2 Carolina PANTHERS

A smart, low-risk offense will be the key to Carolina's hopes this season
September 05, 2010

WHEN IT comes to quarterbacks, there's almost a scarlet letter M (for marginal) on guys who went undrafted. There was one on Kurt Warner until he exploded for the Rams in 1999, one on Tony Romo till he got his chance in Dallas. "As a quarterback," Romo said last year, "when you don't go to the scouting combine and you don't get drafted, you're only going to get one chance—and you'll be lucky to even get that one. So you know you can't screw it up, or it'll be gone forever."

Imagine, then, the quandary of Matt Moore.

Undrafted out of Oregon State in 2007. Signed by the Cowboys. Waived by the Cowboys. Signed by the Panthers. Rode the bench, mostly, until late last season, when starter Jake Delhomme's slump became intolerable. Moore took charge of a 4--7 team beginning on Dec. 6 and won four of the last five games of the year. He completed 63% of his throws, threw eight touchdowns with one interception—he had 117 straight attempts without an interception to end the year—and had a lofty 104.9 passer rating, the best for 2009 of any quarterback besides Drew Brees and Brett Favre.

What impressed the Panthers most was Moore's demeanor. Nothing rattled him. He'd shrug off blitzers, find the hot reads just in time and know when to take shots downfield. "I really was nervous only once," Moore says. "On the field before we played Minnesota, Moose [wideout Muhsin Muhammad] introduced me to Brett Favre, and I thought, Wow, I'm in the NFL, playing Brett Favre. But then I went back to playing football." Three touchdowns, no interceptions. Carolina routed the NFC North champs. "I've seen the pressure eat guys alive," Moore says, "but I learned in college, just be the same person you are. Play the way you can. The football will take care of itself."

In March, Carolina chose to release Delhomme and hand the starting job to Moore. Then, in April, the Panthers used their first pick of the draft on Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Selecting 48th overall because they'd dealt their first-rounder last year, the Panthers had no plans to pick a quarterback, but no one saw Clausen falling past the 20s. And there he was. "For some reason, every year when we've identified a quarterback to draft, he never got to us," coach John Fox says. "This is the first time we've had the chance to get one we really liked."

Moore was stunned. Asked for his reaction this summer, the supremely good-natured Moore paused for a full three seconds, trying to pick the right words. "It was . . . uh . . . unexpected," he said.

Right away the thought around the Carolinas was that Moore would just keep the seat warm for Clausen. It's possible, of course, but it's much more likely that Moore will be given the 2010 season to prove he's a capable NFL starter and leader.

"I've just kept in mind what my dad has always told me," Moore said." 'The best guys will play.' If I play the way I can, I'm going to be the quarterback here."

The Carolina offense needs to be more efficient than it was in 2009. The Panthers won't deviate from their productive run-first attack; last year Jonathan Stewart (1,133 yards, 10 touchdowns) and DeAngelo Williams (1,117 yards, seven TDs) became the first pair of backs on the same team to surpass 1,100 rushing yards in a season. Basically, the quarterback's job is to not screw it up, and last year Delhomme (eight touchdowns, 18 interceptions, three lost fumbles) screwed it up. Moore won't win any fantasy-league passing titles, but if form follows, he's not going to turn it over much either. If he does, expect to see Clausen get a shot earlier than Fox would prefer.

"Somebody did a study on how much yardage teams get when the ball travels less than six yards in the air," Moore says. "A ton. What that means is that it's smart to take the checkdown when it's there instead of forcing the ball downfield. That's me. I'm always going to try to make the smart decision."

It's Moore's time in Carolina. How much time he has depends on how well he handles the external pressure—in games and on his own team—that never seems to go away.

PROJECTED STARTERS

WITH 2009 STATS

COACH JOHN FOX

OFFENSE

2009 RANK: 19

QB MATT MOORE

G 7

ATT 138

COMP 85

PCT 61.6

YARDS 1,053

TD 8

INT 2

RATING 98.5

RB DEANGELO WILLIAMS

G 13

ATT 216

YARDS 1,117

AVG 5.2

REC 29

YARDS 252

AVG 8.7

TTD 7

FB TONY FIAMMETTA

G 10

ATT 0

YARDS 0

AVG —

REC 0

YARDS 0

AVG —

TTD 0

WR STEVE SMITH

G 15

REC 65

YARDS 982

TTD 7

WR BRANDON LAFELL (R)

G 13

REC 57

YARDS 792

TTD 11

TE JEFF KING

G 16

REC 25

YARDS 200

TTD 3

LT JORDAN GROSS

G 9

HT 6'4"

WT 305

LG TRAVELLE WHARTON

G 16

HT 6'4"

WT 312

C RYAN KALIL

G 16

HT 6'2"

WT 295

RG MACKENZY BERNADEAU

G 16

HT 6'4"

WT 308

RT JEFF OTAH

G 13

HT 6'6"

WT 330

DEFENSE

2009 RANK: 8

DE TYLER BRAYTON

G 15

TACKLES 45

SACKS 5

INT 0

DT ED JOHNSON

G 4

TACKLES 11

SACKS 0

INT 0

DT LOUIS LEONARD

G 2

TACKLES 6

SACKS 1

INT 0

DE EVERETTE BROWN

G 15

TACKLES 22

SACKS 2½

INT 0

LB JON BEASON

G 16

TACKLES 141

SACKS 3

INT 3

LB DAN CONNOR

G 16

TACKLES 30

SACKS 0

INT 0

LB JAMES ANDERSON

G 16

TACKLES 65

SACKS 1

INT 0

CB CHRIS GAMBLE

G 16

TACKLES 58

SACKS 0

INT 4

FS SHERROD MARTIN

G 16

TACKLES 23

SACKS 0

INT 3

SS CHARLES GODFREY

G 12

TACKLES 45

SACKS 0

INT 1

CB RICHARD MARSHALL

G 16

TACKLES 88

SACKS 0

INT 4

SPECIAL TEAMS

P JASON BAKER

PUNTS 76

AVG 44.1

NET 36.6

K JOHN KASAY

FG 22--27

XP 31--32

POINTS 97

PR CAPTAIN MUNNERLYN

RET 31

AVG 9.0

TD 0

KR TYRELL SUTTON

RET 14

AVG 21.6

TD 0

New acquisition

(R) Rookie: College stats

TTD: Total touchdowns

2010 SCHEDULE

2009 record: 8--8

September

12 at N.Y. Giants

19 Tampa Bay

26 Cincinnati

October

3 at New Orleans

10 Chicago

17 BYE

24 San Francisco

31 at St. Louis

November

7 New Orleans

14 at Tampa Bay

21 Baltimore

28 at Cleveland

December

5 at Seattle

12 Atlanta

19 Arizona

23 at Pittsburgh (T)

January

2 at Atlanta

(T) Thursday

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL Rank: 26

Opponents' 2009 winning percentage: .477

Games against 2009 playoff teams: 5

ANALYSIS

The Panthers were buried by an 0--3 start in 2009 but have a chance to build on the momentum they picked up at the end of the season, with four of their first six games in Charlotte. Not that their home dates are easy: Only two teams with losing records in '09—the Bucs and Bears—pay visits. The latter game, in Week 5, brings longtime Panthers defensive star Julius Peppers back to North Carolina.

SPOTLIGHT

Everette Brown, Defensive end

THE DEPARTED Julius Peppers will be replaced by committee—most likely a combination of run-stopper Charles Johnson, highly touted rookie Greg Hardy and rush-end Everette Brown. The key to the committee's success will be Brown, a 2009 second-round pick who has some of the quickness of Peppers but little of the power.

While Peppers was a three-down, 6'7", 280-pound, complete defensive end, the 6'1", 260-pound Brown is more of a classic third-down rusher who relies on speed and changeup moves. Carolina will likely move veteran Tyler Brayton from left end to right, facing him against the better pass blocker on opposing offenses. Brown will rotate to the left side on passing downs, although coach John Fox might experiment with shifting Brown and Brayton on third downs, depending on in-game matchups.

For Fox, pressure is as important as sacks. Peppers had 81 sacks in eight seasons, but Fox believes he had additional value in his ability to rattle quarterbacks. Brown had just 2½ sacks in limited playing time last year, but one of those came against Brett Favre in the Panthers' upset of Minnesota in December, when Brown raced by left tackle Bryant McKinnie for a first-quarter sack that started a deluge of Carolina pressure. And that's what the second-year end from Florida State hopes to bring to the field this fall.

"What I did at Florida State was set the tempo and the tone for our pass rush," Brown says. "For me, the game comes down to my speed. I'm not sure how many guys can turn the corner, dip and gain speed, but that's my game. My goal every game is to make that blocker fear my speed."

Even as he attempts to pressure quarterbacks, Brown will feel pressure himself as the heir to Peppers. If he goes three or four games without a sack, he'll hear about it. "People expect me to be great, and so do I," he says. "I'm an inner-drive guy." For the Panthers not to miss Peppers, Brown will need to be a sack guy.

PHOTOAL TIELEMANSHOT SEAT The efficient Moore will start for now, but Clausen is waiting in the wings. PHOTOSAM SHARPE/US PRESSWIRE

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)