Thursday, August 9, 2007

With Childlike Delight

(credit to Kissing Suzy Kolber for the pic)

After having a long discussion with my friend Ben (who you’ll all be meeting soon in the Throwing Into Traffic Fantasy Football Terrordome), and reading some emails from readers (yes, Alex and I both read your thoughts), I realized that a lot of people felt I was being a little negative about the prospects of the Carolina Panthers. So, I went back to take a look at the data I’d put together before, just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, and I realized I was, albeit a backup scenario that isn’t likely to take effect early enough to make a difference. If you’ll recall, my major problem with the Panthers is that they’re essentially resting on non-existent laurels. They are complacent with no reason to be so, believing that last season was a fluke and this season promises a turnaround resulting from no significant off-season changes. Except there was one significant off-season change, and it could make all the difference.

David Carr gave the Houston Texans the best years of his life. For five years, a strong armed, mobile quarterback with a knack for making decent decisions helmed Houston’s offense. He never missed a significant about of time for injuries, a remarkable feat for someone who was sacked more over that period than any other quarterback. Honestly, the most amazing thing about Carr’s arm wasn’t how far he could throw; it was how far he could throw while a 300 plus pound man turned his insides into Beanie Baby filling. It’s a medical miracle that Carr is not the first NFL quarterback to wear a colostomy bag. This past off-season, apparently deciding that a quarterback with less speed, less game experience, and infinitely less hair product could be the new, lantern jawed face of the franchise, Carr was unceremoniously dumped, only to be picked up as the Carolina Panthers backup to Jake Delhomme.

I’m a believer in quarterbacks as centers of a team’s chi. The energy they project can directly affect the way teammates play with regard to their talent. This is a concept with which the Panthers should be familiar. One need look no further than that 2004 NFC champion Panthers to see a team that was driven by Jake Delhomme, back when he was just a gunslinger who understood he couldn’t do everything. Now, unfortunately, Delhomme’s overconfidence in a skill set that has steadily diminished has made him the mascot for the overconfidence that plagues the Panthers…which is why David Carr is so important to the Panthers success.

David Carr is like a young Jake Delhomme, only with more physical gifts. He has the smarts to play the system QB, and the natural talent to break the system and make plays when he must. Furthermore, by playing with a team as woefully untalented as all of Carr’s Texans were, Carr has learned the value of reining in his physical gifts for the good of the offense as a whole. Carr had the highest completion percentage in the league last season, ON THE TEXANS. Say that he checks down too much all you want, but his options were A) Check down, B) Force a pass to Andre Johnson while he’s covered by three guys because nobody can name another receiver, or C) Lose five yards and another week off of his life because 6th round O-lineman from Podunk U missed his block.

But the significance of Carr’s influence on the Panthers’ chi goes deeper than just gameplay potential. It goes to the fact that every week, for five years, David Carr came to work after having been battered the week before. He played hurt, and he still played with the confidence that he had a team around him that could win. That kind of stupid optimism is EXACTLY what the Panthers need. It goes beyond the lazy optimism of “we can do better than last time” that the Panthers already have, and extends into the realm of the faith of a child, knowing things will turn out ok because the world is good, and that’s the way a good world works. One can only imagine how this kind of faith would grow by leaps and bounds given the change in scenery Carr is experiencing. Delhomme looks at this team and sees failed parts that should perform better; Carr must look at this team like a kid waking up on Christmas morning.

Where Delhomme sees a dearth of targets, Carr sees the opportunity to throw to Steve F. Smith. Where Delhomme sees the lack of a running game, Carr sees a back whose knees won’t shatter like fire emergency glass. Where Delhomme sees an offensive line that failed to perform up to potential, Carr sees people who actually look like they care about their quarterback’s ability to process solid food. The kind of giddy joy Carr brings to the team makes the game fun to play, and fun is something the Panthers need desperately in order to escape the weight of their own expectations. Carr doesn’t care that this offense is supposed to get Steve Smith more involved; he’s just happy that he gets to play football with Steve Smith, like a captain who got the first pick on the playground. That will make all the difference.

8-8, maybe even 9-7 if the Panthers let Carr go play. I believe in the miracle that is the smile of a child.

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