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http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news?slug=citadel-2_470072_123&prov=citadel&type=story

John Fox is not a happy camper. How can a head coach be happy when he sees his team not only lose a game but to lose it in the fashion in which the Panthers lost to the Chicago Bears Sunday night in Chicago? Not only did the Panthers score just three points (after a late fourth quarter John Kasay field goal), but the Panthers showed once again the weakness of both their rushing attack and the holes in their offensive line.

After everything is said and done and you go back to review the film of the game, who do you blame for the catastrophe that took place? Even more important, how do you fix the problem (s).

The first problem the Panthers have needed to address all season is the lack of a rushing attack that has all but become the trademark of a John Fox football team. Stephen Davis , despite his 12 touchdowns, is just barely averaging 3.0 yards per carry, according to statistics on nfl.com. The once powerful running back has looked lethargic at times and many are beginning to question why Davis continues to get the starting nod over running back DeShaun Foster. Foster is averaging 3.7 yards per carry and has the ability to break away for a huge gain at any moment. Furthermore, Foster has proven useful out of the backfield as a receiver and is currently second on the team in receiving yards with 255 yards. During the loss at Chicago, Foster averaged over 4 yards per carry against a fierce defensive Bears unit. Developing a consistent running attack will be paramount for the Panthers entering the home stretch of the season.

The second problem is the lack of consistent offensive line play by the Panthers. The bucket of cold water was dashed on both the Panthers and their rivals when the Panthers line allowed quarterback Jake Delhomme to be sacked eight times. One of the biggest concerns that stand out on the Panthers offensive line is left tackle Travelle Wharton . Wharton, who was moved from left guard to left tackle when the Panthers acquired guard/tackle Matt Wahle from free agency, personally allowed Jake to be sacked for at least three of those times, along with pass rushes that either ended up as interceptions or fumbles. At times Wharton looked like a frozen statue out on the field as the defender rushed by him time after time after time to get to Jake. There were concerns about how Travelle would play at the left tackle position early on in the season and up until the Bears game, he was playing adequately. But for the sake of the Panthers quarterback, he better hope that this game was an aberration and not a foreshadowing of the second coming of former Carolina Panther Todd Steussie . Steussie, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers , was given the nickname of "turnstile" by many of his critics because of the many times he was beaten by a defender. The success of the Panthers passing attack and rushing attack start with the offensive line doing their job. Without that consistency up front, it's going to make for a long season for the Panthers offense.

Finally, the third problem that came out of the Panthers/Bears game was the play of quarterback Jake Delhomme. Delhomme didn't help his cause when he threw two interceptions to the Bears in the first half, setting the Bears up with great field position. "We spotted them 10 points right out of the blocks with two turnovers," said Panthers head coach John Fox. "When you're playing on the road against a tough team you can't do that." Delhomme wasn't really able to set his throws all day and on many occasions was either throwing side arm or off his back foot to avoid a Bears pass rusher. Coming into the Bears game, Jake had thrown 15 touchdowns and had 10 interceptions. Furthermore, he had only been sacked 12 times during the season. But Jake has also been known to lose focus from time to time and throw interceptions that shouldn't happen under normal circumstances. Despite the poor play of the quarterback, the question begs to be asked: When a team sacks a quarterback eight times in one game and completely knocks the offense off their game plan - where were the adjustments?

Earlier this season, the Panthers were facing teams that utilized a three step drops and quick slant plays to help their quarterback be able to release the ball faster and avoid the Panthers pass rush. However, during the game against the Bears, not once did Jake have a three step drop play set up or even work out of the shotgun formation to help give him some more time to make better throws to receivers. "Certainly they are good; there's no doubt," Delhomme said. "We put ourselves in a hole early. I had a couple picks early on, we went down 10-0. We just never got anything going." It would be easy to point to the players for blame but the coaching staff may need to be held responsible as well. There were several third and long plays in which the Panthers would run a draw play up the middle to put themselves in better punting position rather than attempt to pass anything down field.

The Panthers now have a record of 7-3 and share the division lead with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The concern for the Panthers in the upcoming weeks shouldn't be their opponents but rather addressing the issues that have plagued their offensive unit all season. The Panther ability or inability to adjust to these problems may very determine how strong they finish down the home stretch.
 

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I have to agree the most surprising albeit disappoint thing about the team this year is the rushing attack. I was expected a heavy dosage of Foster and Shelton with Davis's role lowered greatly. Instead Shelton isn't playing for the year and we've gone back to the same succesful 2003 combo of a large amount of Davis mixed up with te occassional run by Foster. However, it's obvious this is so much worse now, as Davis is pretty much ready to call it a career after last year's injury and Foster hasn't looked all that great either. I think Fox should try giving Foster the majority of carries and hope his YPC pick up when he gets more than 20 touches a game. Yes, the team should still be hopeful of doing some damage in the playoffs this year, but we are still a young team ready for the future and I think it would be beneficial for both now and later years to cut back Davis's carries.

Even with the injury problems last year, our running game was still better then than it is now, which is sad. Maybe that's an indication that Goings should be playing as backup to Foster at least for the rest of the season. Nonetheless, I think we had the worst O-Line in the league last year, but we were able to avoid that getting exposed by having a solid rush attack, which didn't keep the ball behind them for too long. However, Reyes and Wharton have been terrible this year. Most teams have at least one bad O-Lineman and I think we could've gotten away with that and still had a solid line if we picked up Alex Barron. He would've given use two franchise book ends for the next 10 years. Thomas Davis better be the next Derrick Brooks as he's been billed or we'll be regretting passing up Barron for years.

If our running game ever picks up, it will make Delhommes life easier, it will make the O-Line's job easier, because of the pressure it will put on the defense, which will open up opportunities for Smith. ANd when that happens, Colbert, Gardner, and Magnum benefit. The running game must be fixed. When it's shored up, the rest of our offensive woes (which have only started happening since defenses have been gearing themselves up to stop the Delhomme to Smith combo) will correct themselves, guaranteed.
 

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Limehouse Blues
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The real foundation of the panthers past success was based upon the play of their linemen.I've really been dismayed by the lack of productivity from their rushing game all year,but they have large managed to gloss over it thanks to oppurtunistic defense and lots of big plays in the passing game(Obviously most to Steve Smith)The loss sunday was really disturbing because they were ineffective at pressuring a rather mediocre Bears offense and completely inept at protecting Delhomme.I sincerely hope that they can do a better job in the future,but honestly I am far less optimistic than I was before the game when I thought the Panthers had about as good a chance as any other NFC team.
 
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