It’s tough to win games in the NFL when you lose the turnover battle. On Thursday night’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Panthers offense had three turnovers, while the Panthers defense could only force one. All three of the Panthers turnovers were interceptions thrown by Cam Newton, although only one might have been his fault.
Let’s take a quick look:
The first interception came in the second quarter on a 3rd and 5 from the Panthers own 14 yard line. The Panthers are in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) and run a mirrored slant/flat concept. Newton’s target is Devin Funchess on the slant, but Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox pushes Panthers right guard Trai Turner back and collapses the interior pocket. Cox also does a great job getting his hands up to deflect Newton’s pass, which ends up sailing up high and into the arms of cornerback Rasul Douglas. The Eagles would end up scoring a touchdown on the following possession.
The second interception occurred in the third quarter, once again deep in Carolina territory. The Panthers are in 21 personnel (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR) and motion Jonathan Stewart out to wide receiver, to create a 3x1 look. The Panthers will run a tunnel screen to Stewart, but he is unable to securely catch the ball which goes right through his hands. Eagles cornerback Patrick Robinson is able to make a terrific diving interception.
I found the decision to run a tunnel screen to Jonathan Stewart on a 3rd and 12 very puzzling. Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula has called several tunnel screens on third and long situations this season, but very few have been successful. Once again, the Eagles would go on to score a touchdown two plays later.
Newton’s third and final interception occurred late in the fourth quarter, on a 3rd and 10 in Eagles territory. The Panthers are trailing 28-23 and need a touchdown to win the game. The Panthers come out in 11 personnel again, in a 3x1 formation with both Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess in the slot. The pass is intended for Kelvin Benjamin, who Newton thought was running a seam route. However, Benjamin chooses to break his route inside, and the ball goes straight to outside cornerback Jalen Mills. I believe there was a miscommunication between Benjamin and Newton on this play. Newton assumed Benjamin would keep running down the seam, but Benjamin cut his route inside.
So only one of Newton’s three interceptions might have really been his fault. However, it doesn’t change the fact that the Eagles were able to score 15 points off two of the interceptions, in a game the Panthers ended up losing by just five points. The Panthers offense is simply not built to have Newton attempt 50 or more passes in a game, due to both scheme and personnel limitations. The Panthers must find a way to fix their run game. A total of just one yard rushing from their running backs is completely unacceptable for a team whose offensive identity is built around running the football.
Fortunately for the Panthers, they now have ten days off, which is plenty of time to self-scout on offense to try to figure out exactly what’s wrong with their run game. It would not surprise me at all to see the Panthers implement both scheme and personnel changes during this mini-bye week.
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