Breaking down the data: Patriots vs. Panthers

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Numbers and pictures from Carolina's win over New England

On a night where none of their three backs would top twenty-yards rushing, and none of their receivers 65-yards receiving, Cam Newton and the Panthers offense were able to lead Carolina to victory. Pitted against the Patriots offense and Tom Brady, Carolina was once again able to win the third-down conversion rate, converting 8/11 third downs, in comparison to New England's 5/10. Similarly, the Panthers were much more efficient in the red zone, going 2/2 with TD's, while New England converted just 2/5.

Contrary to common expectation, the Patriots were able to have some success running the ball against the Carolina front seven, putting up 107-yards rushing, and accumulating more rushing yards than Carolina. This is just the second time all year that Carolina has been out-rushed (Buffalo being the first), and the third time all season, also the second week in a row, that the Panthers have surrendered over 100-yards rushing. Largely on the effort of Cam Newton's scrambles, Carolina was able to pass the century mark, but the ground game struggled.

The Numbers

It wasn't the balanced effort that we had seen in the Panthers past victories, but Carolina's offense, without sustained success on the ground, was able to move the ball all game, behind a 19:33 run-pass ratio. Unsurprisingly, Coach Shula & Co. leaned on 11 personnel to get the job done. It was very interesting to see New England matchup with the Panthers 3 WR sets. So sold on shutting down the running game, the Patriots stayed in their base 3-4 defense even as Carolina utilized spread formations. This led to DE/OLB Rob Ninkovich covering WR Brandon Lafell a few times. On the day, the Panthers didn't see many eight-man fronts, but they were seeing seven-man fronts consistently.

Personnel Runs Passes Total
11 3 20 23 (44%)
12 9 7 16 (31%)
21 4 5 9 (17%)
13 2 1 3 (6%)
23 1 0 1 (2%)

Other than the complete imbalance in 11 personnel, the Panthers were relatively equitable within their personnel groupings. Complying with the next-man-up mantra, Richie Brockel was essentially asked to fill the injured Ben Hartsock's role. As such, Carolina ran most often out of bunch sets from multiple-TE groupings. Even in pass protection, Brockel was assigned to block DE/OLB's without any help, and predictably struggled.

Personnel 1st half 2nd half
11 pass 8 12
11 run 2 1
12 pass 3 4
12 run 4 5
21 pass 3 2
21 run 3 1
13 pass 0 1
13 run 1 1
23 pass 0 0
23 run 0 1

Primarily run from 11 personnel, facing those seven-man fronts, the read option plays struggled, in total accruing 18-yards on six attempts. If you remove Newton's scrambling from the overall total, it's fairly indicative of the running game's overall success. The Patriots played the two triple option plays perfectly, forcing a give read to the dive man on the first, and assigning a DB to cover the pitch man, DeAngelo Williams, on the other, compelling Newton to keep the ball for a marginal gain.

For the third consecutive week there hasn't been a play out of 31 personnel, although we did see one play from the inverted bone formation. In general the personnel groupings were fairly homogenized, but I suppose that's whats to be expected with Newton playing so well from the bread and butter.

On the defensive side of the ball Carolina faced their most balanced opponent in weeks. The Patriots would run the ball 24 times, 12 in the first half, 12 in the second half. The New England success running the football came in large part because of sloppy play; missed tackles and poor gap discipline. A lineman would try to do too much, penetrate into the backfield, and leave his gap unoccupied, or a corner would drift into the box as a run developed, losing the outside contain. One thing that the Patriots did do successfully was single block NT Colin Cole, and then release the other OG/OC to neutralize one of the Panthers LB's.

Front 1st half 2nd half Total
4-3 6 12 18
3-4 4 4 8
4-2-5 20 9 29

After using spread and light personnel groupings in the first half, the Patriots went heavy in the second, using a lot of multi-TE sets. The nickel numbers were also inflated in the second half by the last New England drive.

Front & Coverage 1st half 2nd half Total
4-3 Man 1 1 2
4-3 Zone 0 4 4
3-4 Man 0 1 1
3-4 Zone 3 2 5
4-2-5 Man 2 5 7
4-2-5 Zone 12 10 22

Not very much man coverage. Even with the Patriots youthful WR's, the defensive coaching staff did not want to leave Brady with man coverage all that often. And when they did go man coverage outside, there was almost always safety help for both corners overtop.

Jonathan Stewart still hasn't found his way back yet, and it's showing in the carry distribution. Last week Stewart received four carries to Williams' and Mike Tolbert's six each.


Here the Panthers are going to run an inside zone play, with Richie Brockel acting as the lead blocker.


One of the few times all night, the blocking is executed perfectly. Stewart has a great running lane, with blockers into the second level; and with Brandon Lafell, one of the better blocking WR's in the NFL, moving on the safety, the RB is potentially on his way to the end zone. This is exactly how it's drawn up on the chalk board.


Inexplicably, Stewart bounces the run outside, away from his blocking, and finds himself in a footrace with a gang of Patriots defenders yards behind the line of scrimmage.


Using his deceptive speed, Stewart is able to make it back to the line before being tackled.

Plays like these are incredibly disappointing. Without question Stewart is the third back right now, behind Williams and Tolbert.

I found it quizzical that Rob Gronkowski was practically held off the stat sheet in the first half, and for much of the game. Looking over the film, I expected to see some shrewd strategy from the Panthers defense that shutdown the league's premier tight end. However, to my surprise, Carolina didn't do much if anything special to Gronkowski, akin to the first half of the Atlanta game, in which Tony Gonzalez carried the Falcons offense down the field. Throughout the game there was a lot of Tampa 2 with Luke Kuechly underneath, and every now and again S Robert Lester would play man coverage on the All-Pro. It wasn't ground breaking, nor was it particularly effective; Tom Brady just wasn't looking his way in the first half, content with the matchups he saw elsewhere. New England, largely out of respect for the Panthers front four, and in response to the Carolina two-deep coverages, stuck with quick passes all night long, rarely turning deep.

Unquestionably, Cam Newton was the catalyst for the Panthers Offensive success, once more being Carolina's leading passer and rusher. The Panthers franchise quarterback has changed this season, improving over the last two months. Here's a play that I believe says a lot about Newton's progress, even if it's not a clear cut analysis.


In the first half, the Panthers are faced with third down and six. New England shows man coverage across the board, with two deep safeties.


The Patriots bring the house, blitzing seven rushers, and leaving four DB's in man coverage. As Newton finishes his drop he has a clean pocket. Lafell on the 9-route has beaten his man soundly; Ted Ginn has separation on his crossing route; Greg Olsen is in the process of beating the safety on his post pattern.


Newton decides to take off before the pressure gets there. If he instead steps up into the pocket, he has just about any of his targets to throw to for big gains.

With the DB's having their backs to the QB, and the front seven consumed with the blitz, Newton has a swath of open grass ahead of him, picking up 24-yards on the scramble.

Even though he passes up the potential big plays in the passing game, Newton promptly recognizes the coverage, assesses the situation in the pocket, and exploits the defense, not unlike a Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers. Especially on third down, Newton is developing into an assassin.

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