December 2, 2012; Kansas City, MO, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) warms up before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Hello, gentle readers. This is the first in a series of statistically inclined preview – type posts I will be writing here at BD. This week we look at the Carolina Panthers. When last we met, the Panthers were projected to be Superbowl champions. Unfortunately for them their season has not turned out as well as Ryan Kalil expected and considering their injuries they may fall further before they hit rock bottom.
Initial assumptions and Prior Bias
Based on our last meeting and what little I have seen of them I expect the Panthers to bring a strong pass rush, an excellent short yardage game and above average QB play from Cam Newton. Their biggest problem seems to have been an inability to close out games and some remarkable questionable decision making from the coaches especially at the end of games which may explain their struggles in that situation.
Panthers Defense Vs Falcons Offense
The Panthers defense has allowed 347.8 yards per game and 24.3 points per game (ppg) which is not good but considering that their opponents have scored 24.4 ppg on average I would categorize as them as mediocre more than bad.
The panthers run defense allows 4.4 yards per carry (YPC), 128.8 yards per game while allowing 50.7% of running plays against them to be successful*, all of which is points to a mediocre run defense. A large part of this can be attributed to defensive line performance. Carolina ranks 2nd to last in defensive line performance according to football outsiders’ metric of adjusted line yards and considering Dwan Edwards’ (DT) injury the situation may not improve. Look for the Falcons to establish the run game early if for no reason than to put the Panthers pass rushers back on their heels.
While their defensive line may be doing an atrocious job run blocking they have been exceptionally good while pass rushing. They have 30 sacks and they are 4th in the NFL with an adjusted sack rate**of 7.5%. Ironically the Panthers pass rush was terrible early in the season and woke up only after the first Falcons game when Charles Johnson abused Sam Baker. Their secondary, however, has not improved since the last time we met. They are allowing a 67.3% completion rate, 7.03 yards per pass attempt (YPA) and an opposition passer rating of 91.63. To give you a frame of reference, if that were the passer rating of a fictional quarterback that guy would have the 12th highest passer rating in the NFL above Andy Dalton, Matt Stafford and Eli Manning. As long as the offensive line keeps Matt Ryan upright, he will shred the Panthers defense.
This is what I wrote about the Panthers offense before the last game
"The panthers passing game is a reflection of its QB. It’s all about the highlights. As a result there will be a lot of big plays… for both teams."
This statement was based on Cam Newton’s remarkably high completion percentage (65.12%) and yards per attempt (9.81) numbers as well his high interception rate (6%) early in the season. Cam has since cut down on the mistakes, bringing his interception rate down to 2.8% (below league average) while still maintaining a league leading 8.3 YPA indicating that the Panthers will use the threat of their running game to gain chunks of yards in the passing game. The Panthers have used play action passing to a large extent this season and they have been very successful with it.
The problem for the Panthers is that their running game despite large financial investments is decidedly mediocre. They gain a modest 4.2 YPC and 112.8 yard per game and succeed on only 45.7%* of their runs despite the presence of Newton as a potent threat. Most of the blame appears to rest with the offensive line which by football outsiders’ metrics is 2nd worst in the league. In addition, the line is also poor at pass protection allowing an adjusted sack rate** of 7.9% good for 26th in the NFL. Ergo expect the Panthers to lean on their run game especially considering the Falcons appalling run defense. In fact, how the Panthers running game fares could be one of the keys to this game. As long as the Falcons control the Panthers run game early they should be fine. If they do not, they expose themselves to the Panthers playaction passing game. Mike Nolan will thus, need to roll out the 3 tackle look for long periods in this game. On the upside the interior of the Panthers line appears to be their weakest link so expect Babineaux, Corey Peters and “Swagger” Vance Walker to have big days.
- Panthers Interior line Vs Falcons DTs
- Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy Vs Sam Baker and Tyson Clabo
Moral of the story
There’s two ways I can see this game going. One of them was like last the last Panthers game where Johnson and Hardy come out on fire and the Falcons passing game struggles while the Panthers move the ball behind Cam and the running game sprinkling in some playaction passes to make life hell for the defense. More likely, considering the Falcons extended rest as well as the Panthers injuries is that the Falcons come out looking to control the game behind Turner and the running game like they did against the Saints. Ordinarily, I would be worried about the potential of a trap game considering the intensity of the Saints game. However, I believe the Falcons already had the Panthers trap game earlier in the season. As a result, I expect the Falcons to come out motivated to do well. I don’t think this will be a blowout but I do expect a much more comfortable win than the last game. Look for big days from Turner and Julio Jones. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Newton ending up with a good statline.
Stats used in this article are from ESPN.com unless stated otherwise.
*A successful run was described as one that gained atleast 40% of the yards required on 1st down, atleast 50% yards required on 2nd down and all the yards required on 3rd down
**Adjusted Sack Rate gives sacks and intentional grounding penalties per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance and opponent