In my personal opinion, I believe that Cam Newton had the worst professional football game of his career, last Sunday against Seattle. Ever since entering the NFL, the Panthers have leaned on Newton to make big plays, and to move the ball; Sunday, he just couldn't do it. His passes didn't have any touch, and as has become the norm, he wasn't working through his progression. This funk would even permeate the read option, now a staple of the Offense. In a couple of cases Cam would make inappropriate choices, either holding onto the ball too long, or just entirely misreading the play. Additionally, Cam was incapable of reading and diagnosing the Seattle blitzes, which would overload one edge and force Cam to step up into the pocket-- right into the hands of the interior defensive linemen.
However, not all of the blame can be shifted to Cam. His offensive line did not help him out very much. Bell and Gross were very inconsistent against Chris Clemons, Bruce Irvin and the gang, surrendering pressure on almost every down. Penetration was not limited to the outside, as Brandon Mebane and Red Bryant were able to manhandle Jeff Byers and Amini Silatolu, both of whom were holding for their lives towards the end of the game.
As such, the Panthers had to gerrymander their offensive game-plan in order to try and put Cam in a rhythm. OC Rob Chudzinski tried just about everything: short passes, screens, quick drops, deep routes, etc... However with Newton unable to gel, the Seahawks were able to place 8 men into the box often enough to hinder the Panthers Running Game.
Sunday was not Cam's day, and as we have learned over the past 21 games -- As Cam goes, so goes the Panthers Offense.
Conversely, the Panthers Defense played quite well. The front four was able to generate some pressure on Russell Wilson, as well as keep their containment on him. The outside LB's and DB's kept their discipline and stayed in their gaps and minimized the success of Seattle's bubble screens and bootlegs. And despite our fear, Marshawn Lynch did not raze the Panthers Front Seven.
Captain Munnerlyn played an inspired game, breaking on the ball (re: his pick six), making tackles, and staying disciplined. Meanwhile, Josh Norman played better, albeit against lesser competition and a rookie QB. Norman has begun playing too softly in his zone, granting his mark too much space, probably in fear of being burned overtop, thus giving up a bevy of comeback routes.
The Raw Numbers:
-The Offense ran 54 plays.
The Panthers Offense moved with a remarkably slow tempo, and was unable to string together drives.
-Coach Chudzinski called 37 passes and 16 runs.
With the running game stuffed early, and Cam in a funk, OC Rob Chudzinski attempted to settle Cam down by getting him some completions.
-As could be expected, the most popular personnel grouping was 11 personnel: 33 snaps (26 passes & 7 runs).
-Early on in the game we saw a lot of 12 personnel: 11 snaps (5 passes & 6 runs).
If Gary Barnidge is in the game, it's probably a pass, if Ben Hartsock is in the game, it's probably a run.
- Mike Tolbert was on the field sparsely; 21 personnel: 9 snaps (6 passes & 3 runs).
-On the faithful 4th Down and 1, the Panthers utilized 14 personnel. The play was a run/pass option, Cam could have ran it in if there was room, if not, he was to look for Olsen or another target. The play call worked, Ben Hartsock was open in the back of the endzone; Cam saw this and attempted to throw him the ball. That ball hit the turf about 3 yards in front of Hartsock.
-After running on first down primarily the past few weeks, Chud attempted to mix it up, passing it 10 times on first down and only running it twice.
This is a necessary switch. If you follow a certain pattern for too long, opponents take notice and attempt to shut it down.
-The dreaded read option gained 41 yards on 9 carries; an average of 4.55 yards per carry.
-The Defense was on the field for 62 plays (discounting one kneel down).
-The Panthers played zone coverage 55 plays, and man coverage 7 plays.
Without Chris Gamble, the Panthers were very hesitant in playing man coverage and leaving their corners on islands.
-The most popular defensive front was the base 4-3: 31 snaps (Zone: 25 snaps; Man: 6 snaps).
With Marshawn Lynch, rookie Russell Wilson, and 12 personnel, the Panthers were absolutely going to line up with seven, and many times eight defenders in the box.
-On 20 snaps the Defense was aligned in the nickel defense; 19 snaps in zone coverage and 1 snap in man coverage.
-The 3-4 was sparsely used, only 7 snaps, all of which were with zone coverage.
The Seahawks have plenty of experience facing a 3-4; there was no advantage to be had here.
-We also saw 2 snaps in the 3-3-5, both of which were in zone coverage.
-McDermott also experimented with a muddled 'Radar-esque' defense (2 snaps). Radar Defense is when 9 players stand up around the ball in no apparent order, masking the origin of the pass rush, and how defenders will be dropping into coverage.
Offensively, it is tough to determine the Panthers Game-plan, as it was almost certainly doctored during the second quarter. The run game was struggling overall, both in the option as well as conventional sets. The Offensive Line struggled mightily against the Seattle pass rush, and was almost entirely unable to get any push in the running game. If you're wondering why we aren't seeing any power running, or why we don't hoist Cam over the goal line on 4th and 1, then you have to look towards the Offensive Line. Coach Chudzinski is not calling the option, and shotgun sweeps because they look pretty; the Offensive Line isn't getting push on the opposing defensive line, stifling the potent running game we saw last season. It would have been nice to give Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams more touches, however both did prove unreliable on Sunday, dropping the football on several occasions.
Boiling it down, if the offensive players had better executed their assignments, then the Panthers would have likely beaten Seattle.
The Defensive Game-plan was much more straight forward. Facing a studly running back, and a rookie quarterback with limited weapons outside, the Panthers sought to load the box, often bringing strong safety Charles Godfrey into the box, and make Wilson beat them passing the ball. Thomas Davis was absolutely incredible in his first start this season, while former whipping boy Sherrod Martin returned to the field Sunday, and played quite well, closing zones and preventing big gains, as well as wrapping up on tackles. Martin saw snaps in passing situations, and will likely see his role expanded moving forward.
Unlike previous weeks, the Panthers were not able to keep their opponent in favorable third down and long situations. A minor quibble, yet it is one point that the Panthers Coaching Staff has been hammering into the Defense this season. As mentioned above, we didn't see very much of the 3-4 this week because the Seahawks are already familiar with three men fronts, facing Arizona and San Francisco four times every year.
It feels redundant to say it every other week, but look for the Panthers to establish the running game early on against Dallas. Also with the bye week next week, we may see new wrinkles, or redactions made to the Panthers Playbook. If any big schematic changes are going to be made this year, they will more than likely be made this week as the Staff reviews the successes and failures of the Panthers' season.
The bye week also provides some time for the injured Panthers to recuperate from nagging injuries.
Against a weaker Dallas O-Line (featuring Mackenzy Bernadeau), we might see the Panthers drop seven in coverage, relying on pressure from the front four (i.e. the Atlanta game), or a smattering of blitzes to keep their Offensive Line off-kilter (i.e. the Saints game).