The Panthers entered this game with several key contributors out nursing injuries, including the likes of Dwan Edwards, Brandon Lafell, Charles Godfrey, and Brandon Lafell. However, the reserves who stepped into their spots were able to adequately fill the gap.
For most of the game, the Panthers put together a complete performance, leading to a victory against the Atlanta Falcons. Offensively, Carolina was able to move the ball both on the ground, and through the air -- sustaining early drives and scoring points. Defensively, the Panthers were able to shut down the Falcons ground game, and limit Atlanta's aerial successes (in part thanks to the Panthers' pass rush).
The Raw Numbers:
-The Panthers ran 69 offensive plays. (Including two kneel downs.)
-The Offensive tilt was in favor of the passing game this week: 27 runs & 40 passes.
-Coach Chudzinski called 35 plays from 11 personnel: 25 passes & 10 runs.
-The Panthers spent 16 snaps in 12 personnel: 8 passes & 8 runs.
-The Offense spent 10 snaps in 21 personnel: 5 passes & 5 runs.
-Additionally, the Panthers had two snaps in both 22 personnel and 13 personnel (all runs).
-Coach Chudzinski called two plays from 31 personnel, the inverted T formation, oddly enough, both were passes.
(Both plays were long routes in the third quarter, one Steve Smith 7 route [+16 yards], and a Greg Olsen 8 route [+18 yards]. Obviously the LBs/Ss hesitated seeing the inverted T play action look, enabling Cam to look deep.)
-The Read Option and it's variants had a smashing day, 7 rushes for 90 yards. 72 of those yards came on Cam Newton's TD run.
-The under-center running game was less successful; 13 rushes for 34 yards.
-On first down, Coach Chudzinski called 8 passes and 10 runs.
-The Panthers were largely successful at staying away from third down and long (3rd & 7+): Only 5 plays, three of which were converted (60%), one being on penalty, one being a Cam Newton scramble, and the other coming on a Steve Smith 19 yard reception.
-The Defense was on the field for 63 plays, 50 of which came in the second half.
The Panthers Defense were insanely successful in the first half, only allowing the Falcons 13 first half plays.
-The Defense played 9 snaps in man coverage and 54 snaps in zone defense.
-Largely due to circumstance, the Panthers played 50 snaps in nickel defense (4-2-5) (Man: 7 & Zone: 43).
-The Panthers only spent 5 snaps in the base 4-3 (Man: 1 & Zone: 4).
-The Defense played 3 snaps in the 3-4 (Man: 0 & Zone: 3).
-4 snaps were spent in the 3-3-5 (Man: 1 & Zone: 3).
On offense the Panthers were able to establish the run early on, mixing in play action to help open the passing game. By making positive plays on first and second down, the Panthers were able to move the ball consistently, sustain drives, and move into scoring position.
Cam Newton and the Panthers' Offense were able to reel the Atlanta safeties down with a bevy of runs and intermediate throws, engendering favorable match ups in the deep passing game, leading to the Greg Olsen TD and numerous other big plays. Had it not been for two errant throws, the score would likely have been 24-0 heading into halftime.
No matter what we think, as fans, the game is never quite as simple as it appears. A great deal of strategy goes into calling an offense/defense. Here's just a small example of the game within the game:
Within the first two series (27 plays), Coach Chudzinski called four plays from 21 personnel, all of which were runs; when Mike Tolbert entered the game, it was intimating toward a run play.
The Panthers opened their third offensive series with a look of 21 personnel out of an I-weak formation. Cam Newton took the snap, dropped back, faked a hand-off, and was able to find Steve Smith downfield for a 20 yard gain on a post route. The next play the offense again lined up in 21 personnel, aligned in the I-formation, with Newton taking the snap dropping back and finding Smith again, this time for a 10 yard gain on a comeback route. All of sudden, within two plays, the Panthers had moved the ball into Atlanta territory, nearing field goal range.
While fans may be looking at the big picture of a game, the coaches and players are playing multiple games within the game, always looking to best their opposite numbers. A tip of the hat to OC Rob Chudzinski and the Offensive Coaching Staff for engineering an excellent game plan, and winning the games winning the game, as well as the players for executing their assignments.
In a contrast from last week, the Panthers were able to dominate the time of possession, especially in the first half.
Defensively, the Panthers looked to shut down the Falcons running game by loading the box with seven men fronts, such as the 3-4 and the 4-3. These looks were very successful, and in symbiosis with Carolina's offensive success, convinced Dirk Koetter to abandon the running game.
As a result of the Falcons chasing the Panthers offense, for much of the game the defense played in nickel defense. However, it may have been a part of the Panthers' game plan to switch to nickel defense whenever applicable, substituting OLB Jason Phillips, for CB Captain Munnerlyn, a much more accomplished player in pass coverage.
For much of the first half, and the beginning of the second half, the Panthers' pass rush was able to harry Matt Ryan, forcing inadvisable throws, and hurried decisions, minimizing the damage done by the Falcons' Offense.
Looking to Next Week:
San Diego is an unfamiliar opponent for this Panthers team, having changed fundamentally since Rivera and Co. left in 2010. That being said, I don't know what to expect; the team that beat the 11-2 Atlanta Falcons soundly, or the team that couldn't eek out a win against Kansas City.
San Diego has some talent on Offense, however, their Offensive Line has left much to be desired. I'd expect to see a similar game plan as to what we saw against Atlanta: shut down the run on first down, and force Phillip Rivers into unfavorable down and distance scenarios; drop 7 -- rush 4.
Offensively, the Panthers need to establish some sort of running game early on in order to maintain drives and open up the deep passing game. San Diego has not had very much experience defending against an option attack, I'd expect to see some read option looks early on.