Scouting the Enemy: A look at the Carolina Panthers

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 31: Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian converses with Matt Simms
ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 31: Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian converses with Matt Simms /

This week in Scouting the Enemy we look at the Carolina Panthers.

We’re back at it again!! In this edition of Scouting the enemy, we look into a Division Rival: the Carolina Panthers.  Again, the Falcons will face a team that likes to ground and pound with a very good front 7. The Falcons will see teams like this quite often this season, and again, they will have to be very sound in a few aspects to earn a victory.

Considering the injuries that have hit the Falcons, I felt it only necessary to visit the defensive side of the ball and how they’re to stop the Carolina offense. The  way to stop the Carolina Panthers is simple (well, not so much): stop Cam Newton. Cam Newton is one of the most athletic and talented Quarterbacks in the NFL. He also has a cannon for an arm. However, where Cam is most lethal is in the running game. Even though the Panthers have a new OC in Norv Turner, the desire to get Newton involved in all facets is still there.

Another weapon the Panthers has is RB Christian McCaffery. He’s a terror to defend in the passing game and a good runner with excellent speed. Now, given that we’ve lost Deion Jones and Keanu Neal for a significant period of time *sheds tear*, the game plan to stop this versatile attack has to be altered. My guess is that we’ll see a mix of using Damontae Kazee, Rico Allen and Duke Riley on him on occasion to contain him.

Coach Turner can been seen using a variation of formations that really benefits the talent around him. Given they’ve lost Tight End Greg Olson and a few starters on the offensive line, I wouldn’t be completely surprised if we see some heavy sets like ’21’ or ’12’ personnel along with some trickery to get some movement on offense.  Because of that, I fully expect to see the Falcons in Base defense more often than not. Right now, Coach Manuel and Quinn would be unwise to deploy any man or Cover 1 concepts against Cam Newton. IF they do, they will have to have a spy on Cam, but without Neal or Deion on the field, I would consider that less likely to happen. What will most likely be in the game plan is to deploy more Cover 3 so all underneath defenders can keep everything in front of them. I’m not ruling out seeing some man, but given the hit we’ve taken in the middle of the defense, I expect to see a lot more zone looks against the Panthers. Also, if there is EVER a good time for the defensive line to step up, now would definitely be the time because the offensive line of the Carolina Panthers is truly hobbled. If the Falcons can’t get consistent pressure on Newton, that’s a really bad sign going forward.

This Carolina defense is one of the toughest in the league. The Front 7 is definitely one of the best. Being anchored by Kawann Short, this defensive line can certainly disrupt the best of offenses.  Let us not forget the All Pro LB Luke Kuechly. Kuechly is the QB of the defense and what keeps them going.  Now if there’s a weakness to this Carolina defense, it’s in the back end. If Coach Sark is to be successful against this defense, again, he will have to be unpredictable. Carolina deploys mostly zone looks, but I’ve seen them go from Cover 3, to Quarters coverage and even Cover 2.  Because of the defensive schemes Coach Ron Rivera likes to use, he needs to have LB’s that are fast, athletic and can cover lots of ground. Sound familiar? Coach Rivera obviously values his defensive linemen and Linebackers, so a clear weakness will be at the cornerback position.

Now, what I fully expect Coach Sark to do is deploy some ‘11’ and ‘12’ personnel groupings. However, I do think he will need to spread this defense out and utilize the speed and clear advantage they have at the WR and other skilled positions.  With Devonta Freeman already being ruled out, it’s time to unleash the full gambit of Coleman’s abilities against this defense. Stretch runs, boots and play action passing should keep this defense honest and at the same time keep Ryan clean enough to take some shots downfield. Again though, this team must be committed to balance for it all to be successful.

In a game like this, the offense must pick up the slack for what the Falcons are missing on defense. It’s time that we see the fruits of the labor and talent on the offensive side of the ball. If the offense can get on track and start fast, the Falcons should pull out their first win of the season given that the Panthers aren’t really built to come from behind.