One of my favorite things to do is dive into the more statistical side of sports and sites like Football Outsiders and Pro Football Focus have helped make this side of the game more popular on the Internet. One of the things they look at is defensive coverage stats which show how many times a certain player was targeted by the opposing quarter back and how well they performed against them in terms of how many yards, first downs and touch downs they gave up. I can't seem to find this data anywhere on the site for individual games, so I thought it would be a good idea to track today's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and post it here so that the information is available.
The Panthers have had a porous defense for most of the season and it's largely due to injuries in the secondary and linebacking corps and things didn't get any better in this game with Charles Godfrey and Captain Munnerlyn inactive. Due to that, I thought it would be interesting to see how guys like Darius Butler, RJ Stanford and Jonathan Nelson performed in starting roles so we can get a better idea of who is more likely to stick around next season. It's tough to make judgments on a player from just one game but I thought this would be a good starting point and something that we could possibly expand on. I think most of us have a good idea of who the best and worst players on the team are in terms of pass coverage, but going more in-depth and exploring the stats can unveil some things we might overlook while watching the game.
Without further ado, we'll take a look at those stats from yesterday's game against the Bucs after the jump
Here's a few notes before we get into the data: None of this is official since I tracked it personally and there were a few spots which I had to go back and watch a replay to get a better idea of what happened. What I was looking for when watching the game was how many times a defender was targeted by an opposing QB, how many catches he allowed along with how many yards he surrendered, how many first downs and TDs he gave up and how many times he was charged with a penalty. I also included how many times an incompletion was due to the ball being overthrown or a receiver dropping the pass since those are more dependent on the offense than the defender making a play.
The Panthers defense had a good "bend but don't break" philosophy in the first half because the offense gave them a 10-0 cushion and Josh Freeman was actually very efficient in the first half. He completed 10 of 11 passes and most of them were for short gains and were good enough to get the Bucs key first downs and they scored on two of their first three drives. The problem was they couldn't get a running game going, fumbled the ball three times and the Panthers offense scored nearly every time they touched the ball. Carolina's pass defense did give up a lot of yards but they didn't let Freeman burn them with any big plays and did more than enough to get the job done against Tampa Bay.
- Freeman picked on Darius Butler all game but he didn't get burned that badly in the grand scheme of things. The Bucs got to him with the short-yardage plays but he kept the big plays to a minimum and didn't allow one catch over 20 yards. He allowed the one passing TD that Carolina gave up but that was mostly due to a great effort by Arrelious Benn. He managed to keep his head above water against a bad Tampa Bay team, but I'm curious to see what his numbers look like against a deeper receiving corps.
- The reason why Butler was picked on so much was because Freeman decided to completely avoid throwing at Chris Gamble. The only catch Gamble allowed was on a screen to Dezmon Briscoe for a six yard gain. This is either due to the Bucs respecting Gamble's ability or he had his man covered for the entire game. I'd say it was a little of both.
- James Anderson gave up a lot of yards and first downs to Kellen Winslow and Mossis Madu, but at least four of the catches he allowed came in garbage time when the Panthers were on top by 30+ points and playing a prevent defense. Numbers don't lie but they are misleading when not taken with context.
- One guy who did give up a lot of big plays was RJ Stanford as he allowed three catches of 15 yards or more. The only ball that went his way that wasn't caught was dropped by Sammie Straughter, so we can tell that he has coverage issues.
- Jordan Senn also has issues with pass coverage because all six balls thrown his way were caught and while he didn't allow that many yards, he did surrender three first downs and couldn't break up any passes. That's why he led the team in tackles for another week. Senn is a great depth guy and run stopper but he obviously has his limitations.
- Jonathan Nelson was also targeted by Freeman in this game as he had to deal with Tampa Bay's tight ends. He did a pretty respectable job considering he was just signed from the practice squad and was thrown into a starting role. He also had that big interception in the second half but that wouldn't have been possible if it wasn't for Anderson tipping the pass. Still, I think he did a pretty good job overall.
- Sherrod Martin's been criticized for his coverage skills all year but today was one of his better games as he only allowed one catch and he ended up nailing the receiver before he could do anything. However, he also had a bad pass interference call which gave 25 yards to the Bucs. His workload wasn't that big either and it's probably because the Bucs wanted to take advantage of Nelson with Charles Godfrey out.
- Over half of the incomplete passes Freeman were due to either receivers dropping passes or the ball being overthrown so that does suggest that the team's pass coverage could use some improvement. However, there are times when dropped passes and overthrows are caused by defensive coverages so that's not saying that Carolina's pass defense had a bad game. They didn't have a complete shutdown effort but they did enough to get the job done.
This is still a work in progress, so any suggestions on how this could be improved would be greatly appreciated. Are there any areas that you feel that I didn't touch here or any ways that we could possibly expand on this? I'm not sure if I could do this every week but getting an in-depth look at the Panthers would be nice, so I wanted to test this out to see how it went.