The Carolina Panthers entered Week 16 on a hot streak, winning three of their last four games, with Cam Newton playing incredible football. And while it wasn't beautiful, the Panthers continued their hot streak, defeating the Raiders 17-6.
An extremely weak Offensive Line posed problems for Offensive Coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who was without regulars Amini Silatolu and Geoff Hangartner. Pressed into duty were Thomas Austin, Jeff Byers, Bruce Campbell, and Garry Williams. Consequently, the Panthers were not able to enjoy many of the same successes we had seen in recent weeks.
On the other hand, the Defense was spectacular. The Oakland running game was never able to gather any steam, Matt Leinart was under consistent pressure, and package player Terrelle Pryor was unable to provide a serious spark. Luke Kuechly played a masterful game in the middle, sniffing out runs, hitting holes, and reading the QB.
-The Offense was on the field for 56 plays (not counting three kneel downs).
-There was a significant shift in favor of the passing game: 36 passes and 20 runs.
Despite this, Cam had his second least amount of passing yards this season (140 yards against Seattle). I suspect that the weakness of the Offensive Line was to blame.
-The Panthers ran 32 plays out of 11 personnel (22 passes & 10 runs).
-Coach Chudzinski called 16 plays out 12 personnel (11 passes & 5 runs).
-The Offense only spent 3 snaps in 21 personnel (2 passes & 1 run). Similarly, 3 downs were spent in 22 personnel (1 pass & 2 runs).
-One snap was spent in both 13 personnel (a run) and 31 personnel (a pass), the Inverted T formation.
-On first down the Panthers passed the ball 4 times and ran the ball 9 times.
-In the traditional, under center, running game, the Panthers accrued 10 yards on 6 attempts (1.67 yards per carry).
As a byproduct of the quality of Offensive Line, the Panthers could not pick up the tough yards in power formations.
-The Offense amassed 43 yards on 6 attempts (7.16 yards per carry) in the various option attacks.
-The Panthers did not do a great job at staying out of third down and long (3rd & 7+). The Panthers had 6 attempts at third down and long, only converting two, both of which were Oakland personal foul calls.
-The Defense played 61 snaps on Sunday.
-The Panthers played 7 snaps in man coverage and 54 snaps in zone coverage.
-The Panthers spent 26 snaps in nickel defense (4-2-5) (Man: 3 & Zone: 23).
-25 downs were spent in the base 4-3 (Man: 1 & Zone: 24).
-The Defense played 8 snaps in the 3-4 (Man: 3 & Zone: 5).
-2 snaps were played in the 3-3-5 (zone coverages).
On Offense the Panthers were especially hamstrung with the injury to Amini Silatolu, weakening the Offensive Line even further. Even still, the Offense predominantly ran the ball on first down, in an attempt to create more manageable down and distance scenarios.
With the patchwork line, Oakland brought more pressure on stunts and blitzes, forcing the Panthers to stick with quick drops in the passing game, looking for short/intermediate routes. Without a powerful running game, the Panthers could not look deep; even while Oakland baited the Offense with one deep safety looks, Cam did not get suckered into looking for the dagger, instead being content with the comeback routes and skinny posts.
Despite the pressure, Newton did a very good job at avoiding the blitzers, stepping both outside the pocket, and up into the pocket when necessary, dispatching the ball appropriately, only taking one sack (technically) on the day.
Like a few teams we've seen recently, the Raiders were playing with fire against Cam, showing a lot of man coverage. Against man coverage, a Defense is especially vulnerable to scrambling; when Cam breaks containment, there likely isn't another defender within 10-15 yards, opening room for a big play.
Defensively, the Panthers almost played a perfect game. The game almost followed a formulaic pattern for the Defense. On first down the Panthers primarily played in a seven man front (the 3-4 or 4-3), curtailing the Raiders running efforts. Second down too brought show of a seven man front. If successful, (which they were) the Panthers would then have placed the Raiders into third and long, prompting the presence of the nickel defense.
Coach McDermott primarily kept his DB's in zone coverage, with their face to the play, allowing them to play a factor in run support.
With Carson Palmer out of commission, the Panthers were free to bring DJ Campbell or Charles Godfrey into the box, selling out for the run. The Panthers were able to hold the edges against Oakland, disallowing speed rushers Mike Goodson and Darren McFadden from reaching the edge unabated. Similarly, the Panthers' Front Seven showed great discipline against the zone blocking scheme, with each player keeping to his assignment, clogging the running lanes, and allowing the LB's, namely Kuechly, to shoot through gaps.
The pass rush was especially successful, not necessarily picking up the sacks that we had seen in previous weeks, but forcing Matt Leinart to disperse with the ball quickly, and tampering with his internal clock.
The Defense especially buckled down in the red zone: despite three trips inside the Panthers' twenty yard line, (one of which was induced by Newton's interception), the Raiders only came away with 6 points.
Overall, this wasn't a pretty win, but it was hard fought, and well earned by the Carolina Panthers.
Looking to Next Week:
The 2012 Panthers get one last look next week, facing off against New Orleans. This is a game that is wholly winnable for Carolina, provided that we see the quality of execution that has marked the last few weeks.
The pass rush will need to harry Drew Brees, and muddle the pocket; if Brees is given even a few seconds, there is no doubt that he will torch James Dockery, Josh Thomas, and DJ Campbell. Likewise, the Defense will need to retrench the Saints' running game, by extension allowing for additional pressure in the pass rush. I'd expect a lot of 3-4 looks.
Offensively, it looks like the Panthers will be without Silatolu, however, this coincides with a possible return for Geoff Hangartner. The Panthers had a lot of success with the read option against New Orleans; that will likely a point of concern for the Saints. As such, the Offense might look to exploit this with play action. With this being the final game, look for the Staff to empty the bag of tricks next Sunday.