After delving into Carolina's offensive chances yesterday, now we turn to the other side of the ball to see how a banged-up Panthers' defense can stop Jamaal Charles, and a Kansas City Chiefs' offense who has struggled to make an impact in 2012.
Looking at the Panthers' schedule three months ago, this was a game primed to be a Kansas City victory. Jamaal Charles returning from injury, paired with Peyton Hillis signed in free agency should have given Romeo Crennel's team one of the NFL's premier rushing attacks. Seeing that kind of run offense facing a woeful Carolina interior defense gave many cause to pencil in a 'W' for the Chiefs. Sure, there were questions at quarterback for Kansas City, but if Matt Cassel was little more than a game manager, that should have been enough. This approach to offense is being run with some success in Minnesota, and yet it has been an abject disaster for KC.
X-Factor: Brian Daboll
It's rare that you'll see an offensive coordinator be named an 'x-factor', but in terms of the Chiefs' offense on Sunday it's apt. I could be lazy and give you a two word summary of Daboll -- Jeff Davidson, but instead we'll delve a little deeper.
When Jamaal Charles touches the ball, good things happen. Averaging 4.8 yards per carry, and 7.3 yards per reception, he's still one of the league's best running backs when given opportunities. These chances have been woefully inconsistent, and there's no telling whether Charles will get the ball 25 times, or 15 times on game day -- leading to an unreliable offense.
Daboll falls into the same trap Davidson did, he'll run the ball strong to start the game, then if his opponent gets out to a lead he'll abandon it all together and become almost exclusively pass-happy. Over the last three weeks, however, it finally seems like he might be getting it as Charles has gotten 67 touches for 325 all purpose yards. Determining where the advantage lies is almost impossible. There's no way to predict how Daboll will use Charles, but given the last three weeks it looks like he might be getting it.
Carolina run defense vs. Kansas City run offense
It shouldn't be lost on anyone that the Panthers interior run defense is reeling. There's no rhyme or reason why a team can stonewall Marshawn Lynch, holding him to one of his worst games of the year, only to turn around a few weeks later and give up almost 200 rushing yards to Bryce Brown.
The easy scapegoat is Sione Fua, and some will point to his presence in the middle being one of the key reasons why the Panthers were unable to stop the run last week. While that's true to a degree, according to Football Outsiders' defensive line rankings, the biggest area of concern is runs to the edges where the Panthers are allowing over 5 yards per carry -- ranked 31st off the left end, and 30th off the right, Carolina have been unable to make plays tackles on runs off tosses, sweeps, and off-tackle runs.
Kansas City run a total of 26-percent of their runs at the edges, and with a quick back like Jamaal Charles he's poised for a field day.
Carolina pass defense vs. Kansas City pass offense
Yesterday I said the Chiefs resembled the 2010 Carolina Panthers team that went 2-14. Like that Panthers squad, quarterback play is holding back Kansas City severely. When paired with Daboll's bizarre offensive scheming, it leads to a situation where Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn have combined to throw 81 times over the last three weeks, gaining just 468 yards through the air. This equates to a YPA of just 5.8 yards, and tells you everything you need to know about their passing game.
The Panthers have no answer for Dwayne Bowe, but it has become a non-issue in recent weeks, as the passing game has been unable to get him involved.
I'm not sure if a 3-8 team can have a 'trap game', and certainly the players themselves won't feel that way -- however, optimism following Monday Night's victory has caused fans to puff out their chests a little. The Philadelphia Eagles are a talented team, quitting on their head coach. The Kansas City Chiefs are less talented, but have a lot more pride, even with two less wins. Do I think Carolina will lose? No. Is it possible? Absolutely.
Cam Newton and the Panthers offense have the ability to set the tone early, and if they can get a touchdown quickly it will force KC's hand on offense, causing the passing game to be a focal point. There is wholly a possibility that Kansas City will lean on their ground game, and Jamaal Charles will have a signature 200-yard-plus game, but there's an outside chance of that happening given how plays have been called for them this year.
Carolina 27 - Kansas City 13
2012 Panthers pick record: 8-3