The 2012 season was filled with highs and lows, as the Panthers battled through a series of debilitating losses, to conclude the season by winning five of their final six games, ultimately finishing with a 7-9 record.
In contrast to 2011, for much of this season it was the Defense that propped up the Offense, picking up the slack, and keeping the team competitive in multiple games. A large catalyst for the defensive surge was the pass rush provided by the Panthers front four. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy were stellar rushing the edges, while Frank Alexander provided solid pressure coming off of the bench; Dwan Edwards was competent at collapsing the pocket.
Without solid depth behind those guys however, they were called on to play high snap counts, sapping the energy of our pass rush, and exposing the fledgling secondary, leading to a few defensive collapses.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Panthers had a tough time moving the ball this season, which resulted in numerous three-and-outs, and stalled drives. In my opinion, this was almost entirely to do with the decline of the offensive line; as was evident throughout the year, the Panthers Offensive Line could not generate a push on the LOS. The degeneration of the running game led to unfavorable down distance scenarios (3rd & 7+, 2nd & 11, etc...), which in turn led to more punts, and three-and-outs.
Even still, the Panthers were only five or so plays away from a playoff birth.
The Raw Numbers:
(Note: these numbers are all my own findings) Besides some sets of stats is a comparative stat from the 2011 season, courtesy of Football Outsiders.
-The Panthers ran 991 plays on Offense.
-The Panthers called 582 passing plays (59% of total snaps), and 409 running plays (41% of total snaps) [2011: 56% pass; 44% run].
-The Offense ran 574 plays out of 11 personnel (58% of all snaps) [2011: 48% of all snaps]: 393 passes (69% of 11 personnel snaps) & 181 runs (31% of 11 personnel snaps) [2011: 76% pass; 24% run].
-The Offense played 208 snaps in 12 personnel (21% of all snaps) [2011: 23% of all snaps]: 107 passes (51% of 12 personnel snaps) & 101 runs (49% of 12 personnel snaps) [2011: 58% pass; 42% run].
-Coach Chudzinski called 128 plays out of 21 personnel (13% of all snaps) [2011: 15% of all snaps]: 65 passes (51% of all 21 personnel snaps) & 63 runs (49% of all 21 personnel snaps) [2011: 43% pass; 57% run].
-22 personnel (44 snaps: 9 passes & 35 runs), 23 personnel (12 snaps: 1 pass & 11 runs), 13 personnel (11 snaps: 1 pass & 10 runs), 31 personnel (9 snaps: 5 passes & 4 runs),14 personnel (3 snaps: 1 pass & 2 runs), and 01 personnel (2 snaps: 0 passes & 2 runs) accounted for the remaining 8% of the offense.
-On first down, the Panthers passed the ball 130 times (50% of first downs) and ran 128 running plays (50% of first downs).
Before the season I erroneously predicted that the Panthers would shy away from 11 personnel in favor of more 21 personnel looks. Not only did the Panthers run more plays out of 11 personnel, but they slightly reduced their use of 21 personnel.
This statistic is in accordance with the trajectory of the Offense; as the team fell behind, they turned to 11 personnel, which is currently the most popular personnel grouping in the league, as the primary passing grouping. As is mentioned above, the impotence of the traditional/under center running game, which was primarily run from 21 and 12 personnel looks, led to an increase in obvious passing downs (third down and long).
The run to pass ratio looks fairly unbalanced at first glance, however keep in mind that the Panthers almost exclusively passed the ball (from 11 personnel) during two-minute drills, and late game deficits; if you remove even 30 passes, the ratio shifts to 55:45 pass to run. It is unlikely that the Panthers went into the season with an unbalanced game-plan in mind, in-game circumstances prompted the shift towards the passing game.
The pass to run ratio was incredibly balanced in both 12 and 21 personnel groupings; the Offensive Coaching Staff did a good job mixing up formations, preventing any grouping from becoming stale. As a result we saw many different players, including Mike Tolbert, Greg Olsen, Gary Barnidge, Ben Hartsock, Kealoha Pilares, and Brandon Lafell, used effectively in unorthodox alignments. Even our 11 personnel attack was more balanced in 2012 than it was in 2011.
-The Panthers Defense played 1,021 snaps.
-The Panthers played man coverage on 210 snaps (21% of all defensive snaps), and zone coverage on 811 snaps (79% of all defensive snaps).
-The Defense spent 516 snaps in the nickel defense (4-2-5) (51% of all defensive snaps); Man: 71 (14%); Zone: 445 (86%) .
-Coach McDermott called 309 snaps in the 4-3 (30% of all defensive snaps): Man: 80 (26%); Zone: 229 (74%).
-The Defense played 143 snaps in the 3-4 (14% of all defensive snaps): Man: 35 (25%); Zone: 108 (75%).
-The remaining 5% of all defensive snaps were spent in the 3-3-5 (3%; 35 snaps; Man: 7; Zone: 28), and various dime and goal-line packages.
The Defense played a lot of snaps in the nickel as a result of the success found in early down run defense. For much of the season, the Panthers were able to stack up against the run on first and second downs, preventing opponents from monopolizing the down and distance scenarios, and grinding them into obvious passing downs. This opened the door for the pass rush. In the same mold, the Panthers often utilized the 3-4 on first downs against teams relatively unfamiliar with the 3-4.