"I'm proud of you fellas. You all kept your head on a swivel, and that's what you gotta do when you find yourself in a vicious cockfight."
In sixty minutes, both teams, on a total of 25 drives, combined for just one touchdown and one trip into the red zone. The Panthers scored that touchdown, and won the football game. Defensive struggle. Battle in the trenches. Sacks. Costly turnovers. America. Third down efficiency. Depth.
Following their trend, the Panthers were comparatively dominant on third down, converting 7/17 third downs while allowing the NIners a conversion rate of 2/13 on third down.
On the whole, Carolina called a fairly balanced game on offense, with the run-pass ratio standing at 29:35. However, the Panthers were fairly unbalanced in their personnel usage, with 11 personnel being primarily used to pass, and just about every other grouping, to run.
For the first time in a couple weeks Carolina ran a play out of 01 personnel, with WR Brandon Lafell initially aligned in the backfield before motioning into the slot. This caused San Fran to designate a LB to cover Lafell in man coverage. Additionally Coach Shula has called a couple of runs from 13 personnel over the last few weeks, usually in which the Panthers line up with an unbalanced line, Ben Hartsock at RT, and Jordan Gross at TE.
|Personnel||1st half||2nd half|
By and large, Carolina wanted to spread the 49ers defense out, with even some of their 12 and 21 personnel alignments spreading the field.
The read option, statistically, had a solid day; nine rushes for 65-yards. Breaking it down further, the Panthers made an attempt to establish the read option early on, with seven rushes in the first half, gaining 43-yards. But if you remove DeAngelo Williams' 27-yard touchdown run, which occurred late in the half, Carolina was left with six rushes for 16-yards. Most of the early read option plays called were simple outside zone reads, which the San Fran OLB's, namely Ahmad Brooks, were adept at stopping, muddling the read for Newton. Although, we did see Offensive Coordinator Shula mix it up, reaching back in the playbook for DeAngelo Williams' TD, which was the pseudo-counter triple option that we saw a lot of in Weeks 1 and 2, also being the play which Williams' fumbled inside the ten-yard line Week 1 versus Seattle. Furthermore, in the second half, Shula called the shovel pass option, not seen since Week 6 against Minnesota, which picked up a gain of 17-yards. Odds are that the 49ers didn't spend much, if any time, looking at these wrinkles in their film analysis.
In contrast to Carolina's strategy, the 49ers Coaches kept their offense primarily in heavy personnel groupings, 22, 21, 13, etc. This left the Panthers defense to spend much of their time in the 4-3. Surprisingly, given the score of the game, San Francisco followed the suit of Carolina's previous opponents, sparsely running the ball in the second half. In comparison to 13 called run in the first half, the 49ers ran the ball just six times in the third and fourth quarters. Unlike the Panthers previous opponents though, I think the 49ers decision to run the ball less in the second half had to do with a general lack of opportunity, as San Francisco only ran 21 total plays in the second half. The Panthers defense did a phenomenal job of forcing the Niners into three-and-outs and stalled drives.
Through nine games this year, only three teams have run the ball more than 20 times against the Carolina defense (Seattle, Buffalo, and Arizona). In those games the Panthers are 0-3, although correlation does not prove causation. If an opponent can keep the Panthers offense in check, and stays with the run game, they have got a very good shot at beating Carolina.
|Fronts & coverage||1st half||2nd half|
Late in the first half Cam Newton was 2/10 passing. Initially it wasn't mechanical flaw, but similar to last week's tilt versus Atlanta, Newton was a little anxious, resulting in a couple of errant overthrows.
Here Newton's target is Ted Ginn who will run a 5-route.
Ginn gets great separation, and Newton does a fantastic job with his post-snap reads identifying San Fran's Cover 3, and shifting over to Ginn.
Finishing his drop, Newton makes the throw to Ginn. The only mechanical question mark for me is Newton's release point, which is way over his head. Otherwise, everything looks good.
The QB is able to step into his throw.
But the ball sails way over the open WR's outstretched hands.
That incompletion results in a third down and fifteen. One area we know Newton has been working on has been his mental state. Quarterbacks can't let previous failures affect their composure and actions on the field. The Panthers QB has made big steps, but here we see his frustrations get the better of him. San Francisco is leading 6-0, and thus far the Panthers offense had done very little. Stuck in 3rd & 15 around midfield Carolina needs a first down, or just about 10 yards to get Graham Gano into acceptable field goal range.
From 01 personnel Cam has two deep options, Ginn and Smith on 9-routes, with Hixon, Olsen, and Lafell running curls. If the deep options aren't open, Newton needs to hit one of his auxiliary targets.
Newton initially looks to Ginn, and shrewdly decides to hold onto the ball.
The QB then summarily glides his gaze across the field, looking for Smith with the pocket collapsing. The problem here is both mechanical and mental. Whereas Newton's eyes are on Smith at the far sideline, his shoulder blades are pointed in the direction of TE Greg Olsen. Smith isn't open; the Niners Cover 3 has a man underneath and overtop Smith; Cam should not be going his direction.
Rather than looking to Brandon Lafell in the slot, who at the bare minimum has 10 yards, beating Patrick Willis in coverage, Newton forces the pass to Smith. To make matters worse, OLB Ahmad Brooks prevents Newton from stepping into his ill-advised throw. Aiya.
The result? The ball doesn't get close to Smith, and the 49ers DB, Brock makes a nice catch, intercepting the ball, returning it to the Carolina 24-yard line.
We now look at Newton's next pass, on the subsequent Carolina drive, a 3rd down & 7.
With the game now a two-score affair, and faced with a third-down and long, the pressure on Newton is high.
Newton drops back, and reads the safeties. The pocket has cleared very nicely.
Unlike his opposite number, Newton climbs the ladder, stepping into the pocket, and finds Lafell crossing through the Niners zone.
Delivering a side arm throw, Newton hits Lafell for a gain of 17-yards, moving the chains. This would spur the Panthers sole touchdown drive for the game. Not letting the spectacular failure affect him moving forward, Newton calmed down and would finish the game on 14/22 passing, depreciated by a couple of drops in the second half.
Changing gears, I don't think RB Jonathan Stewart, who has only played in two games this season, is up to speed yet.
Here in the fourth quarter the Panthers run lead power from 12 personnel. RG Nate Chandler pulls with TE Greg Olsen the lead blocker.
As Stewart takes the handoff, it is apparent that there is nothing to be had following Olsen. However, the blocking has provided a nice cutback lane. Not a 20-yard play to be sure, there is still the opportunity to gain at least 4-5 yards.
A head-scratching decision, Stewart decides to disobey the blocking and bounce the run further outside, ignoring Byron Bell and Ryan Kalil's seal blocks, and run towards the two SF defenders with leverage.
Unsurprisingly Stewart is gang tackled as soon as he makes it outside.
It's been awhile since Stewart has been playing full contact games. He needs some time to reacclimate.
Now here's a look at San Francisco's fourth quarter sack of Newton.
Like Carolina, San Francisco does not blitz very often. Here they do. Lafell and TE Ben Hartsock identify the blitzing DB off screen. Kalil/Newton alters the protection scheme, shifting to the line to the right, so as to accommodate for the blitzing DB. RT Byron Bell will swing out to block the DB, which leaves RG Nate Chandler to pick up OLB Ahmad Brooks, while Kalil will slide over to block the 5-tech over Bell.
Chandler erroneously sticks with the 5-tech, which leaves Brooks unblocked into the backfield. The RG sees Brooks move past him and attempts to slow him down, but is no position to do so.
Newton is leveled.
Chandler doesn't surrender the sack with poor play, rather by not understanding the protection scheme. This is fairly natural. The RG being in only his second game ever at guard, during his first ever season on the offensive line. Errors such as these will diminish as Chandler has more time at guard.