The Panthers’ defense was wildly undisciplined in a Week 1 loss to the Cleveland Browns. The linebackers consistently overpursued, maintained little gap control up front, and the tackling was abysmal. The Panthers’ defense allowed a 44 percent conversion rate, while the Panthers’ offense only converted 36 percent of its third downs. The Browns also won the turnover battle.
The Panthers’ secondary has talent but got grabby and had several devastating penalties that extended Cleveland drives. Carolina had eight penalties for 96 yards. Second-year cornerback J.C. Horn had two defensive holding penalties on a third-and-5 and second-and 8 that extended Cleveland drives.
C.J. Henderson had a terrible pass interference against Amari Cooper that negated a Xavier Woods interception, eventually leading to a Cleveland touchdown.
The Panthers’ defense could not handle the Browns’ varied rushing attack of outside zone and power/gap. The Giants were a more power/gap team against Tennessee, but the zone-read element was a factor in slowing down backside defenders. I expect the zone-read, power/gap, and RPO game to be used by offensive coordinator Mike Kafka to keep the Panthers’ aggression down while creating confusion at the linebacker position.
Carolina aligned in base 4-3 56.7 percent of the time on first down and played nickel on 40 percent of first downs, mainly down the stretch of the game or when Cleveland aligned in 11 personnel (ran 11 personnel 11 times on first down - that’s a lot of ones right there)
The Panthers mostly played nickel on second down at 75 percent and did so on third down at 77.8 percent, with 11.1 percent of third downs spent in dime. Cleveland used 21 personnel the fifth-most in Week 1 (16 plays), whereas the Giants only used that package three times. Theoretically, that could change Sunday based on how Carolina’s defensive coordinator Phil Snow calls this game.
Run the ball
The Giants need to exploit Carolina’s porous run defense. The Saints, Giants, Lions, Browns, and Eagles had the highest rushing EPAs (expected points added) in Week 1.
The Eagles had four total rushing touchdowns, and quarterback Jalen Hurts rushed for 90 yards. Tight end/quarterback Taysom Hill had 81 rushing yards on four carries for New Orleans, including a rushing touchdown. The Lions had three total rushing touchdowns between D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams.
That leaves the Giants and the Browns, who only had one rushing touchdown. Still, both teams had more than 210 rushing yards. According to defensive rushing EPA, the Panthers ranked second-worst in the NFL with an EPA of -7.72, just in front of the Eagles.
For reference, the Giants had a rush EPA of 9.74, ranking them third in the NFL. Matt Ioannidis is a solid veteran presence, and Derrick Brown had talent coming out of Auburn, but the defensive front is not nearly good enough to account for the lack of talent at the linebacker position.
Brian Burns is one of the more explosive EDGE rushers in the league, whereas Yetur Gross-Matos is more of a long player who can align inside at times, but neither are excellent at holding contain on the edge.
There’s a lot of speed and athletic ability at the second level with Shaq Thompson, Cory Littleton, and Frankie Luvu. However, they were undisciplined in pursuit, and their tackling was terrible against the Browns.
Journeyman linebacker Damien Wilson will also mix into the linebacker rotation. He played 31 snaps during Week 1 in Carolina’s sub-packages.
Snow predominantly played Cover-3 and Quarters coverage on first down as the game progressed but started the game with a heavy dose of Cover-1. Cleveland quarterback Jacoby Brissett hit several chunk plays against the Panthers in man coverage, and a few penalties in man may have shifted Snow to be more inclined to play zone when down 20-7 at halftime.
According to Pro Football Focus, Cover-3 was called at a higher percentage each quarter until the fourth, when Cover-1 re-emerged on high-leverage plays.
There’s a solid mixture of veteran and young talent throughout the Panthers’ secondary. Horn, a top-10 pick last year, returned from an injury that sidelined him during his rookie season last year, and the Panthers traded for 2020 top-10 pick C.J. Henderson to compensate for the loss of Horn last year.
The duo of Horn and Henderson possess a lot of talent but are inexperienced and tend to be a bit undisciplined. Horn aligned in the slot for nine snaps last week, but the slot cornerback is Myles Hartsfield - a 2020 UDFA who played well against Cleveland.
Veteran cornerback Dante Jackson is still on the roster and started on the right side. The safety duo of Jeremy Chinn and Xavier Woods is very underrated. Chin is a big physical player with a ton of athletic ability, and Woods has impressive ball-hawking skills as a free safety.
Snow will attempt to leverage his talented secondary against an injured Giants’ wide receiver corps. Wan’Dale Robinson may not play with his knee issue, and Kadarius Toney - who played seven snaps in week one - was on the Thursday injury report with a hamstring issue.
Snow will try to rectify the run defense and force Daniel Jones to win the game for the Giants through the air. If the Panthers can stop Barkley - big if - Jones will have to get Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard, Kadarius toney, Richie James, David Sills, Daniel Bellinger, Chris Myarick, or Tanner Hudson going - or maybe Darius Slayton.
If the Giants rely more on Jones and the passing attack, Evan Neal will have more of a challenge dealing with Brian Burns, who has two consecutive seasons with more than 50 pressures.
The Panthers and head coach Matt Rhule are in pure desperation mode. They lost a winnable game against a second-string quarterback at home in Week 1, and they now travel to New York for another winnable football game. After Sunday against the Giants, the following games for the Panthers are vs. New Orleans, vs. Arizona, vs. San Francisco, @ Los Angeles Rams, vs. Tampa Bay - that’s not the easiest schedule.
I respect Snow dating back to his days at Baylor, but he has to fix this run defense. Carolina allocated a top 10 selection to defensive lineman Derrick Brown, and he has not been maximized. The linebackers and cornerbacks aren’t disciplined, but the cornerbacks have talent. The Panthers need this win; Matt Rhule needs this win. However, stopping a running back like Saquon Barkley, who just rattled off 164 yards on the ground in Tennessee, won’t be easy for a defense that surrendered 217 yards to the Browns.