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Carolina Panthers All-22 Film Analysis: How to beat man coverage

The Arizona Cardinals love to play man-to-man coverage on defense. Here’s how the Carolina Panthers can beat it.

The Arizona Cardinals' defense will pose a unique challenge for the Carolina Panthers' offense this Sunday. The Cardinals play a heavy dose of man-to-man coverage in the secondary, which is rare in today’s NFL, as most defenses prefer to play zone.

The Cardinals will be the first team on the Panthers schedule this year to play heavy man coverage on defense, which means the offensive staff and players will need to work extra hard this week designing and practicing some offensive concepts they haven’t necessarily had to use for most of the season. This is because zone-beating route concepts (which the Panthers mostly used this season) are usually not very efficient against man coverage, and vice-versa (man-beating route concepts are not very efficient against zone).

Here are three popular man coverage-beating concepts the Panthers will likely use against the Cardinals this Sunday:

1. The "Yankee" concept

The Yankee concept, also sometimes called the NCAA concept, is one of the deadliest deep passing concepts in all of football. It is a simple two man route with a deep dig and deep post route combination on the outside, and is usually combined with a quick check-down route from the running back to the flat. Offenses usually line up in heavier personnel packages to force defenses to stack the box, which will give their two outside wide receivers maximum space to operate. Running play action also helps to further draw the linebackers and safeties up the field.

The Yankee concept requires the two outside wide receivers to win against tight man coverage deep down the field. To help buy time for the wide receivers to get down the field, offenses usually utilize a max-protection scheme up front with eight players protecting the quarterback. The quarterback’s key read on this play will be the single-high safety. If the safety bites on the deep dig, the post over the top should be open. If the safety stays back deep to defend the post, the deep dig should be open.

The Panthers picked up 52 yards on this play against the Green Bay Packers during their Week 9 match-up.

The Panthers come out in an offset wishbone formation, and run play action. Greg Olsen and Devin Funchess are the two wide receivers on the outside.

Cam Newton reads the single-high safety on this play, who bites on Olsen's deep dig route. This leaves Funchess in one-on-one coverage.

The protection holds up, and Cam fires a pass down the field to Funchess, who is able to make a fantastic catch against tight coverage from the cornerback.

2. The "mesh" concept

The mesh concept is a very efficient quick passing concept that is also designed to win against man coverage. Two opposite receivers run shallow crossing routes, which creates a natural "rub" or "pick". The quarterback’s job will be to simply read the defenders and see who gets caught up in the heavy traffic over the middle of the field. One of the two crossing wide receivers will almost always get open in this passing concept.  

The Panthers scored a touchdown with this concept in their Week 4 match-up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Panthers come out in 12 personnel with a stack wide receiver alignment to the top of the formation with their two wide receivers. This is extremely important because the stack formation allows Ted Ginn to get a free release form the line of scrimmage.

The Panthers run their mesh concept with Ed Dickson and Ted Ginn running shallow crossing routes.

The cornerback matched up against Ginn is in man coverage, but is unable to navigate through the traffic in the middle of the field.

Ginn is wide open, and is able to use his elite speed to quickly accelerate into the end-zone for the touchdown.

3. The "Y-cross" concept

The "Y-cross" is actually an efficient route combination against both man and zone coverage. Usually one outside receiver will run a clear-out route, which is basically running deep to force the opposing cornerback to follow and vacate their area of the field. The Y receiver from the opposite side of the formation (usually the tight end or a slot receiver) will then run a deep crossing route right towards this vacated part of the field.

The Panthers ran this play against the Cardinals in their playoff game last year, and were able to pick up 16 yards.

The Panthers come out in 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) and run play action with a seven man protection. Kelvin Benjamin runs the clear-out route, and Greg Olsen runs the deep crossing route.

The cornerback Patrick Peterson is forced to follow Kelvin Benjamin deep down the field on Benjamin's clear-out route. As a result, this area of the field is vacated. Olsen will now run into this zone.

Newton does a fantastic job buying time in the pocket with his legs, and is able to throw a beautiful pass to Olsen who is able to get just enough separation against the safety to make the catch.

The Carolina Panthers offense will face their toughest test of the season this Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. It will be extremely important for Carolina to run the ball efficiently to set up the play action game deeper down the field. The offensive line will also need to hold up to give the Panthers wide receivers enough time so they can win deep against man coverage. Cam Newton will also need to make smart decisions with the football and not try and force it into tight windows. It won't be easy, but the Panthers are a resilient group. I'm confident they'll be able to get the job done.

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