Can Jake Delhomme really lead a weak Browns’ passing game?

GREEN BAY - AUGUST 14: Jake Delhomme  of the Cleveland Browns calls out a play during the NFL preseason game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field August 14, 2010 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Tom Dahlin/Getty Images)

Merry preseason, everyone. It’s been a long offseason, but football is finally gearing up again and to celebrate I’m rolling out a new series on TSR entitled “2010 NFL Question Marks,” where I discuss one or two of the biggest concerns that teams have heading into the new season. Granted, some teams have more issues than others, but I’ll primarily be focusing on the biggest problem areas. Today I’ll be discussing the major issues the Browns could have with their passing game this season.

Usually teams have enough skill players to make an offense work, but their line holds them back.

The Browns have the opposite problem.

Joe Thomas is one of the top pass blocking left tackles in the game and will once again anchor a solid Cleveland offensive line. While he needs to improve his pass protection, young center Alex Mack is a budding star and Eric Steinbach completes a pretty dominating left side.

Unfortunately, not even a good offensive line will save the Browns from what should be one of the worst passing games in the NFL.

I’ve never been a fan of Jake Delhomme and while he may be fooling Cleveland fans with his “veteran presence” act right now, the guy was atrocious last year. He doesn’t handle pressure well, he forces passes into coverage and even when he does have time he still turns the ball over.

Granted, he was a consistent performer in 2008 before his disaster in the playoffs against the Cardinals that year. So if he can recapture some of that magic then maybe the Browns will be okay, but 1) I wouldn’t bet on it and 2) that means other players will have to step up around him.

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Panthers’ decision to extend Delhomme last year will cost them

Last April, the Carolina Panthers decided to be loyal to the quarterback that brought them their lone Super Bowl appearance by signing Jake Dehomme to a five-year, $42.5 million contract extension.

The move was a bit strange seeing as how Delhomme was coming off a horrid performance in a home playoff loss against the Cardinals in which he threw six interceptions. Usually a team locks a player up that is on the rise, not the decline, and Delhomme was definitely on the decline.

Things didn’t get any better for Delhomme in 2009. He played in just 11 games, throwing eight touchdown passes and 18 interceptions. He struggled reading defenses, displayed poor decision making and routinely forced passes into covered receivers. Eventually, Matt Moore took over under center and played well, raising speculation that Delhomme would have to compete for his job in 2010.

Now he won’t even have the opportunity to do that.

The Panthers released Delhomme on Thursday, ending his seven-year tenure in Carolina. The team is obviously committed to Moore and wanted to create a clear path to the starting job for the youngster next season.

Thanks to their horrendous decision to sign him to an extension, the Panthers still owe Delhomme $12.5 million in guaranteed money. With this being an uncapped offseason, $12.5 million could have gone a long way for a team that will needs a solid No. 2 receiver opposite Steve Smith and a pass rusher to replace Julius Peppers for when he signs elsewhere this month.

Why the Panthers signed Delhomme for that much money is anyone’s guess. One would have thought that John Fox and his coaching staff would have seen that Delhomme’s skills were deteriorating and convinced the front office not to offer him such a lucrative extension. The Panthers’ inability to see what others saw will cost them financially this offseason.

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Has Fox saved his job or is Cowher destined for Carolina?

The Carolina Panthers have been the model for inconsistency under head coach John Fox for the better part of a decade. One year they’re up, the next they’re down.

But much like previous down years, the Panthers are finishing strong in 2009. They’ve won three of their last four games and have the opportunity to finish .500, which is quite an accomplishment for a team that had Jake Delhomme under center for most of their year.

Their strong finish begs the question: Has Fox saved his job?

Rumors are circulating that Bill Cowher wants to return to the sidelines in 2010 and Carolina might be a fit because his daughter attends N.C. State. If Cowher is interested, will the Panthers jump at the opportunity to bring him on board or will they stay loyal to Fox, a man that led the team to their only Super Bowl appearance?

Much like in previous down years, the Panthers struggled with injuries and inconsistency this season. Delhomme was a train wreck and should no longer be viewed as a starter, especially given that Matt Moore is gaining confidence with each passing week. The defense has gelled nicely under new defensive coordinator Ron Meeks and the running game is sound with the two-headed monster of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The team could use a No. 2 receiver opposite Steve Smith but other than that, they don’t have a ton of holes.

With that in mind, is Fox the right person to get the Panthers back to the playoffs or should the front office go in another direction? Personally, if Cowher is interested I don’t know how the Panthers don’t entertain the thought of hiring him. But if he turns them down or isn’t interested, then Fox should be retained.

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Stafford, Delhomme’s seasons over

The Lions will place quarterback Matthew Stafford on injured reserve, effectively ending his rookie season. In similar news, the Panthers will place Jake Delhomme on injured reserve, ending his season.

Stafford showed promise in his rookie year and demonstrated toughness as a rookie. He’ll finish his first year with 13 touchdowns and 20 interceptions, which are common numbers for rookie quarterbacks. If Detroit could ever build him on offensive line, then he could do some damage as a pro quarterback.

As for Delhomme, one has to think that Carolina would cut ties with him in the offseason. The problem is that he’s set to make $13 million in guaranteed money, so he’ll probably be back to challenge Matt Moore (who has made strides in the past couple weeks) for the starting job next season.

Delhomme turned the ball over 27 times in 12 games this season, making the Panthers look incredibly foolish for extending his contract in the offseason.

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Panthers blow opportunity to get back into playoff chase

I don’t get the Carolina Panthers.

One week after playing inspired in a 28-19 win over division rival Atlanta, the Panthers laid a dud in a 24-17 loss to the Dolphins on Thursday night in Carolina.

After they beat the Falcons, some pundits started believing in the Panthers again. Hey, why not? They beat the Cardinals in Arizona in Week 8, hung with a powerhouse Saints team in New Orleans in Week 9, and beat a good Falcons team in Week 10.

But after their performance Thursday night, it’s hard to believe that John Fox’s team will play consistent enough throughout the rest of the season to make a postseason run. Jake Delhomme is too mistake-prone, the loss of Jordan Gross kills the offensive line (the Dolphins sacked Delhomme four times), and the defense can’t stop the run.

At best, this is a 7-9 Panthers team. They’ll play hard enough for Fox to stay somewhat alive in the Wild Card race, but they blew a huge opportunity this week to earn a victory at home and put pressure on the Falcons to win in New York (vs. the Giants) on Sunday.

On the other side, the Dolphins still have a pulse at 5-5. Granted, given that they play in a tough AFC they don’t have much of a pulse, but considering they’re still alive without Chad Pennington and Ronnie Brown is quite an accomplishment.

Ricky Williams really stepped up in the absence of Brown, rushing for 119 yards with two touchdowns on 22 carries. He also caught two passes for 19 yards and a touchdown, which proves he can be multi-dimensional.

My TSR cohort John Paulsen made a good point the other day in that Williams doesn’t have the same wear and tear on him as most 32-year olds, given that he was out of football for a couple years. He won’t have the opportunity to face a suspect Carolina front seven every week, but if he continues to run the way he did on Thursday night then he’ll give Miami a chance to win on most game days.

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