BGA Preview: Jets at Panthers

During the season, Bent’s Game Analysis charts games for some of the Jets’ upcoming opponents, enabling a break down of what to watch out for on gameday…

It took a year longer than I expected, but the Carolina Panthers have finally emerged as one of the better teams in the NFC. However, with their loss to the Saints last weekend dropping them out of a first placed tie for the division lead and another meeting with the Saints on tap for next week, this weekend’s game against the Jets is vital for them to stay in contention for the division title. A Jets win could mean that the Panthers are on their way to missing the playoffs altogether, despite winning eight in a row to open 9-3. This is obviously an important game for them, but could they be overlooking the Jets and focusing on the rematch with the Saints instead?

After the jump, I break down the positional groupings (BGA-style!) to try and highlight what the Jets need to look out for.

Quarterbacks

Cam Newton has improved his consistency and been more efficient in his third season where he is on course for a career year statistically. That’s despite the fact he only has one 300-yard game as a passer, despite having six (two of which were 400-yard games) in his first two seasons. His highest output this year was 308 yards against the Cardinals in a 22-6 loss where he threw three interceptions. His numbers have definitely benefited from the Panthers improved defense keeping games close and preventing him from needing to take risks.

Although PFF points out that Newton is one of the best passers in the NFL when pressured, that pressure does still drop his completion percentage to 51% and his QB rating to 56.9.

Offensive Line

The Panthers’ line is very good despite some injury issues over the course of the season, including the loss of guard Amini Silatolu, a very solid player. Jordan Gross is an excellent blindside pass protector and center Ryan Kalil grades out as the third best run blocking center in the NFL. In between them, Travelle Wharton hasn’t given up a sack all season and is showing what a big loss he was for the Panthers in 2012 when he missed the entire season with a knee injury. He had just started to emerge at the end of the 2011 season and has picked up where he left off in 2013.

If there’s a weakness, it’s the right side of the line, where right tackle Byron Bell has surrendered a team leading seven sacks and 39 total pressures, along with five penalties, which also leads the team. Chris Scott is the starting left guard and should play, although he missed the last game with a knee injury. Converted defensive lineman Nate Chandler has started in his place and struggled at first but has regrouped. Scott struggles as a run blocker, while Chandler struggles in pass protection.

Veteran Geoff Hangartner gives them a reliable emergency option.

Running Backs

The Panthers have 12 players on injured reserve, but the only player on their current active roster that will today’s game with an injury is running back Jonathan Stewart. On the face of it, this shouldn’t be be a major loss as he had only averaged 30 yards per game in six appearances, but the Panthers were only 4-3 without him over the first half of the season and their loss on Sunday saw him limited to just seven snaps.

With Stewart out, fullback Mike Tolbert gets more reps as a tailback and DeAngelo Williams (who leads the team with 662 rushing yards) will start. Tolbert and Williams have caught 41 passes between them.

The Panthers rushing numbers are bolstered by Newton’s scrambles. He averages 5.6 yards per carry. Stewart, Williams and Tolbert have averaged less than four yards per carry between them, so the Jets’ elite run defense should be able to stifle the Panthers as long as there are no breakdowns that lead to big plays like last week.

Receivers

The ageless Steve Smith is still a very dangerous player, who might have lost a step, but can still rack up numbers. His 60 receptions lead the team. The other starter, Brandon LaFell, presents a challenge for whoever covers him with a nice combination of size and athleticism. LaFell plays in the slot most of the time in three wide receiver sets, with Ted Ginn still representing a big play threat.

Tight end Greg Olsen is right on Smith’s tail, just two receptions and 30 yards behind him for the team lead. He plays most of the snaps, but plenty of them are in the slot or on the outside. Ex-Jet Ben Hartsock is still with the team as a blocking tight end.

Third string tight end Richie Brockel is an interesting player. He also plays fullback and is often integral to some of the Panthers’ more creative plays, which involve wildcat, unbalanced line and read-option elements.

Defensive Line

The Panthers’ defensive resurgence has been led by the main rival to Sheldon Richardson for the 2013 defensive rookie of the year award, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. Lotulelei has been spectacular against the run, rivaling Damon Harrison’s outstanding numbers. Alongside him, journeyman Colin Cole has been starting since Dwan Edwards was injured in week two, but since returning Edwards has been getting more reps than Cole off the bench. Another rookie – Kawann Short has also seen his role grow and showed tremendous promise.

They also boast two terrific pass rushing ends. Veterans Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson have 16 sacks between them. They will play the majority of the snaps, mainly in a four man front, but undrafted free agent Wes Horton and Mario Addison have two sacks each in a backup role.

Linebackers

Like most teams, the Panthers spend more time in nickel and dime packages than in base, so they’ll often have just two linebackers in the game. Having had to deal with an injury plagued linebacker corps over the past two years, they’ve benefited from Thomas Davis remaining healthy this year. Entering this year, the former first rounder Davis had started just 21 games since 2008, but he’s started every game and is on course for a career year. He can be dangerous when blitzing.

Second year man Luke Kuechly anchors the front seven. He’s a terrific coverage linebacker and is seventh in the NFL with a team-leading 113 tackles.

Chase Blackburn is listed as the other starter, but often comes out in passing situations. Another ex-Giant, Dan Connor, is one of the primary backups.

Defensive Backs

While Santonio Holmes may not be impressed with them, the Panthers secondary grades out well, with the assistance of a very good front seven. However, they feature a collection of players who are not exactly household names. Perhaps the best known is former Bills second round pick Drayton Florence. Florence has played well and has been starting for the last two weeks after operating as the third cornerback for most of the season. The third cornerback enters the game in the nickel package, which is used a lot, and plays on the outside as starter Captain Munnerlyn moves to the slot. Last week, that was undrafted rookie Melvin White, although White had started six games in a row until moving into that role two weeks ago. White is still listed as a starter on the Panthers official depth chart. The scrappy Munnerlyn, 5-8 and 186 pounds, has started every game, doing well to have developed from slot corner into an every-down player.

Backup Josh Thomas started five games earlier in the year, but has only played 18 snaps since week seven.

At safety, 33-year old Quintin Mikell and former Raider Michael Mitchell have been starting and both have been solid but unspectacular. Mitchell is the deep guy most of the time, but the Panthers do mix it up from time to time. Mitchell was the projected late rounder that the Raiders shockingly selected in the second round in 2009.

Special Teams

Placekicker Graham Gano has missed three field goals this season, but is perfect on six kicks from beyond 50 yards. Also, his average start (19.2 yard line) on kickoffs is better than every placekicker in the NFL. Only Atlanta punter Michael Koenen fares better.

They have a solid punter too – Brad Nortman, who they selected in the sixth round last year, is 5th in the league in gross average and 9th in net average.

Jets fans are obviously well aware of how dangerous Ted Ginn is as a return man, but their kick coverage unit is solid too, with no 25 yard punt returns or 35 yard kickoff returns so far this year. Addison leads them with seven tackles.

>>>

I’ll be back tomorrow to recap the game.

Stats from PFF were used in the completion of this article.




32 comments
__fense
__fense

Hey, Bent, A guy who writes for GGN did a whole film breakdown devoted to arguing that Coples is a bad rush OLB. The main argument was that all of his impact plays were 'cheap' plays, where he was unblocked but still was only able to get a pressure instead of a sack, or they were plays where he lined up inside from the start. Have you seen anything to support this? 

djf1
djf1

Yikes.  This really looks like an extremely difficult game for the jets.  I just hope it's not over in the first 20 minutes.

a57se
a57se

They sound really good from your description!

Bent
Bent

@__fense Yes, I read it and thought it was awful.  Flawed, dripping in confirmation bias and very weak in terms of putting numbers into their correct context.

a57se
a57se

@djf1 

I think that is up to Geno and whether he turns the ball over.

Bent
Bent

@Hanknaples  "Newton not only can and will, but WANTS to beat your with his running."  Apparently this is not necessarily true.


From the link in the article: "Making matters worse for the defense, he’s looking to throw first when he’s on the move. That leaves an issue for the linebackers and secondary; close down the impending Newton rush, or hold tight on their assignment. Newton has 116 passing attempts when under pressure this season, as opposed to just 28 scrambles."

a57se
a57se

@Hanknaples 

Another reason for the Jets to play cover 2 today.......

a57se
a57se

@jetfuel 

Yesterday Coples was a bum according to you....

MikeFrancesser
MikeFrancesser

@a57se I think they are pretty good...but I'm curious to see what they look like when they're forced to pass a lot more.

Bent
Bent

@__fense


Extrapolate his last five games over a 16 game season and you get 70.4 total pressures.  Aldon Smith was the only 3-4 OLB to beat that (72) last season.


Cheap or not, hardly anyone else produces like that.  Let's hope it continues.

Bent
Bent

@djf1 I'd say that Geno probably throws it when he should run more often than not.

levi
levi

@Hanknaples Thats good because our big boys like to give big hits.

a57se
a57se

@lamjones 

You could probably use that strategy against a lot of defensive oriented teams with challenged offenses.

lamjones
lamjones

@a57se @Bent @lamjones @Pablo Bruno @levi

Didn't the Pats always say the same thing about Herm's Jets too?  Keep it close and they'll blow themselves up late.

a57se
a57se

@Bent@a57se@lamjones@Pablo Bruno@levi 

But you played it so close to the vest as you were talking about the plan in the middle of the 2012 season yet you wouldn't talk about it until well after the season.

lamjones
lamjones

@a57se @Pablo Bruno @levi

You are so right... the pattern is obvious, ask the Phins, Ravens or Bills.  Rivera and the Panthers staff are plenty aware that time is on their side.

levi
levi

@Hanknaples Cam has been hit more than most QBs too so look for our boys to rough him up a little. It could make a difference.

a57se
a57se

@Pablo Bruno@a57se@levi 

Well my point was that, as Bent pointed out during the off-season, beating the Jets was basically about not making mistakes and waiting for the Jets to screw up. Even if we shut down their running game early, they don't have to resort to passing the ball if they are not trailing. They can play a field position game and wait for Geno to try and make something happen which usually results in a pick.

Pablo Bruno
Pablo Bruno

@a57se @levi I rather them run, lol, only because I'm afraid of our secondary being exposed. Hopefully they will flush the pocket and only allow Netwon to run.

levi
levi

@a57se If they cant run the ball on us they are forced to pass. Its not that complicated.

a57se
a57se

@levi@a57se 

Well, if they are not losing, and can't run the ball on us, they can stay patient and wait for us to crack....