The Panthers' performance Sunday was not pretty, nor efficient. The offense struggled to move the ball with consistency, while the defense could not contain the Buccaneers running game or receivers for a long stretch of time. A majority of the Panthers offensive woes stem from the ineffectual play of the offensive line; the Bucs front seven blitzed often, and was able to befuddle the lineman, using stunts or zone blitzes. Meanwhile, on many plays the Panthers front seven were pushed out of their gaps, and/or were not able to shed blocks quickly enough to prevent Doug Martin from picking up 5, 6, or 7 yard gains.
As many fans and few analysts already know, the Panthers abandoned the running game far too early, and it had near dire consequences for the panthers offense. The defense on the other hand was unable to stop the Buccaneers from picking up big gains on short passes over the middle or on the sidelines due to deep zones and read routes by the Tampa WR's.
-The Panthers only ran 49 plays on offense, well short of a target 60
-OC Rob Chudzinski called 38 passes (78%) and 11 runs (22%)
As noted, the Panthers abandoned the running game after a few discouraging option attempts. Tampa Bay did place eight men in the box frequently, this compounded with ineffectiveness of the offensive line spelled doom for the Panthers running game. Yet, even if it had been ineffective, the running game would have decelerated the Tampa blitzes, and given the Defense more time to recuperate.
-On first down, the Panthers passed the ball 10 times (77%), running the ball on 3 snaps (23%)
-Predictably, the most popular personnel grouping was 11 personnel; the Panthers ran 39 plays out of 11 personnel (80%) (33 passes; 6 runs)
Sunday showed an unhealthy dependence on the 11 personnel formation. This includes a new formation in which Kealoha Pilares lined up at RB, while Mike Tolbert split out wide. Going forward, this might be one formation to watch.
-The Offense ran 7 plays out of 12 personnel (14%) (3 passes; 4 runs).
This was the biggest halftime adjustment the Panthers offense made. On several occasions, the Panthers opted to bring in Ben Hartsock as a sixth and sometimes seventh blocker on both runs and passes.
-On only three downs did the Panthers utilize 21 personnel (6%) (2 passes; 1 run).
The Panthers have invested big bucks in the RB position, yet for the majority of the game, they opted to keep only one back in at a time.
-The Defense was on the field for 63 snaps (discounting three kneel downs).
-On nearly every third down and long (3rd & 7+), the Defense lined up in a Nickel Defense with zone coverage. Three of the Panthers six blitzes came on third down and long.
-After Tampa achieved a first down, the Defense lined up in a base defense 15 times out of 17 (88%)
-The Defense was arrayed in zone coverage 51 times (81%); man coverage 12 times (19%)
-The Panthers lined up in a 4-3 Defense on 24 snaps (38%) (Man: 5 downs; Zone: 19 downs).
-In a new wrinkle, the Panthers lined up in a 3-4 Defense for 17 plays (27%) (Man: 4 snaps; Zone: 13 snaps).
-Nickel Defense (4-2-5) was employed on 20 downs (32%) (Man: 3 plays; Zone: 17 plays).
-On two goal line plays, the Panthers were aligned in a 5-3.
"Everybody has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth." - Mike Tyson
The Panthers Offense wanted to set the tone through the air, exploiting the Buccaneers weak/inexperienced secondary, however, the Offensive Line was largely unable to keep the pocket clean for Cam, and subsequently he was unable to find mismatches brought on by Tampa's blitzers. Because of the constant passing on first down, the Panthers often put themselves into 2nd/3rd and long.
Due to the press man coverage that the Buccaneers employ, the Panthers WR's/TE's ran many curl routes (5/6 routes) and other routes to the sideline to gain separation. The Buccaneers often dropped a Safety in the box, making running the ball an even tougher challenge, but it did leave some favorable match-ups in the back end, however, these were often Cam's auxiliary reads, and with limited time in the pocket, Cam was unable to find them. Once apparent that the Bucs Front Seven was overwhelming the Offensive Line, Chud employed more 12 personnel in order to give the Panthers 6-7 blockers. The lack of balance (blazoned by a 19:4 pass run ratio to start the third quarter), and the impotency of the Offensive Line allowed for the Panthers Offense to be thrown out of sync.
Defensively, the Panthers seemingly wanted to limit the Buccaneers on first down, lining up in a base defense to negate the Bucs running game. However, instead of keeping the Buccaneers in 2nd and 7+, Martin/Freeman were able to pick up 5-6 yards on first down, making second and third down much more manageable. In addition, the Coaching Staff wanted to utilize zone coverage, so as to prevent the Bucs WR's from taking advantage of any one member of the secondary.
However, with the Giants/Erhardt-Perkins Offense, the WR's and QB read each coverage, allowing them to find the holes in each zone, exploiting them before the DB's/LB's could close the coverage. The Base Defense was quite balanced as the Panthers aligned in the 3-4 roughly 25% of snaps, in comparison to approximately 38% of downs of the base 4-3. The Panthers wanted to overwhelm the Bucs O-Line, not allowing them to get a fixture on one man, varying the rushes, and alignments.
Additionally, the Staff wanted to bring pressure on 3rd and long, to pressure Freeman into making an incorrect read. However, in the first half the Defense was caught on its heels, unable to risk sending blitzes. Yet in the second half the Defense stabilized, and was able to bring pressure, and hold the Buccaneers to a minute three points.
Looking to Next Week:
I think we'll see a return to the run game against the Saints. Spagnuolo doesn't bring many big blitzes, however, with the safeties playing closer to the line, expect to see some deep shots to Steve Smith and Louis Murphy.
Defensively, I don't know if the Defensive Coaching Staff will be willingly to blitz Drew Brees' Offense, however, one to two good stops could coax audacity out from the Defense. Again, we will likely see more zone coverage.