A recap of the Panthers' tough -- yet encouraging -- 12-7 loss against a talented Seattle Seahawks team seems unnecessary and cruel; after all, Panthers fans have seen this movie quite a bit over the last couple of seasons. Once again the Panthers held a lead throughout the majority of a game only to lose it late before a potential game-winning drive ends in disappointment.
You know the rest of the story: questionable coaching decisions, players making mental mistakes, missed opportunities and the lack of a killer instinct all results in another loss. So instead of focusing on the game as a whole, let's look at two key plays: one a positive play for the Panthers, the other a negative one.
Let's start out with the good. It would be easy to pick out the only score Carolina managed on Sunday, but the play was pretty uninteresting. A good route by Steve Smith, finding a gap in the zone and sitting down it, and a good job by Cam Newton to see it and make a quick, accurate throw in tight quarters.
But the key play on that scoring drive came a few plays earlier, with the Panthers facing third-and-6 on the 37 yard line. Carolina comes out in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) with two wide receivers to the strong side of the play and fullback Mike Tolbert in the backfield. Seattle matches with their nickel package and shows blitz before the snap.
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula calls for a quarterback draw packaged with a tunnel screen to the outside -- it's up to Newton to read the defense and decide where to go with the ball.
Newton will "read" the actions of Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor. If Chancellor stays in the box, he'll throw the screen to the outside, where the Panthers would have a three-on-two advantage; if the Seattle safety follows Olsen out to the screen, Newton will run the draw behind center Ryan Kalil and right guard Travelle Wharton.
Newton sees Chancellor follow Olsen and takes off. Kalil helps Wharton control the nose tackle before moving on to block the middle linebacker, opening a good hole for Newton to get the first down. Great play design and great execution.
Now on to the bad play...Seattle's touchdown. Much of the blame on this play has been put on cornerback Josh Thomas; and while he does deserve some of it, safety Charles Godfrey and the coaching staff certainly deserve some of it as well.
Before getting into the touchdown play, we have to look at the previous play to get the full context. Carolina comes out in Cover-1 with man-to-man underneath. Thomas is left on an island one-on-one, and only a dropped pass keeps Seattle out of the end zone.
Carolina caught a break there.
So what does the coaching staff do the next play: They call the same exact defense! This time, Seattle takes advantage and cashes in for the score. Cue the flashbacks to the Bears game-winning drive last season in Chicago.
But let's not put the entire blame on the play-calling, because the players on the field certainly played their part in giving up the score. First, Josh Thomas lets the receiver, Jermaine Kearse, get to the outside when he should have funneled Kearse to his help in the deep middle, safety Charles Godfrey.
Godfrey, who sees quarterback Russell Wilson rollout to his right, takes off toward Kearse. He's got enough depth to make a play on the deep ball, but he takes a terrible angle, starting too flat before finally curving his route back toward the pylon.
In the time it took Kearse to get 15 yards down-field, Godfrey has gained only three yards of depth. Thanks to his circuitous route, Godfrey is a fraction late and the Seahawks take the lead.
It was one of only a few plays that the Panthers botched on defense, and, really, the coverage wasn't all that bad. Some times, you're just beaten by a good throw, and this was a perfect one by Wilson. The secondary played well on Sunday; Wilson was just better.
A Quick Look at the Bills Offense
After dropping their first game, the Panthers find themselves in an early must-win situation when they travel up to Buffalo on Sunday.
The Bills will be led by rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel, who impressed a lot of people in his first start in the NFL.
New head coach Doug Marrone has built his offense around Manuel's athleticism. Of the Bills' 31 designed runs in Week 1, 22 were out of the Read Option. The infamous play had mixed results, netting 80 yards on 22 carries, but that had more to do with Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork than it did with any failure in design. Wilfork constantly required a double team, which essentially did away with the numbers advantage the Read Option is designed to create.
When the Bills tried to block Wilfork (number 75) with one poor soul, this happened:
Despite the pedestrian numbers, the Read Option still provided some ancillary benefits for the offense. Manuel faced very little pressure from the Patriots and wasn't sacked all afternoon. Why? The Patriots simply didn't blitz, which is fascinating considering head coach Bill Belichick's defensive MO. But that lack of pressure might be attributable to the threat posed by the Read Option, as Peter King points out in his article on Kyle Shanahan:
And when Washington began introducing the read-option out of the pistol, there was an unintended consequence: Defenses started getting more vanilla. There was less blitzing and less risk-taking, because defensive coordinators didn't want to be undressed by a scheme that was so unpredictable.
Like so many other teams facing a Read Option threat, New England opted to stay solid on defense -- keeping the unblocked defender at home -- Manuel didn't pull the ball and run on any of the Bills' 22 Read Option plays -- and letting their big man in the middle, Wilfork, blow the play up.
When the Panthers take on the Bills, we'll see if the Carolina coaching staff has enough confidence in rookie Star Lotulelei to implement a similar game plan.
The advantage the Panthers have over the Patriots is their pass rush. New England typically relies on a well-designed blitz to pressure the quarterback, while the Panthers are able to get pressure rushing four. Manuel will not likely enjoy the time he had in the pocket last Sunday even if the Panthers decide to go "vanilla" in order to slow down the Read Option.
And if Carolina's front four do get pressure, they might actually be able to cash in this week with more sacks. While Wilson was able to elude the Panthers' harassing pass rush and still keep his eyes down field to find receivers, Manuel didn't show the same pocket poise.
Manuel rarely came off his first read against the Patriots, and when he sensed any pressure he looked to tuck and run with the ball. Only once when he was forced out of the pocket did Manuel actually throw it. Here's a video of all four of his scrambles:
When Manuel did throw the ball, he took a lot of chances. His debut may not have been so well received if the Patriots hadn't squandered two interceptions that were reversed by the ref after replay reviews. Throw in a touchdown scored by the Bills defense and Buffalo's 21-point output doesn't look all too impressive.
The Panthers defense should have an easy time handling this offense. It will be up to the offense to secure victory.