The Eye in the Sky: Panthers vs. Cardinals (Week Five) All-22 Breakdown
By: Matt Harmon
1) Serious problems for Carolina’s offense
2) The Cardinals defense was extremely impressive
1) Serious problems for Carolina’s offense
- I always believe all success starts with coaching, and this offense is one of the more poorly designed units in the league. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula is just not getting the most out of the players on his roster. When I watch Carolina’s offense I see one that is incredibly unimaginative and uncreative. This offense does next to nothing in the way of scheming players open, and instead just relies on a substandard group of weapons to win matchups. This is an example of poor self-scouting by the coaching staff. Shula and company should recognize they do not have the receivers to consistently win matchups and get open.
- Lets take Ted Ginn for example. Ted Ginn is certainly not a great player by any stretch, and he is not going to run great routes and get himself open consistently. However, and I cannot believe I am saying this, he is actually playing at a pretty high level for the Panthers outside of just catching bombs. When I watch the film I see Ginn showing some pretty good run after the catch ability when he gets the ball in space. Perhaps the coaching staff should consider getting the ball to Ginn on screens or quick out routes and allow him to use his great speed to get yards after the catch.
- I have been banging the table for this idea for about the last three years, but I really want to see more of Steve Smith in the slot. Smith had a couple really bad, and uncharacteristic drops in the first quarter; one drop would have been a touchdown. However, I do not see a declining player when I watch Smith on tape, rather I just see a player whose skill set is changing. Smith may not be the dangerous deep threat he was in years past, but he is still extremely physical, and can still break long gains with his savvy and skills with the ball in his hands. I think those skills could be best accentuated at the slot receiver position, and Smith could become more of a reliable safety valve for Cam Newton, instead of someone Newton tries to hard to force the ball to downfield.
- Cam Newton started out this game on fire, and was consistently fitting the ball into tight windows while driving his team downfield his first few drives. However, it did not last long. A combination of defensive pressure, drops by his wide receivers, and that painful lack of creativity on offense sent him into a funk that he never got out of. Newton made some pretty terrible decisions, and it is clear to everyone he is not progressing as a player, but it s hard to say he is even close to this offense’s biggest problem.
2) The Cardinals defense was extremely impressive
- The speed of this unit jumps off the film screen right away. Linebackers Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby led the charge for this defense that was just flying to the ball all afternoon. Washington is one of the best defensive players in the league, and he made a ton of splash plays in this game, but do not ignore the play of Dansby. In his second stint with the Cardinals, Dansby looks fresh and was extremely active against the Panthers. This entire defense has great team speed and pursuit, as both DeAngelo Williams and Cam Newton struggled to get any big play on the edge of this defense.
- Defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles, took a lot of heat during his time in Philadelphia, but he put together a sensational game plan against the Panthers. His blitz packages were especially impressive, and Cardinals safeties and linebackers were consistently in Carolina’s backfield. Bowles dialed up a lot of overload blitzes where he would sic four defenders on one side of the offensive line, and that often resulted in at least on lineman confused as to which defender to key on. Take this play for example:
- Here we see four defenders attacking the left side of the offensive line. Panthers right guard Chris Scott (#75) is rendered completely useless by the design of the blitz, and the Cardinals essentially force the Panthers to play with four offensive linemen. Panthers left tackle, Jordan Gross (#69), hesitates when deciding whether to go outside to block one of the blitzing defensive backs or stay inside to block Calais Campbell (#93). That moments hesitation allows Campbell to blow into the backfield, and while Cam Newton eludes him, he cannot avoid Tryan Mathieu who comes in free moments after and brings him down for a sack.
- The Cardinals also managed to get pressure up the middle and in Newton’s face, by far the most difficult for a quarterback to deal with. On this play Bowles dials up an inside stunt in addition to the blitz for the defensive line, which gets two Panthers offensive lineman on one defensive lineman
- With five rushers coming on this play, and no extra protection for Newton, Darnell Dockett is presented with a free path to the quarterback. With Dockett bearing down on him, Newton is unable to properly set his feet, and throws up a very weak pass that is easily intercepted by Patrick Peterson. Pressure up the middle like that makes it virtually impossible for a quarterback to utilize proper footwork, and results in poorly, underthrown balls no matter how strong your arm is. Bowles called one hell of game against the Panthers.
- Lastly, I know Daryl Washington got a lot of praise for his awesome game returning from a suspension, and it was well deserved, but Calais Campbell was the most dominant Cardinals defender in this game. Campbell completely blew up a number of Panthers offensive plays in the run and pass game, and allowed Washington to make several of the splash plays he did.
3) Cam Newton is not great at running the option or play fakes
- The Panthers have made a concerted effort to move away from he rad option this year, but they still sprinkle it in now and again. This would be an effective strategy, but Newton really does not sell options or fakes very well at all. I noticed on plays where he is not keeping the ball he can get downright lazy in selling the fake. Too often Newton would just stay in the same spot where the fake handoff would take place instead of taking off in the contrasting direction. In fact, a few times I noticed him just standing straight up in one spot. With some quarterbacks defenses truly have to hesitate because they are not sure who is getting the ball, that is not the case with Newton. You guys know I believe deception and disguise are some of the best tools teams can use to win in the NFL; Newton needs a ton of work on those skills.
- Newton seems much more comfortable when he has the freedom to create his own runs on improvisational plays. If I were Carolina, I would consider rolling him out more and give him space to operate outside of the pocket. That offensive line is giving him a muddled pocket far too often.
4) The Panthers rookie defensive tackles are going to be really good for a long time
- Second rounder Kawann Short was cited as having a questionable motor coming out of college, but that has not been the case in his young pro career. Short plays extensively on passing downs, and almost every time he is on the field he is disrupting the quarterback. His quickness and violent hands allow him to blow past guards and get that dreaded up-the-middle pressure. He also made a few nice stops in the running game, showing the ability to be more than just a one-dimensional player.
- Star Lotulelei is even more impressive and does not look like a rookie out there. Lotulelei clearly already has the respect of defensive coaches around the league, as he drew consistent double teams from the Cardinals. Double teaming Star is a dangerous proposition because it allows Carolina’s other defenders to get free. The constantly active Greg Hardy made numerous run stops and got good pressure even though he was not one hundred percent in this game. Luke Keuchly can read, react, and change directions to fly to the ball better than any linebacker in the game today, and with Star occupying two blockers, it allows Keuchly the extra time and space to bring down ball carriers. What is even more impressive than the work Star does occupying two blockers is that fact that he even beats those double teams pretty frequently. The first round pick’s impact is being felt all over this improving defense.
5) Andre Ellington needs to be a bigger part of this offense going forward
- When you watch this Cardinals offense, Ellington just pops off the screen whenever he is on the field. Rashard Mendenhall only gets what is blocked for him at this stage of his career, and he needs holes that this offensive line just does not provide to run well. Ellington is just simply a better player on film than Mendenhall. The rookie has the vision to find the small cracks in the defense and the acceleration and second gear to burst through them. I found myself rolling my eyes watching two to four yards runs over and over again from Mendenhall when Ellington is there and clearly provides a much better dimension.
- Ellington is also a nice option as an outlet receiver, and that could really help Carson Palmer right now. Not only is Palmer not getting great protection, but I also noticed his passes floating even when he had time in the pocket. He is an aging player so this should come as no surprise. Lets hope Bruce Arians and the offensive coaching staff recognize how Ellington can benefit this offense in a number of different ways and develop a plan to incorporate him.