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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Carolina v/s Dallas - Pregame

Heat versus hype.

Proven versus potential.

Carolina brings 10-0 to the Thanksgiving table, the first time it's played Thanksgiving, against the Dallas tradition of having a home holiday game (how that happens every year, and no one whines about it, I don't know. It's a pretty big homefield advantage).

This is a game that nationally, no one would care about, without Tony Romo.  The Cowboys were 2-0 with him, and then 0-7 without him, and finally 1-0 with him again.   It's as if those seven losses don't matter.  But in true Disney fashion, their hero came back and suddenly the massive in-fighting and bickering went away.  Now suddenly instead of whether Carolina can win their final six, people are speculating on the Cowboys running the table, somehow.  Which is lunacy.

So how much of the problems we see with Dallas, 3-7, are because of Romo being gone, and how much of it is a legitimate concern?  They were a 12-4 team last year, with good defense and running game.  They were 8-8 for years in a row with a Romo-centric offense.

They're very much a Carolina-styled team.  4-3 defense, good to great OL that leads into the running game and playaction.   They're 8th in yards rushing even without Romo's bootleg game, and 26th in passing yards where they were 16th the year before.

The change from DeMarco Murray at RB, to Darren McFadden (3.9 yards/attempt, 2 scores) has been rickety.  Joseph Randle has been released.   It's a lot of power football and a lot of man on man overpowering, but it can be done, as Tampa showed by shutting them down.  There's not much behind Murray's slashing style, which seems dangerous given his past, but they cut down the second and third backs recently.   That leaves rook Rod Smith and Trey Williams as a backup plan, both rookie free agents for other teams in camp.

They lost Bill Callahan to the Redskins a year after Scott Linehan came in to call plays; Linehan's a 2nd year guy here who's rooted deep in Coryell, just as is head coach Jason Garrett.  The running game makes Linehan a bit more stable, whereas in his time with other teams he's been prone to Mike Martzing a gameplan into 50 variations of 3 different passes and almost no runs.

It's likely up to Josh Norman to contain Dez Bryant, who'll probably be moved around a bit (like a lot of Coryell guys, including Mike Shula, Linehan likes a lot of formation disguises).  Bene Benwikere likely gets TTerrance Williams, and Colin Jones gets Cole Beasley (I'm assuming Charles Tillman is out).

So what you get here is essentially 2013 Panthers stuff, if you sub Bryant for Steve Smith.  You have a good tight end, though there's an age difference with Jason Witten.  They play a lot of 2 TE, with Gavin Escobar.  Bryant, and the running game, are critical focuses, followed by the playaction game and keeping Romo contained.  Romo, not unlike Russell Wilson, will move the pocket on you, and the best way to ruin that is by staying at home and getting upfield.

Dallas is going to want to control the clock and play good defense.  They'll wear down if their D sees too many plays.  Carolina, likewise, is built the same.  Carolina's got a few fresh legs (Charles Johnson, finally; Dwan Edwards; Mario Edwards) on the DL.  So they seem to be a bit fresher, and deeper.

Dallas, however, while they're 14th against the run, and 10th against the pass, look worse in net yards (18th and 22nd, respectively).  Some of that comes from the time of possession issues, but their best player is the up-and-down Greg Hardy (no comment), right next to their biggest weakness (old Panthers draft pick, NT Nick Hayden).   They don't have a lot of DL depth - Jack Crawford, their 2nd best rusher, mostly at DT.

Rolando McClain and Sean Lee make for a solid duo behind it.  The key will be SS Barry Church - will they play him in the deep field or up on the line?  I'm expecting up near the line, putting it on FS Wilcox, along with CBs Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, and slot Orlando Scandrick to carry more weight.  Of that group, Scandrick is the lesser name, but likely the best at his role.  Claiborne was a top pick the same year Luke Kuechly was drafted, but hasn't panned out as well.  He has size, but has struggled to live up to his potential.  Carr was a big money signing, and while probably not worth the money, he's done well enough in this cover 1, cover 2 variant from Rod Marinelli.

It's not an exceptional matchup spot for the Panthers, either, given that their WRs had underperformed a lot of the year.  But with Olsen in space, and Devin Funchess looking much improved, there's room to move there.  That's what Carolina's seen lately - a lot of run stack, daring Cam Newton to beat them, and then watching him do it.

The key to letting that happen is to give him time, and that's where former Hardy teammate Michael Oher has to have a game.  Hardy might be pissed off, even though Carolina treated him more than fairly.  Oher knows him from high school days and Ole Miss days, so Hardy would face a different type of teammate than normally expected of a Panther ex-pat.

So, that's how I see it.  On paper, a Carolina advantage to the same type of team.  It'll be up to the old cliche of stopping Romo, Bryant, and Hardy - which I hate.   I wish there were better keys to the thing, but in the end, this is a remarkably generic team with a couple stars.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

v/s Washington - Record Breaking Aftermath

Short week coming up, you guys know what happened this past week.  But I'll write through it quickly anyway.

44-16, Newton threw 5 scores, a career high and franchise tying, to Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert, Ted Ginn Jr, Greg Olsen, and Devin Funchess.  This one got out of hand and gave Carolina some rest in the fourth, much needed rest with Dallas in the travel schedule for Thursday.  

HIghlights included Jonathan Stewart making 100 yards again, Olsen's career tying 6th TD, Funchess being a grown man on 4/64 and his score, and Kony Ealy's fourth straight game with a sack as part of a five sack party thrown at Kirk Cousins (Mario Addison 1.5, Kyle Love 1, Ryan Delaire .5, Bene Benwikere 1).

It was nice to see - now the crucial part is seeing how they can travel to Dallas, somehow as underdogs, without a false sense of self after a massive win.

Thanksgiving is a busy holiday for all, so I'm going to start breaking down Dallas now and see about having that posted Wednesday.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Panthers v/s Washington Pregame - Next Man Up: Brown, Tillman

It's a tough time on the edges for Carolina, with Philly Brown (shoulder) and Charles Tillman (knee) out.    Tillman may be the tougher loss, since Carolina relies on defense, but both have issues upcoming.

Both missed time last year, Tillman most of the last two seasons, actually.  But, he's not missed any time outside of torn muscle in the last five years.  Brown missed the middle of '14, but toughed out a playoff game with a similar injury.

Bene Benwikere easily gets the start outside.  Teddy Williams might get some snaps, but it should be mostly Colin Jones in at nickel.  I don't mind this setup, one that worked out very well last year, but Washington does use the slot well.

Now for Brown - Devin Funchess gets his first career start.  Good for a kid who's trending upward.   They'll continue to use Jerricho Cotchery in 3 receiver sets.  Joe Webb might get some receiver time, Brenton Bersin,

Funchess has to step up bigtime, because this is going to be a game where the focus is squarely on TE Greg Olsen (that somehow there are games where that doesn't happen, is still baffling).  4-5 Washington still has Deangelo Hall, he of various Steve Smith feuds that feel like a decade ago now.  They don't handle the TE well, S Dashon Goldson has had a lot of struggles, recently being named on the Profootballfocus "worst players at every position" list, right next to fellow starter Trenton Robinson.  They can be attacked down the middle, Olsen or not.

It also doesn't help that, though Washington did boot Jim Haslett, they kept a fairly stoic 3-4 - meaning they have two pass rushers, two thumping ILB, and three massive DL.  Should that help stop the run?  Sure.  Can it be a solid pass defense?  Yeah.  But in this incarnation, it's not.  ILBs Perry Riley and Keenan Robinson are also awful.  That earlier-cited PFF "worst of" list?  Both ILB are improbably on there as well.   So, can the Washington unit have a small advantage on the edge, with Hall versus an underpowered Panthers WR unit, and with good receivers against a slightly less deep Panthers DB group?  Probably.

But that Washington interior is a rotten unit on both sides, too.  They struggle in line play across both sides, their defensive interior is rotten.  They're 30th against the run defensively, against a team that uses a lot of play action, so being 12th against the pass is not sustainable this week.   They do seem to stop power game somewhat well on the ground, but Carolina will hopefully use enough counter and zone stuff to make it interesting.

In the passing game, to make comfortable for Funchess, I'd line up Olsen outside, Funchess inside on the other side at least half the time - in concept, if the D wants to double Olsen, they'll have to push that help to the boundary, which seems unlikely.  If they do or don't, Funchess should be able to abuse them inside, and the additional snaps should give Mike Shula some room to give Funchess some easy catches to get him rolling.

As well, it's been hard to take that drubbing of New Orleans last week seriously - mostly because that Saints defense is horrible.   Can Washington make things happen in the passing game (18th, yards)?  Somewhat.  That ranking comes without Desean Jackson being healthy often, which can really help.  But, QB Kirk Cousins is one Rob Ryan defense contest outside of being a 1:1 TD to INT season,

Is this a winnable game?  Absolutely.  Is it a trap?  I sincerely don't believe so. It won't be an easy game, Carolina hasn't had any of those.  But I see the angles on how Carolina should win this, and I don't see many on how the opposite happens.  If it does, it comes on the edges in the passing games.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

V/s Titans, 9-0 Aftermath

Nine wins in a row this year, after a hard fought game that Carolina really pulled out in the end.  Those nine wins guarantee Carolina will be over .500 for the year for only the sixth time in 21 years.

This game - 27-10 - was a flip of the script from the past few weeks.  In this one, Carolina held a tight (instead of commanding) lead, 14-10, into the second half, and instead of blowing a big lead, pulled away with a resurgent offense.  It took them to the last bit to get to 100 yards rushing,

Carolina's defense also faltered a bit early, looking like it was going to be a shootout game of matching scores.  The early score by Jonathan Stewart, answered by TN WR/RB Dexter McCluster, itself answered by some nice upfield strikes to Devin Funchess (who finished 2 catches/41 yards) and Ted Ginn (4/45) before a goal line fade TD to Ed Dickson.  TN knocked in a late FG before the half, but wouldn't get another score all day.

The third quarter found Carolina struggling to find a groove on either side, with simply outlasting the Titans' own O struggles and doing a good job flipping the field with punter Brad Nortman and good returns by Ted Ginn (despite an 80+ yarder being brought back).  Ginn finished the day with 60 yards returning and 45 receiving for a 100 yard all purpose day.  A nice Kurt Coleman INT netted Carolina a field goal to extend to a 7 point lead, one they'd never relinquish.

It all clicked in the final period, another field goal and then the traditional Cam Newton diving, ball extending leap, barely stretching it in.

Carolina's dominant fourth quarter still took some help - a drop of a probable first down by Anthony Fasano, a 3rd down snap issue by Mariota - showed the Titans offense isn't as detail oriented as you might want to see out of TN.  They were also over-aggressive - I was impressed with the physicality, but they were dirty, there were multiple fights, and the Titans weren't smart.

Game balls to Kawann Short, with a sack and fumble recovery; Coleman for the INT; Luke Kuechly for tons of tackles and the forced fumble; Ginn and Nortman for some great special teams and Jonathan Stewart for some big plays in the run game.

And let's throw one out for Cam for a 21/26, 217 yards, 1 TD passing and 1 TD rushing game. For what it's worth, Cam now has 30 games career with a passing and receiving TD, one shy of Steve Young's all-time record; he has 39 career rushing TD, second to Young's 43 career.

With 86 more yards of total offense, Cam would pass Jake Delhomme for all time total franchise yards.  With 1775 more all purpose yards, Cam would be the all-time NFL leader for yards in the first five years of his career - but would pass from fifth (current) to second with about fifty yards passing, rushing, or receiving.  I'm sure he doesn't care about that, but it's an interesting set of stats, just as is 9-0.

v/s Titans, Defense - Pregame

Yesterday's meandering thoughts on the variability of running QBs and the Titans' offense touched on the key focus for the Panthers defense - how Marcus Mariota will be used.   Granted, they will definitely want to force the issue on how that happens, by playing aggressive and forcing him to read a lot of looks and pressures.

But, if I were to distill this week's game down into one concern, it's the other side.  Carolina's offense versus the Tennessee defense.  This is a 6th ranked (yards - points is 16th, some of which comes from playing with an ailing offense) defense helmed by both a potential head coach in the making, Ray Horton, and current Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau*.  While that offense has an inexperienced OC, and a new head coach stocked with an offense mostly from the other guy's friends, the defense has a pair of heavy hitters.  This is a well schemed, well coached defense, even if it's missing some top names or top performers.

*LeBeau's award being an outside the box thing, he certainly gave his entire life to football, but it's weird that a 3 time Pro Bowler who's .267 as a head coach, and who's still coaching, is a Hall of Famer.

It's a 3-4 in concept, which collapses down to a 2-4-5 (i.e., the OLB rush in a four man line, the NT comes out, etc).  That's the fourth in a row, and they'll face a 5th v/s Washington.  Schematically, that can work well in the pass (you essentially have a shot at facing almost no intermediate pass defenders of value, and you can get them out of base fairly easy in 2 TE or 2 back by pushing one outside formation (as they do with Greg Olsen often) or by forcing them to cover a lot of blocked gaps by bunching near formation (as they often do with Olsen, the Z receiver, and the slot guy).  You can also force an ILB out of the boundary, or a safety up on a slot, by pushing a TE outside formation, leaving unpowerful man coverage or zone gaps.

It's powered by OLB Brian Orakpo, 5 sacks on the year but 3 in the last two weeks, and Derrick Morgan opposite him (4.5 this year, 6.5 last year, and a target of Dave Gettleman until the rumors of 7-8 teams going after him probably pushed him away - maybe it was agent-speak because Morgan re-signed with TN).  This pair do a good job of setting the edge on the run, and they're obviously rushing the passer as well.  That leaves a lot of things more toward the interior - stepping up in the pocket for the pass,

And outside of Jurrell Casey at right end, that middle is susceptible.  Now, that trio gets at the QB, and that's what they do best.  Wesley Woodyard as a blitzer comes allright, too - but after that it gets rough.  Their run rating is 17th, and left end/left tackle/right end gaps theyre awful against the run - high 20s to bottom of the barrel - to improve to 12th in the middle and off RT.  Yet TN doesn't get run on outside much (8% each end compared to league average 11%, despite being below average on both corners).  Carolina's outside zone and power sweep runs can be lethal, if blocked correctly.  I'm still of the opinion, take rook RT Daryl Williams and shove him at TE, and set the edge properly a few times.

They've also struggled with lesser rushing QBs - Tyrod Taylor is somewhat sudden, but he's certainly no Newton, and he had 67 yards and a score.

CBs Jason McCourty (out), Parrish Cox ,and Blidi Wreh-Wilson (questionable) are all banged up, so they're thin there.  FS Da'Norris Searcy is decent, and they still have allright former CB Michael Griffin, If Cox can't go, they're without any good corners - even a healthy W-W is ehh.

The only place that Football Outsiders grades the TN defense exceptionally against certain WRs?  RB.   #1 there, #13 against the top WR, but progressively worse elsewhere.  21st against the TE, which is again a good matchup for Greg Olsen.  #31 against the #2 receiver, interestingly.  Which isn't likely to improve with injury for TN.

So clearly, you have to set the run first.  That's where they struggle, that's where aggressive but under-manned DBs are going to bite.

I don't know.  TN keeps being called a trap game.  It's on the road, against a team that looked good last week - but that's the Saints.

Against Carolina, who really just needs to keep defensive gap integrity and play their best game, I don't know the Titans will look as good.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Flexibility at Quarterback, and You

Quick thoughts on Cam Newton and Joe Webb, and Marcus Mariota to tie it into what we'll see this week.

For one, even with the missed throws that could've been TDs in a close game, I can't be happier with Newton.  And I'm really excited by what Joe Webb is doing here, providing depth at two spots and playing special teams.  I like seeing that for a guy who is a natural football player.

But - I'm surprised a team doesn't use Webb, or a similar player/players, to bridge the gap in Quarterback Purgatory.

I don't want to lose Webb, and I don't see a reason Carolina would try.  But, it's amazing in a league with the QB haves and have nots, that more teams aren't attempting to go spread and use a running quarterback.

Bills GM Doug Whaley spoke on this, the concept of being too good to get a high pick, but without adequate QB talent.  Tyrod Taylor might be that guy for them, but might not - and his success or failure might forward the point in either direction.   You could definitely say that Chip Kelly's wheeling and dealing ideals of attempting to circumvent the process, by dealing for Sam Bradford, show the divide as well (also suggests that, if a QB is crucial to your success, there are two jobs you want as a new head coach - one with an established, great QB, or one with a really high pick).

Granted, this has been tried often, in concept.  Quincy Carter, EJ Manuel, and so on, to where an athletic quarterback only really succeeds if he becomes a pro quarterback first - i.e., Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick at times, with the ideal concept being Steve Young, with Cam Newton potentially being a solid prototype for the next big thing (Newton's not Young, but is a dual threat who, like Young early on, is just touching what he's capable of).  That first list definitely doesn't have the arm talent of the second, sure.  

I realize that I'm suggesting making do with a run first QB with just enough arm talent, and Webb is that type guy.  Maybe that could've been Pat White if the timing would be better.   If you want to be incendiary, maybe Armanti Edwards.  Nick Marshall is a great example, being an undrafted CB for the Jaguars when I'm really surprised the league didn't value him as a spread backup QB.   And trust me, you'd want a couple guys in reserve for this type thing.   This premise is based on QB hits.  You want a QB dispensary because it's more likely someone's going to the infirmary.

Point is, I guess, having a basic system that brute forces the run, and lets essentially anyone with enough zip use a lethal set of packaged plays and playaction, would allow a team to not spend on the QB position past draft picks (again, multiple picks) but never have to spend the $10 million entry fee that comes with success (which is the difference between happiness with Colin Kaepernick and his benching).   Who knows if it really works, or if anyone would really use it, but there's talent out there, if you are willing to free your mind to it a bit.

Now, teams that use this, would have to be talented in most places.  You have to be a good defense, especially against the run but at least situationally very good in the pass - a strong DL team that has good corners and maybe a versatile SS but gets by with roleplayers everywhere else.  

You'd have to run the ball well, because from Newton back to Vick you have to respect all lanes, all gaps, to be a top rushing offense with a good rushing quarterback.  That QB rush makes it easier to run the ball, obviously, but you can't just plug in a running QB and magically run the ball well at RB, too.  You can't not have a great OL, but I believe in that universally anyway.  I can't think of a reason you'd ever want a weakness there.

Scheme shell is essentially unimportant.  We've seen it with all major pro offenses, but all of them require forward thinking.   I'll put recently deposed Ken Whisenhunt on trial here.  The Titans, this week's opponent, took Tampa to task in week 1 with the moble Mariota and a lot of spread concepts.  Call it a lack of film/lack of knowing what to expect.   But Mariota got Whisenhunt's most shallow adaptations of a spread, not a full buy in.  So by week 2, that tape mattered, and defensive coaches found it easy to beat.  So your background as a coach, is less important than your willingness.   It's one of Tennnessee's failures. They have many, but showing that Mariota can be very successful and then immediately having him regress into an ill-fitting pro scheme that's successful otherwise, shows that it's not easy to have success with more talent, because of stubbornness.

That's where getting a spread guy to come in, like former Pistol wizard Chris Ault, supposedly helpful with the past San Fran/Washington iterations, or consulting with a Gus Malzahn (which is where a lot of Carolina's power-based scheme is found), or being smart enough to hire assistants with that background from college so you can legitimately integrate the spread instead of being half-in, half-out, and finding your success tied to something you're ill-prepared for.

*examples - David Lee, former Dolphin expert for the Wildcat, because he couldn't force the application of the spread yet from his Malzahn Arkansas days,
or a guy I'd stump to get today as an assistant if Rivera's staff magically disappeared, in former Panther QB and current Auburn Co-OC Dameyune Craig.  Craig has exposure to the NFL, schematic exposure to both Malzahn's system and Jimbo Fisher's somewhat more pro style scheme, and he's not prohibitively expensive like the concept of pulling a spread head coach out of college (ex, Hugh Freeze, who I like, blew up last year and immediately got paid about five times what an assistant would make in the NFL; consider Carolina almost got Charlie Weis in his prime here, but couldn't pay him more than what his friend and new head coach John Fox would make, to be his subordinate). Or, I guess you could hire Pat Shurmur, the current Eagles OC and former candidate to be Carolina's in '13, assume he learned a lot from the spread and not focus on his head coach failings in the past.

So, that's my thought on how you could successfully create a QB-safe, running-based successful team that could escape QB purgatory.

That's where Mariota comes in, to a point, and the Titans' new head coach, Mike Mularkey.  Mariota, freshly named AFC offensive player of the week, faces Cam, NFC OPOTY (congrats, Cam!).  Cam does it with the same offense he's run for five years now, obviously the longest he's played in a system in forever.

It was, supposedly, the first game that OC Jason Michael called plays, despite being the OC for the entire tenure of Whiz - and the first for Mularkey as HC.  Mularkey gave Carolina trouble as the guy for Atlanta, though they had similar success over time with now-Tampa OC Dirk Koetter.  So in comparison, one OPOTY was earned with a massive one-off game, not unlike week 1, and one was earned with the defense fully knowing what was coming, and not being able to stop it (my concept of the above "winning with a mediocre passing, strong running QB" comes with the idea of being a team that can overcome predictability with brute force, as does Carolina to a point).

That means Carolina has, outside of any flavor Mularkey himself might bring, one game of tape of this OC, who prior had been a TEs coach in various places (Mularkey himself was and, I guess, still is TEs coach of the Titans).  Michael was a QBs coach for a year in SF (2010), and the TEs coach for three years in San Diego, including the time under Whiz and HC Mike McCoy.  So, without playcalling ability until now, he's mostly a guy running a practice and maybe helping gameplanning. He lacks a lot of experience, to go with that lack of game tape to study.

He's suggested he's into running the ball, though essentially anyone outside Mike Martz and George Seifert can be quoted saying that.  Chances are that the tape v/s Saints, and maybe to a point in week 1, is more what you'd expect to see against Carolina.   But, who knows what you'll see, and whether the bubble on week 9 is going to burst in 10 the way that week 1's did by week 2.   This is, after all, a 28th ranked offense who only climbed up from 31 because they got to play the Saints minus tape.

For more on what the Titans did last week, check this well-written breakdown by someone who has more time and video editing ability.  While doing so, remember this was situational football, not base football, but they do look like a team turning things around a bit.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Extrapolation: Projecting a 16 game 2015 Season, Statistically

With the team at the 8 game mark, it’s now easy to get an idea for the future production via extrapolating all statistics (i.e., multiply by 2 to see what projects to 16 games).  Largely a silly bit of nonsense, but potentially useful as a way of putting a mirror up to yourself to see where you are.

Of course, doing this creates a number of bizarre  outcomes.  It suggests that Carolina, of course, goes 16-0, and I don’t know about that just yet.   I also believe it over-emphasizes some data points.  Josh Norman hasn’t gotten an INT in a month, in part because he’s not getting targets.    Most big plays on offense or defense are very one-off – a shallow data pool could skew to suggest Ted Ginn would have 600 yards rushing if skewed to one game, and yet he might not hit 600 receiving, if you trended him downward.


Cam Newton  extrapolates to 3640 yards, 28 TD, 18 INT.   686 yards rushing, 10 TD. 26 sacks for 174 yd.  QB rating, completion/TD/INT percentages obviously stay the same.

Third highest passing total, highest since his sophomore 2012.  Lowest Sack percentage by far – closest being 35 as a rookie, 17 less than his high in ’13 with almost 100 fewer yards than next lowest.  Speaks to the OL, and to Cam getting the ball out.

Jonathan Stewart: 1142 yards, 6 TD.  Highest rushing output of his career.  Despite him being used far greater than anyone else, and average YPA (3.9), his 18.4 attempts per game aren’t alarmingly high.   66 yards receiving.
Cam’s are listed above (686, 10 TD)
Mike Tolbert: 198 yards, 2 TD.  160 yards receiving, 2 scores.
Cam Artis-Payne: 62 yards rushing.    This is the bit that I feel should really change, he needs more carries to be ready for all contingencies.
Fozzy Whittaker: 46 yards rushing, 96 receiving.  Another place that could be upped, Whittaker should be used a bit more in space.
Joe Webb would have -2 yards rushing.  Let’s hope we don’t see that play again, though.

End arounds – Ted Ginn would have 86 yards on 2 carries, Corey Brown would have 58 yards on 10.  Carolina’s averaging about .8 receiver rushes per game.

*I put the backs’ receiving info with their rushing totals.
Greg Olsen would finish with 138 targets (higher than last year), 74 receptions, 1168 yards, 10 TD.  Many new personal records there.
Ted Ginn: 102 targets, 42 rec, 726yd, 6 TD.    That’s a lot of Ginn targets. 
Philly Brown: 52 targets, 32 rec, 450yd, 6 TD.   Brown’s more or less Ginn, without good return ability.
Devin Funchess: 50 targets, 20 rec, 322 yd, 2 TD.   Certainly the place that you’d want to see some improvement, and a good week to suggest it’s coming.
Jerricho Cotchery: 42 targets, 26 rec / 380 yd, 2 TD.  The only guy in the group to miss time (2 games), he’s gonna have to get more time if Funchess doesn’t.   He’s needed more, as a sure handed, tough receiver.
Ed Dickson: 26 targets, 16 rec, 138 yards.  Improbably, another long fumble recovery, of course.  Dickson’s playing a lot, and sure he’s blocking a lot.  But the team needs more out of him.

The clear issue there, inefficiency.  With Newton hitting 53.7% (which extrapolates equally), naturally you’re not going to be that efficient (Olsen is, but any #1 receiver is going to be drug down a bit due to the attention). 


*Kawann Short, 12
*Thomas Davis, Mario Addison,  6
*Kony Ealy, Jared Allen, Ryan Delaire, 4
*Luke Kuechly, Kurt Coleman, Shaq Thompson, Star Lotulelei, Wes Horton, Dwan Edwards, and Charles Johnson, 2.

Johnson’s return almost certainly puts him as a riser in this list, as he’ll be fresh in two weeks.  He’ll have five weeks, in which you might hope for 3 sacks out of him.  It’ll be a low for Johnson over time, who had been playing at a close to Pro Bowl level over time.   His contract in 2016 is going to be a sticking point. 

Similarly, the team hopes for more out of Lotulelei as he hits stride, and they would have more DE relief if Edwards returned (Edwards is, himself, worth a few more sacks a year).

Davis’ 6 sack pace isn’t that sustainable, in part because Thompson stands to get some of those blitzes and at some point Carolina’s going to have to hope for more DL pressure once healthy.

*Josh Norman, 8 (4 TD!)
*Thomas Davis, 6
*Kurt Coleman, 4
Luke Kuechly, Charles Tillman, AJ Klein, Colin Jones, 2

INTs certainly don’t work this way, but that’s what the numbers would bear out.  It’s conspicuous that Bene Benwikere and Roman Harper don’t have one, though Harper gets pulled sometimes.  Certainly, both BB and Tillman will take the brunt of some targets over time with Norman being avoided.

Tackles (#s via pro-football-reference, your mileage may vary)
*Thomas Davis, 92, plus 38 assists, for 130
*Kuechly is harder.  He’s played 5 games, which extrapolates to 70+40 = 110.  If you distill his 5 games into a future 8, he has a total of 88 for a finish of 143.  That feels more appropriate.
*Norman would have 52 + 8, Coleman 52 + 36, Harper would have 52 + 42, Benwikere 52 + 24, Tillman 48 + 30.
*Short would lead DL with 36 +28, next being Ealy with an odd 14 +34…
*Rook Shaq Thompson would have 22 + 18, or extrapolating his 6 games into 8, 25 + 21. .

Most interesting of the group is the Davis versus Kuechly thing.  Luke will possibly make more plays over the next 8 games, but Davis’ team lead in tackles, along with 3 each INTs and sacks, makes him a first half star along with Short and Norman.

Passes defensed:
*Norman, 26
*Benwikere, 16
*Tillman 6
*Kuechly, 10 (or using the 5 into 13 thing above, he’d have 13). 
*Davis, Coleman, Harper, Short would each have 8, and a slew of others would have 2.