Just as they had done the past four weeks, the Carolina Panthers lined up against superior competition, and fought tooth and nail to secure the lead in the second half, but as the story has been over the past two years, the Panthers surrendered their lead, and ultimately lost the game.
The Panthers Coaching Staff compiled a solid game-plan that put the Bears on their heels. The Offense moved the ball early and often, only encountering one three and out the entire game, while the first half pass rush was hellacious, sacking Cutler 6 times. However, as the Panthers only had 3 active DE's, Frank Alexander, Charles Johnson, and Greg Hardy were forced into duty on nearly every snap, only being spelled by Rookie-UDFA Nate Chandler in the second half. Subsequently, the pass rush deteriorated, exposing our secondary. Seemingly in response to the outcry of the fans and the media, Offensive Coordinator Rob Chudzinski called a much more traditional game: the I formation was abundant, and we ran behind our mauler Amini Silatolu -- however, it was a relative failure.
-The Panthers ran a season high 80 plays on offense.
This was in part helped by the fact that our defense forced Chicago into numerous three and outs, compounded by the fact that the Panthers were able to move the chains.
-The Run:Pass ratio was 33:47.
This number is pretty indicative of our offensive output. We had a two minute drill where we rattled off a slew of passes, as well as two stretches in the second half where the offense tried to ground and pound the rock.
-In a near stunning event, 11 personnel was dethroned as the top personnel grouping. Coach Chudzinski ran 32 plays out of 12 personnel (21 passes; 11 runs).
-11 personnel still got theirs: 30 snaps (22 passes; 8 runs).
This number was supplemented by the two minute drill, as well as our end of the game drive. When in doubt, 11 personnel.
-In another season high, the Offense ran 16 snaps out of 21 personnel (4 passes; 12 runs).
The I formation was abundant, however the running game was not successful at all.
-Mixing it up, there was one snap in both 13 personnel and 22 personnel (Cam's bootleg), both of which were run plays.
-On first down, the Panthers ran the ball 11 times, and passed the ball 9 times.
The ratio was balanced, however it was a tale of two halves: in the first half we predominantly passed the ball on first down; in the second half we predominantly ran the ball on first down.
-Last week's hypothesis was well supported this week. When running from under center, the Panthers averaged 1.76 yards per carry, including 8 runs of zero yards or less. On 22 rushes, the Panthers accrued 38 yards -- and 17 of those yards came on 1 play, a Jonathan Stewart run. Remove the outlier, and the total drops to exactly 1 yard per carry.
-The Defense was on the field for 53 plays.
Including a remarkable low, 25 plays in the first half.
-The Panthers ran 15 snaps in man coverage, and 38 snaps in zone coverage.
We saw an increase in man coverage this week, especially in the first half, of which we called man coverage on 9 snaps (36%).
-Due to the Bears fourth quarter blitz, the most popular front was the 4-2-5: 25 snaps (4 man; 21 zone).
As the Bears abandoned the run game, and rolled out 11 and 10 personnel, the Panthers were forced to equivocate with the nickel defense.
-The Defense lined up 13 snaps in the base 4-3 (6 man; 7 zone).
-Just as we postulated last week, the Defense rolled out the 3-4 against the Bears: 13 snaps (5 man ; 8 zone).
The 3-4 was especially effective on first down, stuffing the Bears run game. As ERL noted weeks ago, the 3-4 is our answer to a strong running game.
-The Defense spent one down in the 3-3-5 and one down in the 4-1-6, both of which signaled zone coverage.
The Panthers wanted to establish the power running game early on, with very little effect. In the passing game, Cam was looking to take advantage of the Bears Cover 2, attacking the middle of the field with skinny posts. Additionally, when the Bears Pass Rush became too potent, Chudzinski broke out his constraint plays, WR screens, and RB screens, slowing the Bears LB's. The Offense operated heavily out of 12 personnel, often to max protect QB Cam Newton, leaving 6-7 blockers in on many pass plays. Even when Barnidge/Hartsock weren't blocking, they usually chipped a DE before running an auxiliary route.
As noted above, the traditional running game was not successful, and it was not the stimulus many thought it would be. It was painfully apparent that our lineman were outmatched by the Bears D-Line. Sure, you could chalk that up to the Bear's prowess, however, this trend isn't new, the Panthers linemen have not achieved significant push in the run game all year, this week merely was the largest sample size to date.
Offensively, the Panthers were able to move the ball, however, once entering Chicago territory, the Offense were hard pressed to find the endzone, having 5 drives stall for field goal attempts. Speaking on the issue weeks ago, Rivera noted how opposing defenses were creeping safeties into the box in order to account for Cam Newton's running threat, forcing Cam to make plays with his arm. Had the Panthers finished even two of those drives with TD's, the outcome of the game would have been much different.
Oh yeah, I don't believe there was a single read option. :^)
On Defense, the Panthers had a clear plan to stop the Bears Offense. Keying on Chicago's trends, McDermott primarily aligned the Defense in either the 3-4 or the base 4-3 in order to stack the box against Panther-Killer Matt Forte. This plan was highly successful as Forte was kept in check for most of the game, finishing with only 70 yards. As has been documented, the Panthers Pass Rush was dominating in the first half, pummeling Jay Cutler, and preventing him from finding his targets. There was no special scheme or blitz called, the Panthers Front Four was just thrashing the Bears Offensive Line.
This success sprinkled into the third quarter as well, however, as the second half progressed, the Panthers lack of depth at DE sapped the energy of Johnson, Hardy, and Alexander. Without Thomas Keiser and Antwan Applewhite, those three, along with Nate Chandler, played every single snap on Sunday. As the Bears adjusted, and the game wore on, the Panthers Pass Rush faded. Consequently, Cutler had more time in the pocket to pick on the Panthers Secondary.
Looking towards next week:
As the Redskins are a 3-4 team themselves, I doubt we will see as much 3-4, however with the Redskins running attack, the Staff might opt to counter it with three man fronts. Anyhow, I expect to see a lot of base defense next Sunday. The Redskins don't have a great offensive line, however they do operate a zone blocking scheme, which has given the Panthers trouble in the past.
On Offense, I doubt we will use the read option as heavily as we have in the past, as the Redskins have just as much experience with it as we do; I expect the converse to hold true as well. I think we will continue attacking the middle of the field, and if the Redskins afford it, some deep shots to the Panthers WR's. I am interested in seeing if we continue with 12 personnel, or if it was a specialty for the Bears.
The one problem with our offensive success on Sunday is that it has afforded Washington a ton of tape on our recent tendencies. And with a limited amount of plays available, some identifiable tendencies did arise. I expect there will be a certain level of overhaul moving into next week.