The Measure of a Team

The Carolina Panthers are facing the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday in a must win game for both squads. Both teams came into this season with high hopes. The Panthers, fresh off their successful season last year and a Super Bowl appearance, had hoped to repeat their performance with the return of key offensive playmakers and a reinforced defense.

The Seahawks, with their offensive firepower and a defense that has been revamped with key off-season free agent pickups, had hoped that this would be the year they could put it all together. Both teams have faced injury and early losses leading up to this showdown. More than a win will be on the line on Sunday. If either team hopes to have any sort of success for the rest of the season, it must start with a win against their opponent.

A win won’t be easy for the Panthers. The Seahawks will try to try to get Shaun Alexander going early against the Panthers to see if they can open up the passing game. Matt Hasselbeck, who threw for four interceptions last week, will also be searching for redemption against a Panthers squad who has given up a couple big plays (by questionable calls) going deep. The Seahawks wide receivers must find a way to hang on to the ball. Their reputation as not being the most reliable receivers in the league have hurt their efforts to put points up on the board.

The biggest concern for the Panthers will have to be the play calling. Although the Panthers are blaming the lack of play making by the team's offense, there is still no one playmaker on the offensive side of the ball that the Seahawks can concern themselves with. Although rookie wide receiver Keary Colbert has stepped up since the loss of Steve Smith in the season opener against Green Bay, the Panthers still do not have a deep threat to spread the defense down the field. Running back Stephen Davis has never really gotten off to a good start and has been hampered all season by a nagging knee injury. Davis keeps hoping to put the injury and the surgery done to repair the damaged knee behind him but both the wear and tear of the season plus time seems to be the biggest enemy of last year's pro-bowler.

Even if Davis were completely healthy, a patchwork offensive line hasn't created the type of holes that Davis had last year to create the north/south running style that made Davis such a threat. The offensive line seems to be their own worst enemy. Not only is the line filled with career backups (other than Jordan Gross and Jeff Mitchell), but any success the Panthers may have achieved has been quickly squelched by penalties. These mental mistakes like false starts, throwing flags at officials at the end of a game when the team was within field goal range, moving a third and short to a third and long and holding penalties have cost the Panthers field position, opportunity and protection for Jake Delhomme.

Jake Delhomme will have to find the fire again inside his Cajun heart that made him a fan favorite last year and also caused him to complete more passes. There is still question that the shoulder that was driven into the ground several weeks ago is still bothering Jake. Delhomme has either been overthrowing or under throwing his receivers on a consistent enough basis to cause concern with many fans. Delhomme needs to be able to find more open receivers and not try to lock into one person if he is to be successful. Perhaps a game plan change might change the results in the league leading interception passer.

Maybe the game plan is what needs reviewing this week before the Seattle game. Running plays during third and long situations and punting during the late fourth quarter have fans steaming mad and upset at the play calling. As the Panthers scramble to fill in the holes of the ever increasing leaking boat on offense, now may be the time to try new plays, new formations and new offensive philosophies to spark some life into the team. Maybe now is the time for a new kind of gut check. What happens on Sunday will show a lot about the heart of this team and whether or not the necessary adjustments can be made to get the Panthers on the winning track again.

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