Beyond the Box Score: Looking Deep at the Carolina Panthers

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 16: Cameron Jordan of the New Orleans Saints sacks quarterback Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers during play at Bank of America Stadium on September 16, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Anyone can get a feel for a game by looking at a box score, but I've decided this season I'm going to try to watch every play of at least the most recent game of the Giants upcoming opponent. Today I'll be breaking down the Carolina Panthers. It just happened that I've now watched both the Panthers games because their Week 1 opponent was the Buccaneers.

The two things I noticed immediately about the first game of the season for the Panthers were that 1) the Panthers did not attempt to run the ball nearly enough. They have four talented runners (Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, and Mike Tolbert). This should be their bread and butter -- running the ball only 10 or 11 times against the Buccaneers was an inexcusable game plan. Second, against the Buccaneers the Panthers special team units were awful. They could not catch punts cleanly, they created very little return yardage, they had a punt blocked, and they didn't really do a great job covering kicks, either.

These were two of my focuses when I started watching the Panthers-Saints game. What else did I discover?

When the Panthers were on offense

They ran almost exclusively shot-gun based formations. I did not keep track in the first half, but I only clearly remember one play-a hand off. In the second half they had a few more plays. They ran three, I believe, before the end of the game when they were in kill the clock mode, and two of those three plays were because they were back inside their own 10-yard line. The other was a roll-out by Newton and throw down the field. They run shotgun. Nearly every play.

I was counting to see how often the Panthers designed run plays for Newton. Newton ran the ball on 10 designed runs -- eight of those I believe were read-options. There were a handful of other read-option runs in the game in which Newton could have kept the ball and run. He'll be running a lot against the Giants.

Now just because they run shotgun doesn't mean they won't get creative. Misdirection screen passes, wide receiver reverse, wide receiver screens, and well-designed counter plays occurred in this game.

What I did not notice were any audibles by Newton. Maybe I missed one, but I don't think so. He's going to run the play that's called most likely.

The Saints lost gap integrity and they got crushed. The Giants have done that too much for my liking -- Osi Umeinyora and others. The Giants must stay disciplined or the Panthers are going to break a lot of big runs.

Guard Amini Silatolu had a much better game in Week 2 than he did in Week 1, when he was brutal. (My eyes are confirmed by PFF -- Silatolu had a -3.2 in the first game, a 0 in the second game).

Random note: Twice Brandon LaFell (who is dangerous after the catch), stepped on the sideline while he was turning up the field to make a play. He has to be more aware of the boundaries.

Final thought on the Panthers offense. I think the Giants have to play more zone than they like to. I think Newton is better throwing the ball deep down the field than he is throwing the intermediate ball. Plus, playing man is risky because Newton can take off running and the defense will be late to react. Also, the Panthers are much better when the run more. Also, the Panthers guard play is suspect -- though their tackles and center are good players.

When the Panthers were on defense

The linebackers are very fast, and active. But they can be be abused in the run game, at least they were in both weeks I've watched the Panthers. They don't have great defensive tackles, and their linebackers are light. I think that will be a problem for them all season. There were large holes to run through for much of the day two weeks in a row. If the Giants offensive line struggles to push around these Panthers, it's going to be a long season. They are not good run stoppers. They were not last year, they are not this year.

Rookie CB Josh Norman plays a lot of off coverage too deep off the ball. Expect a lot of slants to Nicks if Norman is on Nicks. Eli likes to check to a naked WR screen type play as well where Nicks tries to break the tackle from the corner and run after the catch.Eli will run that a million times if Norman gives Nicks that much cushion on Thursday. Manning will likely force Norman to get right on Nicks to try and then try to beat him over the top.

The Saints ran one quick slant and it went for 15 yards, much of it after the catch. I'm surprised they did not try it more, but they seemed intent on throwing to the middle of the field a lot with Graham and Sproles.

On the pick six from Drew Brees the pressure that was applied was because the Saints just did not block the LDE. The Panthers did not do anything special there. They did rush the passer better this week, especially rookie Frank Alexander, but I would not say they are a dangerous pass rushing team.

Panthers safety Haruki Nakamura is hard to find on the telecast. Why? Because he's playing 20 yards off the ball or more on every snap. I believe the Giants throw the ball down the field at a higher percentage than anyone else in the league (can't find the stat right now to confirm). I'd expect much of the same from Nakumara in this game. He's on the field a lot, you just might not see him the entire game. Well, he did blitz successfully once.

I counted twice they dropped eight into coverage and just rushed three at the passer.

The Saints, offense attacked the Panthers defense much differently than I expect the Giants do because the Saints relied on passes out of the backfield to Darren Sproles and over the middle to Jimmy Graham. That's really not the way the Giants play offense, they thrive on the outside passing game. It will be interesting to see if the Giants try to attack the middle of the field here as well because the Saints did have some success doing that.

Final thought on defense. The Panthers defense focuses on limiting big plays. Being patient and taking calculated shots seems the best way to go for the Giants. And running the ball.

Panthers on special teams

Absolutely dreadful in Week 1. Much better in Week 2. They still haven't mustered much of a return game and I think there are opportunities for big returns as well. Still much improved from Week 1.

Top Five best and worst performers for the Panthers in week 2, according to Pro Football Focus.

Best

Greg Olson TE 3.0 (2.6 of that came on run blocking)

Steve Smith WR 1.8

Jordan Gross OL 1.7

Bryan Bell OL 1.6

Brandon Lafell WR 1.6

Worst

Geoff Hangartner, OT -3.5

Sione Fua DT -3.3

Jon Beason LB -3.0

Captain Munnerlyn CB -2.0

Charles Godfrey FS -1.9

Captain Obvious conclusion of the week based on Pro Football Focus numbers. The Panthers were better on offense than they were on defense in Week 2.

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