For years, tight end Wesley Walls has been a crucial part of the Panthers' offense. In 1999, in fact, he set an NFL record for touchdown catches by a tight end with 12. But, in the Panthers' loss to Atlanta last week, when it got down to big third downs and red zone plays, Walls kept coming off the field.
The Panthers didn't exactly struggle on third downs...converting 11-17, but they came up short in the red zone too often, getting just one touchdown in four attempts...and three field goals. Often, Walls wasn't on the field.
Additionally, Walls failled to catch a ball...period. It's the first time in his 71 games played in as a Panther that happened. As a result, Walls wasn't happy.
Earlier this week, he bemoaned the fact he wasn't on the field in those situations, and the fact that the gameplan didn't seem to run through him.
Now, Walls has done this before, in fact it happens once or twice a year. But, with Walls the feeling never is that it's one of selfishness, it's that he feels like he can be a huge part in helping this team win.
"When a guy has the amount of experience that he does, he has the right to say something like this," coach George Seifert confirmed. "I feel sick to my stomach that I didn't know about the streak."
There are a couple of likely reasons Walls' Atlanta shut out happened. First, he's dealling with a new quarterback. He was good friends with Kerry Collins and then Steve Beuerlein, and his reliability made him a favorite target of both. Now, Chris Weinke is calling the signals and there isn't that level of comfort either with Walls or the offense that either of those guys had. That will take some time (or a little squeeky-wheeling). There is also the element of what the Falcons were doing. They were jamming him at the line, making it hard for him to get off of it. The Panthers also had some decent success in third downs without him.
"We were running a lot of three wide receiver and two back sets," noted Seifert, "and, when you're having some success, the tendency is to stay with that rather than going to something else." The bottom line, though, is the fact that Walls is still a much-respected weapon...even as a decoy. If the Falcons thought enough to double-team him, he should be in there in the type of situations that you would consider to be "Wesley Walls-type plays" whether he's the target or not.