Breaking down the data: Falcons vs. Panthers

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Numbers and pictures from the Panthers victory against Atlanta.

Not the smooth sailing we had seen over the past month, Carolina was nonetheless able to blow out another divisional foe, pulling away after holding a one score lead in the fourth quarter, 17-10. The Panthers would finish the quarter with 17 unanswered points.

Over Rivera's tenure the Panthers had generally played Atlanta closely, even when being the massive underdog. The times they are a changin'. This rendition of the Panthers Falcons rivalry saw the largest margin of victory for either team since New Year's Day 2006, when Carolina beat Atlanta 44-11 in the Georgia Dome.

As Carolina looks to extend their winning streak, and make a playoff run, one thing that slightly concerns me is the allocation of playing time on the defensive line. Last week DT Star Lotulelei played 76% of the defensive snaps, while DE Greg Hardy led the pack with 78% of defensive snaps played. On the season, Hardy has played 81% of defensive snaps, Charles Johnson 79%, with Lotulelei tallying in at 61%. All three of those numbers are too high, if even by a small measure. Ideally, Hardy and Johnson would rack up 70-75% of snaps, especially with the quality play from the trio of Horton (who was inactivated in favor of Dwan Edwards last Sunday) Alexander, and Addison. Panthers fans have seen what happens when the pass rush disappears (re: 2012). And back in May, Coach Rivera stated that it would be optimal to keep Star at or around 50% of defensive snaps. With the proverbial 'rookie wall' on the horizon, I'm worried. Of course, with three high caliber players, it's tough to take them off the field, but at the halfway point in the season, and with a tougher stretch of opponents approaching, Carolina needs to be more prudent in their defensive substitutions.

The Numbers

Coach Shula and company flipped the tables against Atlanta, switching up a couple of tendencies they had shown over the last two weeks or so. Coinciding with the return of Jonathan Stewart, the Panthers ran significantly more out of 21 personnel, passing less. Additionally there was an increase in passing from 12 personnel, with a decline in running.

Personnel Runs Passes Total
11 9 19 28 (40%)
12 11 10 21 (30%)
21 8 6 14 (20%)
22 5 1 6 (9%)
23 1 0 1 (1%)

*Funny how that turned out; almost a 40-30-20-10 split.

The one pass ran from 22 personnel was Greg Olsen's 14-yard TD reception on fourth and one inside the red zone. Similarly, the majority of the plays run from 22 personnel occurred in the fourth quarter as Carolina was looking to kill the clock. The end of half two-minute drill did artificially inflate the ratio of passes in 11 personnel. Even still, there was an emphasis on passing from 11 personnel.

Personnel 1st half 2nd half
11 pass 15 4
11 run 2 5
12 pass 2 8
12 run 5 6
21 pass 2 4
21 run 4 4
22 pass 1 0
22 run 1 4
23 pass 0 0
23 run 1 0

The read option had a mediocre day against the Falcons, whom had previously struggled with Carolina's option attack. There were six attempts for 19 total yards (3.1 YPC). On the other hand, the Panthers were much more successful with their packaged plays.

Once again, Carolina controlled the clock, running 21 more plays than the Falcons (discounting spikes and kneel downs).

Front Total
4-3 13
3-4 3
4-2-5 20
3-3-5 1

Even though the Falcons spent a majority of their time in spread formations, they probably ran the most balanced game the Panthers have seen in the last quarter of the season.

Front and Coverage 1st half 2nd half
4-3 Man 0 1
4-3 Zone 3 0
3-4 Man 0 0
3-4 Zone 0 1
4-2-5 Man 3 2
4-2-5 Zone 7 10
3-3-5 Man 1 0
3-3-5 Zone 0 0

The Falcons put up 10 points in the first half, scoring the first touchdown that the Panthers have surrendered in the first half all season long. Atlanta's offensive success was largely built on the connection from Matt Ryan to Tony Gonzalez. The vested veteran shredded the Panthers coverage in the first half, accruing 6 receptions for 77 yards and 1 TD just in the first half.

To start the game, Carolina's primarily planned to play MLB Luke Kuechly in a Tampa 2 capacity against Gonzalez, keeping the second-year linebacker underneath the TE, with safety help overtop. This strategy did work when Matt Ryan made the very foolish decision to throw it into double coverage, resulting in a Kuechly interception. But other than that blemish, Gonzalez and Ryan were able to beat this coverage.

Tg1_medium

In the red zone, the Panthers will play Tampa 2 coverage, with Mikell and Mitchell each taking half of the field, and Kuechly charged with guarding the deep middle zone. Gonzalez runs a seam route, dissecting the safeties, which should leave him one on one with Kuechly.

Tg2_medium

The linebacker sticks with Gonzalez, but then Kuechly, who I think believes he has help overtop, cuts under Gonzalez's route.

Tg3_medium

With his back to the TE, Kuechly loses Gonzalez in space, and the hall-of-famer catches the uncontested TD.

The defensive coaching staff also matched Gonzalez up with individual safeties, in this play, rookie Robert Lester.

Tgrl1_medium

Lester is overtop Gonzalez in the slot, in man coverage with one high safety.

Tdrl2_medium

Lester attempts to jam the TE at the LOS, but is shoved aside. Gonzalez runs a 6-route, easily acquiring separation.

Tgrl3_medium

Gonzalez makes the reception and shakes off Lester's would be tackle for a 15-yard gain.

Moving him around the field, the Falcons also stacked Gonzalez in bunch formations a few times.

Tgz1_medium

Stacked up, Gonzalez will run another curl route. This time the Panthers are in Cover 3 to the left hand side of the field, leaving Drayton Florence in man coverage on an island to the right. Kuechly will be charged with the underneath coverage of the TE.

Tgz2_medium

The veteran finds the open hole in the zone, and Matt Ryan manipulates Kuechly with his eyes, moving the LB out of the passing lane before completing the pass to Gonzalez who rumbles for a 19-yard reception.

Clearly something had to change. Starting at 4:20 in the 2nd quarter, the Panthers tried something different, leaving LB Thomas Davis in man coverage on Gonzalez.

Tgtd_medium

Save for a few occasions, namely blitzes, Thomas Davis followed Gonzalez's alignment, playing man coverage on the TE, independent of the rest of the coverage.

Tgtd1_medium

Here in the fourth quarter Davis is matched up overtop of Gonzalez.

Tgtd2_medium

Gonzalez is running an out route, Davis jams him at the point of attack, slowing Gonzalez down slightly.

Tgtd3_medium

Davis sticks with Gonzalez. Ryan briefly looks to the TE, but the collapsing pocket forces him to check down the pass.

In man coverage against Gonzalez, Davis surrendered just one catch, in the first half, for 14-yards, a play in which Gonzalez did a fantastic job adjusting for a poorly thrown ball from Ryan. In fact, Gonzalez was nearly held without a reception, or even a target for the entire second half, picking up just a four yard catch in the final minute of the game, against AJ Klein, Jordan Senn, and the Panthers prevent defense.

Quizzically, it wasn't just Davis who held Gonzalez in check; the Falcons more or less neutralized their own TE. In the first half, Gonzalez ran a total of 12 routes with an average depth (I'm counting the stem of the route) of 8.33 yards past the line of scrimmage. But in the second half, with the score close for much of the half, Gonzalez ran only six routes, with an average depth of just 5.83 yards. Whereas just two of his 12 routes in the first half had depths of less than five yards, three of his six second half routes had depths of less than five yards. Perhaps they were worried about the Panthers pass rush? Carolina had one sack all day, and it came late in the fourth quarter. Atlanta made Gonzalez a secondary target.

Now with their next match-up, versus Vernon Davis of San Francisco, it will be interesting to see if Carolina allows Thomas Davis to match up with the TE in man coverage.

Here's a quick look at the packaged play which led to Cam Newton's eight-yard touchdown run.

Pp1_medium

Spread out in 11 personnel, the read for QB Cam Newton on this play is the circled OLB. If he lets DeAngelo Williams motion out of the backfield uncovered, Cam will throw the screen pass to Williams. Should the OLB mirror Williams, following him out of the box, Newton will run Power.

Pp2_medium

The Falcons LB follows Williams. The read made for Newton, Cam will have both Ryan Kalil and Nate Chandler pulling for him. With the LB out of the box, the Panthers blockers have a numerical advantage over the Falcons defenders. Similarly, if the LB had stayed in the box, the Panthers WR's would have had the numerical advantage in blocking for Williams on the screen.

Pp3_medium

Newton takes the snap, makes the quick read and then takes off.

Pp4_medium

All Newton needs to do is follow his blockers into the end zone, extending the Panthers lead to 24-10.

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