Once again the Panthers came close to victory, but were unable to finish the game out, despite holding the lead in the fourth quarter. The Panthers Defense played quite well, and held the Cowboys to four field goals, and only one Miles Austin induced TD. The pass rush wasn't quite the force it had been the past few weeks, however it did succeed in making Tony Romo move around in the pocket, changing his launch point. Likewise, the run defense was staunch, holding Felix Jones and his compatriots to a sub par day -- This isn't your 2011 Panthers Defense.
Meanwhile, the Offense was summarily sedated. Even with starting positions at the 40 and 45 yard lines, the Panthers could not manufacture points. The death knell was sounded with the start of the third quarter, as the Panthers basically had three straight three-and-outs to begin the second half. The game-plan was fairly balanced, and the run pass ratio was only thrown out of wack because the final 12 plays were passes (11/12 came from 11 personnel), as the Panthers desperately needed to move the ball quickly.
Raw Numbers: (Link to personnel groupings description)
-As a product of the slow offensive day the Panthers Offense only ran 59 plays.
-As mentioned above the run-pass ratio was skewed by the final three drives: 40 passes & 19 runs.
Remove the final three drives and the ratio was 28:19. You could go even further by reviewing the last TD drive of which we passed 7 more times. Not to mention, the running game got zero tread in the third quarter.
-The Panthers ran 41 plays out of 11 personnel (31 passes & 10 runs).
A definite/predictable formula is emerging: if the Panthers are losing in the fourth quarter they will move into 11 personnel and chuck the rock. On another note, WR Brandon Lafell played a few snaps in the Pistol, never receiving the ball.
-Tolbert saw significant action; the Panthers had 10 snaps in 21 personnel (4 passes & 6 runs).
-There was a decrease in 12 personnel: 7 snaps (5 passes & 2 runs).
-The Panthers ran one play out of their jumbo package 23 personnel. The one play resulted in Mike Tolbert's TD.
-The read option had mild success: 9 attempts for 47 yards.
-Defensively, the Panthers were on the field for 66 plays.
-With Dallas' superior passing offense and the absence of Chris Gamble, the Panthers played a lot of zone coverage; Man Coverage: 12 snaps & Zone Coverage: 54 snaps.
-In order to counteract the run, the Defense lined up in the base 43 Defense for 26 snaps (Man: 4 & Zone: 22).
-The staff called nickel defense (4-2-5) on 24 downs (Man: 5 & Zone: 19).
-With Dallas' intimate familiarity with the 3-4, we saw a reduction in it's use; 9 snaps (Man:1 & Zone: 8).
-The 3-3-5 only saw 4 snaps, all of which included zone coverage.
The Offense came out and attacked the middle of the Cowboy's Defense, using 8 routes to push the Dallas Safeties back, and while ineffective earlier in the game, they did have the desirable effect of pushing the Safeties out of the box. Next the Panthers moved on to some misdirection runs and counter plays that had some success against the Dallas front seven early on, as well as the usual 5/6 routes (curls) and even some cross/out routes to move the ball through the air.
The Panthers Offense did have a lot of success operating out of the no-huddle offense, moving the ball 75 yards and scoring a TD. As a fan, I hope we see more of the no-huddle, as it gives us an advantage over the opposing defense.
While just about every Panthers fan is berating OC Rob Chudzinski for the lack of offensive success, most fans aren't asking the right questions, let alone answering them. And while it may be the easy thing to do, blaming the coaches isn't productive, and it doesn't give us the full picture.
Why are we running from the shotgun this season? Why is Chud sticking with the option? What is with the lack of touches for our premier RB's?
After watching the team for 6 weeks, and after thinking on the matter, I've settled on what probably should have been an easy observation in the preseason. We don't have the caliber of offensive line to run a power running game. We can't get the necessary push to sustain success in a traditional running game. Quite simply, our guys are getting beaten up front, allowing LB's and Linemen to blow up run plays.
Here's one drive from Sunday's game: 1st and 10- Run: Dive play (0 yards gained). 2nd and 10- Run: Weak I formation, counter (0 yards gained). 3rd and 10- Pass: 3 route (incompletion --0 yards gained). Punt.
Last year's Offensive Line had veteran presence and quality talent; Jordan Gross is the only player who still starts in his 2011 spot. Our line is bad, and it is hindering what we are able to do offensively, both in the pass game, as well as the run game. Why run the ball in the I if you know that your running back has almost no chance of even making it to the second level of defenders?
Chudzinski has been hampered by the dearth of talent on the Offensive Line just as McDermott had been by the lack of talent on the Defensive Line. If you're looking for someone to blame, I suggest the deposed General Manager, Marty Hurney. There were available players this offseason at both OG/T (and CB for that matter), however moves were not made to restore the depth of the offensive line.
Back on topic, the Defensive Coaching Staff had a solid game-plan against Dallas. We saw the Defense line up in the base defense to stop the run on first down, and by holding Dallas to minimal gains on first down, the Panthers were able to keep the Cowboys in 2nd and 3rd and long situations. The one advantage Dallas did enjoy over the Panthers in the first half was Jason Witten. Witten was able find soft spots in our zones, and out muscle our DB's and LB's for the ball, moving the chains several times. The Defense employed a lot of Cover 2 and Cover 1 in an attempt to neutralize the Cowboy's deep threat WR's, which was mostly successful, as Dez Bryant was held to 2 receptions for 14 yards, while Miles Austin's lone big play came against a blitz, where he was able to gain the inside leverage on Captain Munnerlyn and break a tackle or two in the open field. On the very next play, Austin beat Josh Norman for the TD on a 9 route. We couldn't have asked for much more, as the Defense, despite playing almost the entire third quarter, was able to keep the game well within reach for the Panthers Offense.
Looking Forward to Next Week:
Against Chicago we will likely see a resurgence of the 3-4, as the Bears don't face too many three man fronts. Additionally, I'd expect to see a lot of Cover 1 against Brandon Marshall. McDermott/Rivera may or may not not dial up blitzes against a weak Chicago line, perhaps relying on the front four to generate a pass rush.
Defensively, the Bears have a very talented front seven, however, I think the Panthers will attempt to establish some sort of a running game early on. I do not relish seeing Julius Peppers face off against Garry Williams. Furthermore, the Bears have not faced any option attacks thus far, so we may be able to catch them off guard.