Breaking down the data: Carolina vs. Buffalo

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Spor

Lets look at some numbers and some pictures.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.

George Orwell -1984

The Panthers lost. The Bills won. When codified, it doesn't seem so disheartening. The words themselves are sterilized, carrying little, to no emotion from last Sunday's game. At the end of the day, Carolina received a loss, Buffalo a win in the standings. The outcome identical to a blowout; 48-6. 58-17. 28-2. 38-14. No, we got 23-24. And it hurt.

Dissimilar to the Panthers week one matchup with Seattle, Quarterback Cam Newton had a productive day passing the ball, finishing with 100+ more yards passing, but on 15 more pass attempts. On the other hand, Newton was under siege from the Buffalo front seven, who, like Seattle, employed a bevy of zone blitzes, also benefitting from a record day from DE Mario Williams, totaling six sacks, in comparison to Carolina's one. The coaches don't necessarily take the bullet on this one. as soon as the first series of the game, the Panthers were double-teaming Mario Williams, also having a RB or TE chip him every now and again. The latter measure opened the Panthers up to green dog blitzes.

In a macrostructural assignment of blame, I look to the two successive possessions the Panthers began deep in Bills territory, following a Quintin Mikell sack-strip, and a Luke Kuechly interception. With consecutive drives, in the second-half, beginning at the Buffalo 16 and 26-yard lines respectively, Carolina came away with only six points. The Panthers could easily have put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter, yet the inability of the red zone offense kept Buffalo within one score.

Offense

Personnel Run Pass Total
11 12 26 38 (51%)
12 7 9 16 (22%)
21 5 7 12 (16%)
22 6 1 7 (10%)
02 0 1 1 (1%)

Despite the appearance, the Panthers were fairly balanced in their personnel sets, with 11 personnel being augmented by the end of half two-minute drill, tallying ten downs. The run-pass ratio was a little unbalanced at 30-44 (41%-69%).

Broken down between the halves:

Personnel 1st half 2nd half
11 run 6 6
11 pass 17 9
12 run 1 6
12 pass 6 3
21 run 1 4
21 pass 5 2
22 run 1 5
22 pass 1 0
02 run 0 0
02 pass 0 1

Coach Shula must have watched the Seahawks vs. Bills tape from last season in which Seattle shellacked Buffalo with read option: Carolina had very little success on read option plays, with 14 attempts for a grand total of 40 yards (2.9 YPC). There was nothing doing with option plays, in large part thanks to Mario Williams, and Kyle Williams. The Staff evidently wanted to put the ball into Cam Newton's hands, but Mario Williams, who was often the read player, forced Newton into a give read almost every time, where Buffalo's excellent interior linemen, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus were waiting.

I found it very interesting: despite the differing styles in pace, (Buffalo utilizing a no-huddle offense, as we'll see) Carolina actually ran more plays than the Bills, in addition to controlling the time of possession.

Defense

Front Man coverage Zone coverage Total
4-3 5 15 20 (27%)
3-4 1 9 10 (14%)
4-2-5 3 39 42 (58%)
2-4-5 1 0 1 (1%)

Even with the numbers as high as they were in the nickel set, Carolina would have preferred them even higher. The Panthers were forced to drop their linebackers in coverage more often than they would have liked.

Divided amongst the halves:

Front 1st half 2nd half
43 Man 1 4
43 Zone 4 11
34 Man 0 1
34 Zone 4 5
425 Man 2 1
425 Zone 21 18
245 Man 0 1
245 Zone 0 0

Buffalo's no-huddle offense afforded the Bills one critical advantage over Carolina; the inability to substitute. Without substituting, it becomes more difficult for the Panthers to keep their defensive linemen fresh, slowing down the pass rush. Additionally it becomes a major mismatch when Buffalo spreads wide, forcing LB Jon Beason, who is normally subbed out for a DB, to cover a WR/TE in space.

This drive starting with 6:56 left in the 3rd quarter has the Bills aligned in a single back formation, from under center, with what is aesthetically a 21 personnel set.

Nh1_medium

The Panthers counter with a 4-3 under front.

Only four plays later, the Bills are already approaching midfield.

Nh2_medium

Having remained in the no-huddle since the initiation of the drive, Buffalo has kept Carolina in their 4-3 front, disallowing the coaches to substitute LB Jon Beason for another CB. The Bills spread out their formation, morphing into what appears to be 20 personnel, conscripting Jon Beason into coverage against WR Stevie Johnson. The Bills top pass catcher, Johnson runs a crossing pattern.

Nh3_medium

Eminently aware of this mismatch, QB EJ Manuel locks onto Johnson and hits the WR with a well placed pass. Shaking off a desperate attempt of a tackle from Beason, Johnson is able to exploit the wide open field in front of him, picking up 45-yards, granting Buffalo first and goal from the Carolina ten.

Just a series earlier, after pressing the no-huddle down the field, Buffalo was faced with second and goal from the two-yard line.

3ez1_medium

With this man-beating route concept, Buffalo looks to set a pick with the underneath route, hoping to spring the inside receiver on the corner route.

3ez2_medium

Stevie Johnson is able to get separation against FS Charles Godfrey; Manuel's first read, the QB lets off a pass.

3ez3_medium

The pass isn't perfect, but Johnson adjusts, though thanks to a great individual play, Godfrey is able to break up the pass, preventing the TD, tearing his achilles tendon in the process.

Now, fast forward a quarter or so to Buffalo's final offensive play.

4ez1_medium

The Bills run the same play. With the pass rush gassed at this point, Coach McDermott calls a blitz, bringing both LB's Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, as well as S Colin Jones in pressure, in hopes of forcing Manuel into making a harried decision. In an attempt to either atone for the earlier play, or to cover the blitz, the defense audibles into zone coverage, which would have Josh Norman cover the corner fade, and DJ Moore the slant. Moore distinctly communicates this to Norman, who doesn't seem to process the change.

4ez2_medium

The pressure nearly gets to Manuel, as Kuechly hits the QB just after he releases the pass. Norman plays man, Moore zone; Stevie Johnson is left unattended in the corner of the end zone.

Turning attention back to Carolina's red zone offense, we take a look at this third down and goal play from the fourth quarter.

Rz1_medium

Coach Shula has divided the field for Newton. To the left-hand side, there is a Cover-2 beating route concept. To the right, a flood concept, which is designed to beat Cover-3. Based off of Buffalo's coverage, Newton makes the correct decision, and looks to the right.

Rz2_medium

Buffalo rushes three, dropping eight in coverage. None of the receivers separate immediately; as Newton finishes his drop, Marcell Dareus drives C Ryan Kalil backwards, collapsing the pocket, compelling Newton to roll out.

Rz3_medium

With Mario Williams in pursuit, Newton keeps his eyes downfield. None of his targets, Tolbert, Lafell or Olsen are able to separate from the coverage, forcing to the quarterback to make a run for it; Newton inadvertently steps out of bounds giving Williams his record setting 4.5th sack.

It is evident that Carolina could use some more weapons in the passing game, as well as some help on the offensive line, both of which are unlikely to come this season.

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