Your team is sailing along. Undefeated. Looking good. Things are going well. It couldn’t be better to be a fan of the Carolina Panthers. Then, something happens.
It’s called a trap game.
Just when you thought it was safe to kickoff on Sunday against a struggling team and get an easy win, something crazy happens. Mostly, desperation happens.
The Minnesota Vikings qualify as a desperate team coming in at 0-2. They’ve changed quarterbacks by pulling starter Tarvaris Jackson and inserting Gus Frerotte into the starting job. More importantly, their star running back, Adrian Peterson, is far from 100% with a bad hamstring which had a major impact in their heartbreaking loss last week to Indianapolis.
Times are tough in the Twin Cities. That’s why the Panthers must be wary of playing this team. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
Brad Childress is known as a defensive minded coach, conservative to a fault. Don’t take this as an indication that he won’t pull out all the stops to do something, anything to win his first game of the 2008 season.
Sure, Steve Smith is back. Great news, right? Yes and no.
If Smitty doesn’t catch a single pass it’s far from the end of the world. What better decoy than one of the best wide receivers in the NFL? The Vikings defense will be rolling coverage to Smith’s side of the field all day helping Moose, DJ Hackett and anyone else who might run a pass pattern for Jake Delhomme.
The problem could be the distractions and the potential to upset the delicate chemistry which has developed in the offensive huddle over the last two weeks. Will Smith be demanding the ball? Could the other guys like Dante Rosario be frozen out of the passing game in order to get the ball to our number 89?
The Panthers will be aided more by Steve if he lines up, displays his desire to win and rarely says a lot. He is now the new guy in a sense. He has to fit back in now. The team will be glad to have him back but not at the expense of upsetting what has worked for the first two weeks of the season.
Will this happen? Could this scenario play out in Minnesota? Not likely. Yet, it’s still something to be watching for.
Either way, this is a trap game. The kind of trap that has tripped up better teams – championship teams. In order to avoid falling in, here are five things the Panthers can do:
- Stop the run. Adrian Peterson. Chester Taylor. It doesn’t matter who is in the backfield. They must be stopped! Then Gus Frerotte will be forced to throw and throw far more often than he would like. Remember, Gus hasn’t played in a game for nearly nine months. The last action he saw was in mop-up action for the Rams when he played in the final two games of ’07 throwing all of 12 passes completing only 4.
- Involve Steve Smith early. It’s already a big deal that he’s returning to the team. Get the inevitable out of the way early in the first quarter. Make it the first series. Get him the ball and include him as early as possible. Get him the ball anyway you can – a slant, a crossing route, a reverse. Just get him involved.
- Go back to Rosario. Where was Dante last week? Seven catches for 96 yards against the Chargers in week one gave way to one catch and 6 yards against the Bears. Maybe he’s become a marked man and won’t be able to sneak up on anybody again. Maybe. Find a way to get him the ball. He’s the best receiving tight end the Panthers have. He should be used as such.
- Let Julius Peppers do what you pay him to do! I’ve lost count in the first two games of the number of times that Pepp has been asked to drop into pass coverage. Why? Mike Trgovac must understand one immutable fact – he has one (ONE - 1) elite pass rusher lining up on the defensive line. He should be used as such. If there are no results when he’s used as he should be used, maybe then, only then, should we be getting nervous about a lack of production.
- Cut Chris Harris loose. Use this guy. Let him roam around doing what he does best. The guy is a hitter, a playmaker. He’s as dangerous as anybody on this team. Two forced fumbles in as many weeks say so. Run support, busting the chops of some poor receiver coming over the middle or just being Chris Harris – it doesn’t matter what he’s doing. He does it well. Don’t you think the Bears were sorry last week that he wasn’t wearing their uniform?