The Panthers hard work and focus finally payed off this week, resulting in a victory against the Washington Redskins. As Cam Newton put it, the Panthers victory was "the dessert of the dinner," culminating in their second win of the season.
The Panthers came into this contest with a solid game-plan, aiming to slow down the Redskins running game, at times daring Robert Griffin III to beat them deep, plugging 8 and even 9 defenders in the box. Offensively, the game-plan was quite similar: establish the running game, and take advantage of the Redskins Secondary. Both the Offense and Defense were able to weather injuries to key contributors, and battle on to victory. Overall, it was a good team victory.
-Despite the moderate success, the Panthers Offense only ran 53 plays.
This was quite the difference from last week's 80 plays. The devil lies in the Redskin's ball control, and the Panthers big plays, both on the ground and through the air.
-Coach Chudzinski called a very balanced game; 27 passes and 26 runs.
-In a return to prominence, 11 personnel saw 27 snaps (16 passes & 11 runs).
-12 personnel saw a slew of snaps; 15 plays (7 passes & 8 runs).
12 personnel allowed the Panthers to max protect Newton in pressure situations, and gave Cam more options in the passing game. It is inconclusive if the Offensive Coaching Staff decided to increase usage of 12 personnel after Kealoha Pilares' injury. As an aside, most of these snaps are coming from the shotgun.
-Due to circumstance, the Offense ran 6 plays from 22 personnel (2 passes & 4 runs).
-Perhaps as evidence of the Staff's waning faith in a standard power running game, the Panthers only ran 4 plays from 21 personnel (2 passes and 2 runs).
-Cam Newton's TD run came from the Panthers Jumbo Gun set, 13 personnel.
-Another example of balance, the Panthers passed the ball 8 times on first down, and ran the ball 7 times on first down.
-In a solid, yet unspectacular return, the read option was utilized for 5 rushes for 14 yards (10 of which came on one Cam Newton run).
-Even less impressive was the Panthers traditional power running game. The Panthers had 11 rushes from under center, in a power formation (i.e. the I formation, singleback sets), for a grand total of 8 yards, an average of 0.73 yards per carry.
Once again, the O-Line could not generate push from traditional running formations, resulting in three late game three and outs.
-The Defense was on the field for 79 snaps.
-In a largely disproportionate, yet understandable, ratio, the Panthers played 8 snaps in man coverage, and 71 in zone coverage.
I suspect this was out of fear of the Washington running game, not so much, Josh Morgan, and Aldrick Robinson. In zone coverage, DB's have their face to the LOS, and thus can react quickly to running plays, contributing in run support.
-As expected, against the Washington passing game, and playing with a lead, the Panthers got the most mileage out of the nickel defense; 47 snaps (Man: 4 & Zone: 43).
This number ballooned in the second half, as the Redskins were forced to throw the ball.
-The Defense played 20 snaps in the base 4-3, all of which came in zone coverage.
Likewise, this number tapered off in the second half.
-The 3-4 saw 9 snaps (Man: 4 & Zone: 5).
-Additionally, we saw one play in the 3-3-5, one in the 6-2, and one in the 3-2-6 (the final play), all of which came in zone coverage.
On both sides of the ball, the Panthers Game-plan was relatively simple, yet effective. On Defense, the Staff wanted to limit the Redskins running game, dedicating eight men to the box, and lining up almost exclusively in zone defense. On first down the Panthers lined up in a base defense, either the 43 or the 34, sneaking Charles Godfrey into the box to combat Washington's multifaceted running attack. This was a calculated risk, as on a couple of occasions Robert Griffin III was able to take advantage of the 8 man boxes and find a WR for a sizable gain.
The Panthers were mildly successful at keeping the Redskins in third and long/medium, however, far too often Alfred Morris, or Robert Griffin III were able to pick up key first downs.
However, much of the Defensive success was a direct result of the pass rush generated by the Defensive Line, especially Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, who as of late, have been on a tear. Coach McDermott did not send many blitzes, and was able to drop 7 men into coverage for much of the second half. Without the success of the pass rush, it is doubtful that the outcome of the game remains the same.
In a positive correlation to the success of the Defensive Line, the Panthers CB's, namely Josh Norman and Josh Thomas, had a positive day. I'm not convinced that the light has completely turned on for Norman, however, he has shown signs of improvement from the beginning of the season. Though he'll likely have his toughest matchup of the season next week facing, Peyton Manning, Eric Decker, and Demaryius Thomas.
On Offense, Coach Chudzinski sought to establish the running game early on, while attacking the sidelines with out routes and curls, keeping Washington from crowding the LOS. The Offense's bread and butter came in shotgun sweeps, where the Panthers were able to put blockers in space, and get to the edge before the Redskins Front 7, resulting in solid gains. And just as last week, the push from traditional, under center, sets was atrocious.
When the pressure became inundating, or on obvious passing downs, the Panthers kept one or two extra blockers in to give Cam ample time to find his targets. And when Washington presented the opportunities, the Panthers made deep passes down the field, gashing the Redskins' DB's.
The only real change over the past two/three weeks has been a reduction in the use of the read option, a slight uptake in constraint plays, like screens, and an increase in 12 personnel. We haven't seen any monumental changes in offensive philosophy, or different plays being called. What we have seen is better execution.
Looking Forward to Next Week:
This one could be a doozy. The Broncos Offense is clicking under Peyton Manning, dicing opponents with the intermediate passing game, and dealing deathblows with deep bombs, while the running game is still going strong with Willis McGahee. The Broncos will likely set the tone, and I suspect we will see a lot of nickel defense. The only prayer I see for the Panthers' Defense is the pass rush; if the front four can get to Manning quickly, it will alleviate pressure from Norman, Munnerlyn, Thomas, etc...
The Broncos pass rush is solid as well, with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil rushing the edges, and Hall of Famer Champ Bailey covering the secondary. If the Defense can keep the score close into the second half, the Panthers should be able to establish their running game, opening up passing lanes for Newton. If the game becomes a blow out, I expect the running game to be discarded.