Okay, just taking a macro view here because I don't think stats alone can tell the story.
For the third week in a row, I've seen the defensive line take poor angles, making it seem as if they're getting pushed around, seen Smitty and Moose develop Karl Hankton hands, seen Jake sail pass after pass, seen false starts, encroachments, missed tackles. And now I've seen a punt taken back for a touchdown because mistakes in the offensive line killed field position.
John Fox's teams have never been disciplined. The Panthers under Fox have always ridden the hot hand, or caught an emotional wave to whatever victory they've achieved. It's the one place in the league where a quarterback with Jake Delhomme's gunslinger personality and college-level talent can flourish.
The one discipline Fox teams have consistently displayed is to not get too high after a win or too low after a loss. So there's sanity among the coaching staff and it helps keep the team even. You'll go places with that kind of ethic. But the Panthers have never been characterized as an efficient team under Fox, and that will forever work against them.
The Falcons had three penalties for the entire game, one at halftime. Carolina had 8 for the game.
The Falcons punted three times. We punted 6 times, returning one. Atlanta returned 4. One of them was for a touchdown.
Statistically, Carolina equaled the Falcons in yards passing, rushing and time of possession. So statistics alone can't tell the whole story.
Drops at the most crucial moments... Killer penalties... Atrocious third down efficiency... Crushing special teams breakdowns...
These aren't the only problems (ie. lack of offensive imagination, a degenerative run defense, lack of playmakers on special teams), but the total disregard for efficiency as a focus of the coaching staff will perpetually keep the Panthers in the middle of the pack, or at least rein them into mediocrity.
Ever notice how the national press (not the local fishwrap) shies away from making statements about our beloved Panthers? It's fear of the unknown.
Ever notice how teams that run the WCO (or a version of the WCO) tend to slice and dice the Panthers to death? Teams like Tampa and Atlanta will forever give Carolina problems because both teams play a disciplined game against the Panthers. New Orleans can do the same thing, but they've got their own bi-polar disorder to deal with.
Carolina is in it now. There's no pack leader in the NFC South, so Carolina can't fret about having to defend its turf or worry about the trappings of success. John Fox likes being the underdog? Well fine, that's just what he is. And always will be, unless...
Tom Coughlin is by natural inclination a disciplinarian. His Jaguar teams hated the guy. And he started out the same way in New York. Caustic. Abrasive. Hard to get along with. Until the summer before last. I guess he just decided to mellow out a little bit - not abandon his principles, but let the joy of the game return to his job. His team responded with an NFL title and now they're odds'-on to repeat. Of all the teams in the league, the Giants are the one with the least number of weaknesses. They're a balanced and consistent team in all phases.
The Phillies had this same balance - they KNEW what their strengths were - and rode that faith to a World Series championship.
This loss to the Falcons shows that John Fox may have to have a similar change in approach to achieve his overall goal of winning the Super Bowl. 2003 was a fluke, but it shouldn't have been. The Panthers have the framework in place to challenge for a title every year.
But Fox must instill an ethic of discipline in this franchise - without abandoning the things that have made him successful - to transcend this mediocrity, this middle-of-the-pack mentality.
Fox must demonstrate leadership in this regard. He has the right veterans in his locker room to help him do it.
Bench Muhsin Muhammad for his dropped passes. Fines all around for each false start. Sorry, Mark Jones: Smitty's returning punts and Johnathan Stewart is getting my kickoff duty. Give Josh McCown at least one series in the next two games. Make Dwayne Jarrett play special teams.
Clean up your house, John Fox. It's sloppy. Change or die, dude.
It is what it is.
It's all about execution
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