Week 1 of the NFL season can lead to unpredictable outcomes. The Bills, Jaguars, and Rams are on top of their respective divisions. However, there are predictable outcomes during the first week of the season too. For the Carolina Panthers, it was their defensive performance against the San Francisco 49ers. Under first year defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, the Panthers set in motion an aggressive and disciplined defense.
When Wilks was promoted, there was an expectation that he would implement more man coverage. The Panthers were in zone coverage close to 80% of their snaps last season. Did those numbers come close to fruition on Sunday?
It’s way too early to make any sweeping conclusion based on one week, but there was a small shift to more man coverage. In addition, the Panthers were in man coverage four times on the first drive alone. So what type of man and zone coverage did the Panthers employ on Sunday?
Cover 3 is a three deep four under zone coverage. Usually, the two outside cornerbacks are responsible for the deep sideline while the single high safety patrols the deep middle. There are specific coverage calls such as cover 3 buzz, cover 1 robber, and cover 4 push, but I want to keep this simple. So now that we know the frequency of man vs zone and how many times they played each coverage, how successful were they?
Despite cover 3 being the most frequent coverage utilized, it was also the most effective. Hoyer’s yard per play was an astounding 1.89, which is less than 3 full yards from the next coverage.
An important next step in the evolution of the defense will be more disguising on the cover 3 coverages. The Panthers call a weak side fire zone blitz with James Bradberry coming off the edge. Coleman is initially lined up in a two high look with Mike Adams, but at the snap Coleman takes the sideline third while Adams takes over the deep middle.
Wilks calls a weak side fire zone corner blitz. Coleman transitions to the sideline 3rd and gets beat. Hoyer overthrows pic.twitter.com/17u17SpmiB— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) September 12, 2017
I’d love to see more man coverage, but in 10 plays playing cover 1 they conceded 8 yards per play. James Bradberry was nearly beaten for a long reception by Marquise Goodwin. This goes down as 0 yards given up, but it could have been much worse.
Bradberry gets v fortunate here. Coverage was ok, but should have been caught pic.twitter.com/puACQ0qc54— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) September 11, 2017
Another man coverage call was also open for the 49ers, but Hoyer woefully under threw the pass.
Coleman had a good game, but he gets turned around pretty bad here. Fortunately, Hoyer was inaccurate pic.twitter.com/R61JkskVeE— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) September 12, 2017
Playing man coverage requires hours and hours of film work. Defenders have to study the tendencies of the opposing offense, quarterback, and receiver. It’s not as simple as zone.
The Panthers allocated a decent amount of resources into their pass rushing unit this off season. Mario Addison signed a lucrative extension. Julius Peppers came home. Charles Johnson signed a new contract. Daeshon Hall was drafted on the second day of the draft. Oh and Kawann Short signed a mega extension. Thanks Gettleman!
With that said, there were high expectations for this unit coming into 2017. How did they perform in their debut?
Not bad. The Panthers in years past rarely blitzed due to the strength of their front 4 and the liabilities in the secondary. Nonetheless, Carolina now possesses two promising young corners, one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the league, and a solid free safety. There are questions about Mike Adams, but his experience is valuable. This allows them to become aggressive, which allows them to blitz more.
The Panthers blitzed 15 times on Sunday. Three of their sacks came as a result of blitzing.
The first sack of the game came from an unheralded member of the pass rushing unit, but a reliable one in Wes Horton.
Wes Horton is still a valuable player. Remember the strip sack vs Washington last year. This was similar pic.twitter.com/i936favYq5— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) September 11, 2017
The Panthers call a corner back blitz with the entire line shifting right. Bradberry attracts the attention of the left tackle while Horton gets a favorable matchup with the guard. He uses a rip move and makes his way to the quarterback to strip him.
The second sack of the game did not come off a blitz, but it showed the strength of the unit when working in sync.
My oh my. Kawaan beats the guard on a hump move. Star and Peppers were relentless to finish the sack. pic.twitter.com/tNXMsbnZDP— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) September 11, 2017
Short initiates the pressure by utilizing a hump move on the guard. This forces Brian Hoyer to step up while Star Lotulelei and Julius Peppers are collapsing the pocket. The official credit was shared between Lotulelei and Peppers, but don’t discount Short’s impact on this play. It was vital.
The run defense got off to a slow start on Sunday, but there were some positive signs to take away too.
The run fits in the 1st half were inconsistent.
Star leaves the game and the run defense looks predictably bad. Missed tackle by Coleman on top of it pic.twitter.com/qSCj819YIN— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) September 12, 2017
The 49ers are downblocking, which creates a crease for Carlos Hyde on the right side. Kurt Coleman anticipates the run, but misses the tackle.
The next big run was a result of the defensive line being unable to reset the line of scrimmage.
Part 2: his impact is key because no one else can reset the line of scrimmage. Huge running lane for Hyde pic.twitter.com/HIwHM4TR8r— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) September 12, 2017
Star was off the field on this play, but the 49ers make it look easy by hitting their landmarks and moving to the second level.
Star’s most notable contribution came on the 4th down stop.
Whew. Star uses a swim move to stuff the run on 4th down. Pay the man. Or not. pic.twitter.com/WNFRfBh4ZE— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) September 12, 2017
He penetrates the 49ers offensive line by using a swim move to bring down the ball carrier.
It’s hard to evaluate the run defense because the 49ers dug themselves a huge hole. As a result, they weren’t able to run the ball many times in the 2nd half. Carlos Hyde averaged five yards per carry, but only on 9 carries.
- The Panthers were in base coverage on 41% of the snaps while they played nickel 59%
- The Panthers blitzed in nickel packages 9 times while they blitzed in base package 7 times.
- Captain Munnerlyn blitzed the most of any player on defense
Video clips courtesy of NFL.com