Week 1 observations, rants and more
Carolina Panthers observation No. 1: NFL linemen obsess about two things: arm length (anything less than 34 inches is considered disfigured) and continuity. They will talk 'til they're blue in the face about how important it is to keep linemen together so that in the chaos of the trenches, each instinctually knows what the guy next to him will do. Well, for the first time in Panthers history, the team returned all five starters from its 2008 line. On Sunday, in one of the worst football games I've seen in a long time, that unit gave up five sacks and managed just 2.9 yards per rush.
CPON2: We're in a new era of wide-open offense, and here are some of the tenets: If it looks like basketball on grass, that's a good thing; the ball will always move faster than the man; the game is actually evolving backward, as we've gone back to the single wing (aka the Wildcat), and in its purest form, the spread offense looks a lot like the game football grew out of -- rugby; the key is to stop making the most important player on the field (the quarterback) the easiest one to find and hit.
CPON3: It looks as if teams are solving the no-wedge rule on kick returns with a smarter, faster, 3-1 formation on top of the returner. Depending on the direction of the kick, two of the top three guys link together, the third man goes high to pick off the gunner or first man downfield and the bottom man acts like a fullback/escort up the field.
CPON4: Forget quarterbacks as receivers and runners as throwers. The most amazing thing I saw in the Eagles' Wildcat formation was 350-pound Nick Cole lead blocking 12 yards downfield.
CPON5: I blame Steve Smith for at least one of Jake Delhomme's disastrous throws. Delhomme forced one toward Smith during the second quarter in part because the testy wideout was starting to throw temper tantrums because the ball wasn't coming his way.
CPON6: So the TV cartoon robot football thing now jumps rope? Isn't that a little unmanly for a killer cyborg? What's next, Maypole dancing?
CPON7: Julius Peppers didn't want to be here. Maybe he knew something we didn't. If you look at his stats, you'll think he had a good game with a sack, near interception, forced fumble and blocked kick. But none of that was game-changing. That stuff all came well after the game was out of reach in garbage time.
CPON8: Maybe the only bit of good news was the interception return by Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason, who ran around, cutting and planting on his injured knee without any hesitation.
CPON9: After watching Delhomme's 11th turnover in his past two games (yeah, I sat through the Cardinals debacle as well during the playoffs), I wrote this note to myself on Sunday: "Are we watching the end of a career here?" Said wideout Muhsin Muhammad, "Jake is struggling right now, man."
CPON10: In fairness to Delhomme, the pick he threw on the screen play in the third quarter happened because Carolina was outsmarted in the coaching booth. The Eagles anticipated a screen and ran an exit stunt on the right side of the line. The inside lineman charges to the outside, and then the end hesitates before curling underneath. (The hope is that the lineman moves laterally thinking he has no one to block, and that creates a huge rushing gap.) Anyway, this left the Panthers guard alone for a split second, and he took the bait, heading upfield to block. When the Eagles flipped the switch, defensive end Trent Cole had a clear path to Delhomme, who was rushed into yet another pick. You have to think the Eagles' late defensive coordinator, Jim Johnson, was in his luxury box in the sky smiling down after that play. "Our defense played like crazy," Andy Reid said in what amounts to effusive praise from the Eagles coach. "They played their hearts out, and I'm proud of them."
CPON11: Steve Smith had some kind of sparkly, metallic-blue design on the bottom of his cleats. How do I know this? Because the Eagles rotated three corners -- Asante Samuel, Sheldon Brown and Ellis Hobbs -- on him all day, and they bullied him, pushed him around and knocked him all over the place. He ended up with three catches for 21 yards.
CPON12: This game was so bad, it had me thinking the impossible: Hey, maybe the preseason isn't long enough.
CPON13: In the third quarter, the Panthers asked all of Section 113 to stand up and take a bow. But from what I saw, I'm not sure anyone was even left in the stands at that point.
CPON14: Maybe it's me. I follow both the Miami, Ohio, and Davidson college football teams, and they've started the season 0-4 and have been outscored 188-0.
CPON15: Leaving the press box, I saw injured defensive tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu hobbling on crutches toward the exit. The Panthers miss his might in the middle, that's for sure. "Tough one today," he said.
CPON16: Less than an hour after the game ended, the Panthers' equipment staff already had placed blue, white and red (for quarterbacks) practice jerseys in each player's locker. The message? Forget about this game. Put it behind you. And get back to work.
In the season finale of "Hard Knocks," I heard Bengals owner Mike Brown say that the team would be better for what it went through last season. Really? Let's just forget for a second that the schedule and about 30 percent of the roster are completely different, and that most NFL people realize that the idea of one season connecting to the next went out in the 1950s. (Nowadays, you can't even connect from one week to the next.) If this were true, though, and the Bengals were better for each of the 17 losing seasons they've suffered since 1990, well, then they'd be the greatest team in the history of the sport -- instead of having an outside shot at a wild card.
From Ryan: "Why would anyone argue Donte' Stallworth's suspension? I don't care that he felt bad for Hurricane Katrina victims. We all did. None of that matters when he KILLED a guy while he was driving (heavily) intoxicated. In my eyes, he got off very light!"
Nate writes, "Flem, You wrote: '9:31:01: Rams. Bucs. Browns. Lions. 49ers. Chiefs. Broncos. Raiders. Cowboys. Is it me, or are there more really bad teams in the league this year than at any other time in the past decade or so?' Dropping the Cowboys in there at the end was, as Seinfeld would say, a pretty big matzo ball. Care to explain that one a little more?"
Flem: Well, OK. First of all, love the Seinfeld reference. Not only did Emmitt Smith predict a 7-9 finish for your Boys, but did you know that the Rams, Bucs, Broncos, 49ers and Raiders all have something the Cowboys don't: a playoff win during the past 13 years?
From Adam: "Re: 10:33:27: Wonder what Morrissey song the horribly confused NFL will use to promote itself this year? First time Ochocinco has a good game, 'Bigmouth Strikes Again.' Write on, writah!"
Flem: Nice. I was thinking a sack by Casey Hampton played over the song "There's a Light That Never Goes Out" and the lyrics, "If a double-decker bus crashes into us ... "
These notes written while listening to: Muse.
David Fleming is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and the author of the memoir "Noah's Rainbow" and "Breaker Boys: The NFL's Greatest Team and the Stolen 1925 Championship." His work also will be featured in the 2009 Best American Sports Writing anthology. The Flem File appears every Wednesday during the NFL season with updates on Mondays and Fridays.
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