of the defense has complicated everything. If he gets back on the field this week, along with some guy named Stephon Gilmore and maybe even Juston Burris, it's reasonable to expect some stabilization on defense. And the defense can be pretty good.

If Christian McCaffrey comes back in another week after the Atlanta game, it's also reasonable to expect all the other things on offense to look a little better, up to and including Sam Darnold.

So let's all breathe for a second, and realize that if you're here now reading (or writing) about football that you're among the most fortunate one percent of people who have ever lived, and try to make some sense of what's happening on Sundays.

----------------------------------------------------------

Can we please go after another quarterback, or at least sign Cam back? — Antwane, Hubert, NC

Yeah, let's go right out of the gate with the big one. And I appreciate Antwane's economy of language, and getting right to his point. Although with his subtlety, I fear for the sheetrock if a fly gets in his house and the first thing he sees is a hammer.

But honestly, you don't really need me to answer that part of this question at all.

Matt Rhule said the team's constantly trying to upgrade every position on the roster to make the team better. General manager Scott Fitterer said the day he walked in the door, he wanted to "be in on every deal."

Rhule also has expressed his faith in Darnold, while also noting that his current quarterback needs to play better.

It would be easier to just get rid of someone, if you hadn't seen signs of competence. From the start of training camp, Darnold was quite good in two-minute work, showing an ability to move the team downfield in no-huddle situations. There have even been hints of that during this losing streak. But he's also experiencing some challenges over the last month.

As to the last part of that question, when exactly has having a few drinks at the end of a bad day and texting your ex worked out happily and peacefully in the long run for anybody?

----------------------------------------------------------

It seems like there is a ton of love for Joe Brady's story, and he is constantly touted as being an offensive "genius" by almost everyone in the media. While I certainly am no expert in running an NFL offense, it does seem like our offensive woes the last few weeks have been put squarely on CMC being hurt, our offensive line, or Sam Darnold reverting to his old ways instead of asking questions of the offensive coordinator? Rhule even seems to take heat (understandably as the head coach), but no one seems to question the play calling, game planning, practice, and execution of the offensive genius that's "the next head coach in the NFL?" — Austin, Bentonville, AR

Brady is absolutely a bright young offensive coach. That remains true. And he's already gotten himself in the loop of guys who interview for head coaching jobs, and they tend to remain there.

But I don't think it's accurate to suggest he's escaping all the heat for his role in this.

Rhule said Monday he met with Brady first thing in the morning to discuss how to fix things. When asked directly if he was considering a change in the way they call plays, Rhule replied: "I wouldn't say that's my thought right now. But we have to get something fixed."

He went onto talk about the main issues being ones of execution rather than plan at the moment, but there's not any element of the offense that's above scrutiny right now.

Joe Brady remains smart. That's not the same as being immune from questioning.

----------------------------------------------------------

Dear Mr. Gantt, I'm a lifelong Panthers fan. Wait, I mean I've been a fan all their life, not mine. I grew up watching Johnny Unitas on a black and white TV. How deep and wide do you regard the obvious tension surrounding Joe Brady? Thanks for your must-read column every week. — Randall, Old Fort, NC

Old School in Old Fort. My people.

Clearly, it's Joe's turn this week for people to yell at him.

As with all problems with this offense, it's kind of complicated.

They've worked to simplify things, and to give Darnold the best chance at success. But with McCaffrey out and some receivers dropping passes and the protection being iffy at times, it's all jumbled up at the moment.

And make no mistake, Darnold is not blameless here. He's missing receivers he should see.

But anytime you start talking about finding an identity more than a month into the season, things aren't perfect.

----------------------------------------------------------

At this point in the season is this level of failure normal for a team trying to completely rebuild or have things not gone as planned (aside from the obvious injuries the Panthers are struggling with)? — Jesse, Clintwood, VA

Ah yes, that's right, they were tearing a roster down to the studs and starting over, weren't they?

I think because of the way we consume our football these days (every second of every minute of every day), we do see more trees than forests. And when you're running into trees at ground level, it's easy to lose sight of the leaves and realize you're deep in the woods.

(Also, the leaves are lovely right now. I want you to come back to this particular screen, and visit our sponsors many times a day, but go look at a maple tree for a second and come back to me, and tell me you aren't a little bit happier.)

Fall foliage

There, isn't that better?

It's worth remembering that this is the second year of a process that was going to probably take three years to implement. It's worth remembering they spent an entire draft on defense in 2020, which suggests the level of help that side of the ball needed. It's worth remembering that they brought in a quarterback as a reclamation project, rather than one that offered immediate dividends. As Rhule said Monday: "We're trying to build it. We don't have it. We're trying to build it."

And if you'd have been offered something within a game of .500 at this point in the season back in July, it would have been reasonable to accept it. Coming out of training camp, this looked like an eight-or-nine win team. The problems come when the wins and losses come in clumps, because that jacks with people's expectations. Three straight wins make them think (unreasonably) that this team was going to the Super Bowl. Four straight losses make them think (unreasonably) that they'll never win again. The truth was always somewhere in the middle. We'll see if the course corrects and they get back to the center of the road, because overcorrecting and hitting both ditches can be disorienting.

----------------------------------------------------------

Dear Darin -- Reading Panthers Twitter this week has been like being in the midst of an endless loop of "Gloom, Despair, and Agony" from "Hee Haw." While I'm tempted to simply submit as my question Rufus's 1974 single "Tell Me Something Good", I figure something more focused might be better received.

So this: it seems as if the defense is very capable of holding teams in check for a reasonable amount of time, but eventually get tired after being on the field for too many snaps and give up big plays and points. Am I right in this perception? Is there any way to meaningfully speculate how some of our losses would have been affected had the offense been able to stay on the field longer, even if they didn't score more points? (Or is this more of a question for Will?)

P.S. When you joined "Happy Half Hour," that podcast really took off — my wife plays it when we eat lunch, and it brightens my peanut butter sandwich. — Scott, Asheville, NC

Let's work through this one from back to front, and start by saying thanks for the kind words. But Kristen Balboni and Will Bryan are like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen of the Happy Half Hour podcast, and if anything, I'm just like trading for Dennis Rodman, a weird guy who does his particular thing well enough to contribute to the greater whole.

As to the bulk of your question, I struggle to quantify your thesis (I was told there would be no math), but it sure makes sense to me when you say it. And having watched the end of the Vikings game, I can express in words what a defense looks like when it has to play 92 snaps — exhausted.

That's not good for anyone, and it's part of the reason Rhule's reaction was to want to run more, if only to shorten the next game. It didn't work out, and all those three-and-outs in New York (seven of them, plus a desperation four-and-out) left the defense gassed again. The difference between the fire they played with the first two series of the second half in New York, and when they started surrendering points late was noticeable. So yeah, I think it's fair to say that Scott's onto something.

And like Scott With Good Taste in Music, I celebrate the entire catalog of both Buck Owens and Chaka Khan, so I'm declaring him this week's Ask The Old Guy Friend of the Mailbag, and as soon as we have merch, he's getting the 13th piece of it behind me, Hal from Canada, Westray from Kershaw, Joseph formerly of Concord who's moving away for some big fancy job with a desk, Sunny from Houston, Adam from Germany, Long-Winded Donovan, Juan from Argentina, Wise Bob from Colorado, Newlywed Alex, Every Day Susan from training camp, and Lynn from Lake Wylie.

And as a bonus, since I'm trying to get to Scott's city for a Frank Turner show tonight, I'm dropping in some bonus music for Tuesday that feels appropriate. (There's a little language at the top, but the message seems appropriate - Enjoy.)

----------------------------------------------------------

G'day again Darin. Given that we're a solid 1-0 when playing in the UK, do you think there could be a push to have another Panthers game in London? Maybe even next year when I'm taking the newborn to the UK to visit the in-laws? P.S. That 2019 win against the Bucs was brilliant! Five interceptions! — Pete, Brisbane, Australia

From your lips to God's ears. Let's speak it into existence together. I'd be down for a trip to Tottenham. I want to see that stadium, and maybe run into Ledley King, the greatest defender with the least knee cartilage in Premier League history.

The NFL is talking about adding to the international inventory in the coming years, for sure. Germany's probably next in the hopper as far as new locations to the mix. London is always going to be the core of the NFL's strategy though, so there's a chance they return.

I also hesitate to make promises, but if there are pictures of adorable Australian babies in Panthers gear, there's a better-than-average chance they end up in this mailbag to lighten the mood. Also, congratulations and send my best to the in-laws. Though if you're taking a newborn, they're not going to care one whit about you, me, or Ledley King.

----------------------------------------------------------

Why didn't Stephon Gilmore just buy the 5 jersey from Zane Gonzalez? It would have been awesome to see him in the number he wore at South Pointe and South Carolina. — Will, Rock Hill, SC

That would have been kind of cool, yes.

Unfortunately, the league rules don't allow it.

If a player opens the regular season wearing a particular number, that's his for as long as he's on the roster that season.

Now, if Gonzalez had been released or placed on injured reserve before Gilmore walked in the door, it would have been fair game. But Gonzalez is still here (and kicking well and hitting kickoffs for touchbacks and everything), so the new guy didn't have that one available to him when he had to choose.

Also, I think I like single digits on defensive players more than I thought I was going to. It would still make me happy if the league would allow 0 or 00 (who was badder than Jim Otto or Ken Burrough?), but we take our progress as we get it. If the Panthers ever had a chance to put this particular group of 7, 8, and 9 on the field at the same time, I think a lot of people would be happy, too.

----------------------------------------------------------

How close are Pat Elflein and Juston Burris to returning? — Greg, Beckley, WV

Getting there. Stay tuned for practice reports this week on Panthers.com.

Burris is definitely getting closer, but it doesn't sound definite that he'd be on the field against the Falcons.

Elflein is moving in the right direction as well, and it sounds like the same timeline — maybe this week, but certainly soon.

----------------------------------------------------------

Is Miller High Life truly the champagne of beers?!? — Jamie, Midland, NC

Confirmed.

A lot of snooty beer snobs like @PanthersBill like to look down their noses on the High Life, but it is, in my opinion the perfect accompaniment to a fall day of football-watching or leaf-raking. Or a summer day of baseball-watching or grass-mowing. Or a spring day of NFL Draft-watching or garden-planting. Or a winter night of basketball-watching or basement-hiding. It is truly a beverage for all seasons.

But don't just take my word for it (though you should). When you can enjoy a cold one at a high-brow establishment with upholstered furniture and a waiting list like The Crunkleton, or Charlotte's most famous dive bar (thanks Mick Jagger) The Thirsty Beaver, you know it must be good.

----------------------------------------------------------

We passed on a lot of OTs to take Brady Christensen. Are the other rookie OTs doing so much better than our guy as to show he's not in the same "tier" with most? Are Tommy Tremble (already) and Ian Thomas (finally -- he was drafted as a "project") as good as Dan Arnold, so that CJ Henderson is a no-cost addition? Is Terrace Marshall Jr. helping us spread defenses thin enough to matter in team success, because he and Tremble are the reason we didn't draft a different OT? . . . BTW, weren't the Buccaneers about 3-3 this time last year, just where the Chiefs are now? Yes, there are issues, but it is hardly a lost season at this point. — Dean, Zionville, NC

There was a lot more of that one from Dean. Trust me, that ellipsis is doing some heavy lifting. And the Bucs were 3-2 last year, but the point stands. I don't know who broke the Chiefs.

But let's zoom in on the first part. When the Panthers made the decision to trade down in the second round for more draft picks and then take Marshall, there was a conscious choice made to pass on a clump of offensive linemen. There were six college tackles taken between 39 (where they were supposed to pick) and 70 (where they eventually took Christensen).

That group included Teven Jenkins (Bears), Liam Eichenberg (Dolphins), Walker Little (Jaguars), Jackson Carman (Bengals), Sam Cosmi (Washington), Dillon Radunz (Titans), and Jalen Mayfield (Falcons).

Jenkins is on IR after back surgery, and Carman and Mayfield are guards now. Eichenberg and Cosmi have become regular starters on the right side, but Little and Radunz have only appeared in one game each.

That's a long way of saying, none of those guys have immediately made the decision look egregiously wrong, until we see how Marshall and Henderson develop. The ceilings on both of them are very high.

I think there's potential for Christensen too, even though he's an older rookie (he's 25 after spending a couple of years on Mormon mission before he began his career at BYU).

We've talked about the fact that he doesn't have ideal length (32-1/4-inch arms are on the short side), but there's a lot of stuff he's very good at.

He's obviously athletic. He's also smart, and aware, and instinctive (those three sound like synonyms, but they're not). Once he spends a year in an NFL weight room, I wouldn't be surprised to see him become a solid-to-very-good guard.

Honestly, with John Miller's ankle injury from last Sunday, I wouldn't necessarily be surprised to see Christensen playing guard this week. They like what they've seen from Michael Jordan so far, so there are some building blocks for the line to go with right tackle Taylor Moton.

Something to build on, for sure. And that's not necessarily where they were at the beginning of this rebuild.

----------------------------------------------------------

That's going to cover us for this week. There were more letters, but a lot of them were in all caps and contained poor grammar and spelling. That's what happens when you type angry.

Related Content

Advertising