Steve Smith is angry.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, nor an unusual thing. Smith told The Observer after the Panthers' 28-21 win over Tampa Sunday, in which he had one catch for four yards: “I am no longer an asset to this team.”
OK, let's dispense with the obvious first. Of course Smith is an asset. Two defenders hover near him on almost every pass play. This makes it a 10-on-9 game for everyone else. Unfortunately, the Panthers' passing attack was so bad against Tampa Bay (65 yards, two interceptions, 1 TD) that they couldn't win even with an extra man.
So Smith is getting tired of it. He's tired of being a decoy. He's tired of watching Delhomme throw underneath to the tight ends for 5 yards. When he is targeted, he's tired of getting thrown to late, or overthrown, or underthrown, or all the other things that have happened when Jake Delhomme tries to get him the ball. (Delhomme tried 5 times to get it to No.89 Sunday. The results: 1 interception, 1 completion for 4 yards, 3 incompletions).
And so Smith dropped that little "no longer an asset" bomb postgame Sunday in a brief interview.
It will undoubtedly be a wake-up call for the Panthers' coaching staff Monday. They will work to soothe Smith's ruffled feathers Monday, for while Smith can be a fiery, high-maintenance prima donna at times, he also can be a great team guy as well as the Panthers' best player when he used correctly.
And they're not using him correctly -- I'd agree with Smith to a point in that he's not nearly the asset he should be right now.
Why not put him in motion more? Put him in the slot? Throw him a few more slants? Let him run the ball on a reverse or in the Wildcat formation every now and then?
Other great receivers are routinely double-teamed, too. And they still come up with far better numbers than Smith (21 catches, 259 yards and ZERO TDs through five games in 2009). At this 52-yard per game rate, Smith isn't going to reach 1,000 yards receiving for the first time in five seasons.
Part of the problem is that Muhsin Muhammad and Dwayne Jarrett can't seem to get any separation with one-on-one coverage right now, so other teams are rarely burned by double-teaming Smith.
The biggest problem I see right now, though, is that Jake Delhomme isn't the same quarterback as he's been most of his career here. He's too scattered, too on-and-off, too mistake-prone. Delhomme is trying to convince himself that's not the case, but at the moment that's true.
Fortunately for Carolina, they still won with no passing game Sunday. The Panthers simply ran the ball down Tampa Bay's throat on the final drive -- 15 runs and 1 pass for an 80-yard, 8-minute game-winning march -- but that only works against teams who aren't very strong.
Smith better become a big-time asset again soon. The Panthers don't have anyone else like him. He's not a disposable asset. He's one of the team's core strengths, and they must remember how to get him the football again.