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Saturday, September 20, 2014

V/S Pittsburgh - SNF!

I know preseason doesn’t really matter, but Carolina pushing Pittsburgh around four weeks ago gives Carolina a little advantage – and since it wasn’t a meaningful game for either team, there’s probably no residual angst over just such a thing. 

All the 10-0 game really showed was that Carolina’s deeper than painfully average Pittsburgh*, and that maybe they have a bit more pride, emotion, whatever.   But it still showed, somewhat, how both of these teams are created, and why Carolina should have the upper hand.   I’m not often confident of a convincing win, but I feel that coming here. 

*Painfully average as in, two straight 8-8 finishes and a 1-1 this year, in a franchise that hasn’t had back to back non-winning seasons since Kordell Stewart.   That 1-1 comes barely beating out the Browns in a shootout followed by a sound stomping by the Ravens on Thursday night.

You hear of things like The Steeler Way.  The Steeler way ceases to exist, and was overblown way back when.   This Steeler team is fat with big contracts for average players, it’s hard to know where their future is headed; Ben Roethlisberger is now 32 and Troy Polamalu 33.  It’s seemingly a now-or-never team that has already achieved, I don’t know how interested they are in loading up for a run (with limited resources), and yet they aren’t building much.   Does The Steeler Way often make you think Mike Mitchell is worth $5 million to a team that tries to manufacture pass rush in one of the more outdated ways possible?

Let’s dig right in, starting as Carolina has the ball. 

Offensively, it feels like health is a bigger concern than the somewhat toothless Dick LeBeau defense.   The Carolina offense features essentially every skill player of importance as questionable or probable – I assume everyone plays, but who knows?

A two-gap 3-4 remains a modestly interesting challenge on its own, but it takes good personnel just like anything else you can run – and I’m not that convinced of that personnel.   A solid enough defense last year was top 15 in scoring and yards, but sagged against the run (21st in yards) last year and has hit hard times this year (30th!) through two games.  They’re a solid 7th in passing, sure, but 13th in net yards.   For splash plays, they haven’t forced a single turnover and only scored three sacks (Jason Worlids, Cam Heyward, Jarvis Jones) in a lot of rush opportunities (mostly Cleveland).

Mike Tomlin rode someone else’s staff and philosophy to a Super Bowl.  I don’t want to belittle Tomlin, but it’s hard to say that his philosophies are even at play on this team.  He’s cover-2, LeBeau clearly not.   What does Tomlin stand for?   It may not matter – both LeBeau and Tomlin’s approaches are out of style.

Nonetheless- a 3-4 for the uninitiated is a 3 down lineman, 4 LB defense in which the OLBs are essentially rush ends that carry out LB responsibilities; but, for all real purposes they have to play run contain and often rush.  The vogue (Wade Phillips style) 3-4 is one-gap – penetrate, attack – but LeBeau’s, like Dom Capers’, is a react defense.  The DL takes on blockers with the intent of sliding toward the action.   Maybe the ideal will become a thought of stopping the read action type play, but I doubt it, it would happen by now.  Most of the league doesn’t read the OL before attacking, or maybe a nose tackle will (the modern NT comes from the two-gap 3-4, but long since have dropped mutual inclusivity).   The intent of letting the OL into you is that you can control them, slide to the action, all while letting LBs run free.  When not done right, you instead just let the OL get the drop on you. 

That unit – Heyward (son of the former Falcon back, if I recall), NT Steve MClendon, and former UNC guy Thomas.  Brett Keisel  is the extra guy, the wise but declining rotation guy.    Behind it?  First round pick Ryan Shazier and Steeler lifer Lawrence Timmons are a solid ILB duo;  Worlids had an OK 8 sacks last year to lead the team, while Jones steps into starting for the first time consistently after the departure of Lamarr Woodley.  Heyward added 5 sacks inside.

Of course, one issue with any 3-4 can be the nickel, which for most teams is 60% of the game.  It takes them out of their element; now you have two OLBs trying to be ends, two two-gap DTs trying to be one-gap.  You’re going away from your own philosophy, to a point; at least the Phillips 3-4s have all attacking players, but in the LeBeau case, no.  Capers got famous around that last Super Bowl in Green Bay with a  2-4-5 nickel, essentially saying they’re dropping a NT for the nickel the way a 4-3 would drop the SLB (your mileage may vary).  Either way, stylistically, four rushers is a standard and a four man line is, for most, nickel, so this style defense stands a significant disadvantage for many plays.   

It stands to reason that, so far, the two-TE offense hasn’t been in play much, but it could be here, just from a standpoint of having a traditional TE plus Greg Olsen, but then splitting Olsen.  It creates the mismatch where the Steelers are reading two tights, which is base, and then they have 3-4 personnel in against spread.   You end up with either an ILB or S on Olsen on the outside, or alternately, an ILB or S on a WR.   Against the average Tampa 2 WLB, maybe a team could survive that, but the 3-4 just isn’t as versatile.    So, I’d suggest that a bit (or flexing Tolbert out as FB at times) for scheme.   Running will be easier in nickel, with less beef on the field.

And running, of course,  is something Carolina loves.   Power running (i.e., pull a guard, lead with a FB) will be easier versus this read/react nonsense, compared to pulling a guard in front of a top-level DT as happened the last two weeks.  That ideal had Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh shooting gaps and wrecking Carolina’s plays before they could go – something you won’t see here. 

Zone works, too.   The two gap defense works from the concept of having strength head-up, and I don’t see a ton of that here.  Counters work, misdirection works.  If you can get one DL suckered into going the wrong way, you’ve got a big hole.    Carolina’s struggled to run the ball in those two weeks, and in preseason – footballoutsiders.com has them 30th in rushing adjusted, with 31% stuffed (again, because of the penetration and missed assignments).  Obviously, it doesn't matter much where Pittsburgh is if the OL can't execute.

What I wouldn't expect as much - zone read.  Carolina's done a little pistol but not a lot, and Cam Newton hasn't really had much designed run yet.  More than that, the idea of what the zone read can do - reading a playside DE or DT to see which player he'll go after - is hard when that defender isn't pursuing.  Then it's just an automatic give.  You can't really 'read' the contain defender since a two-gap DE is inside him. 

This version of the 3-4 does zone blitz a good deal, of course.  I don't know how valuable it is to have two-gap DL into zone, but more power to you.   In a league where most of the defenses have 9-10 starters that are athletic, the two-gap 3-4 was the one that popularized the zone blitz ideal but is least prepared to enact it.   It does go without saying, the blitz end of that does require good work on pass block assignments, and if successful, requires a bit of extra help inside - potentially a pistolbone type max protect look.   Carolina's struggled a bit with pressure inside, and I anticipate that's where you'll see your extra rusher.


Pittsburgh spent big to get Mitchell, a SS by most standards by build, who played FS for Carolina last year and played closer to the line.  Polamalu's a degrading star who's also been a SS.   Certainly, the Steelers use enough cover 4 and flip cover 3 (three deep where one CB plays man technique as with cover 3 or 1, and the other corner plays short zone, the FS and SS take up the other two spots) that Mitchell not being Earl Thomas can be overcome.  Short story, they have two SS on the field and while both are/were quick, it's not a big advantage.  

Cover 4 isn't that hard to exploit when you're able to pass short with WRs - obviously, corners are retreating, but not necessarily with help if you can look a safety off, and that leaves a 3 deep short zone.  The Coryell O's short drags are in full effect.  Downside?  It's harder to spread against, it's harder to hit that 18 yard bang-8/skinny post, it's harder to work the sideline...it's harder to work past 15 yards in general.  This could be a high attempt, low impact passing game if the Panthers can't test the Steelers deep or they can't run. 

Ike Taylor took a paycut to stay; he's still decent, and he's got height, but it's going to be hard out there against Kelvin Benjamin nonetheless.   Taylor had a QB rating of 110.4 against him last season.  Younger Cortez Allen, also 6'1, is a bit better, but less consistent - some great games last year, some awful.  Nickel William Gay is a fine slot player, and a do-it-all defender who can play the run well or blitz. 

For Carolina, certainly the concern is the health of the receivers.  If Brenton Bersin plays, he probably goes to the X, and Benjamin moves around.   That's a guess on my part - based on them both playing the split end and Benji having college slot experience.  Cotchery and, when playing, Avant, are move players who play a flanker role, motioning more often and being the piece that's most easily lined up wherever; both are slot players or flankers in their history.   Certainly, if needed, the use of Philly Brown suggests a lot of deep ball stuff; whether decoy or not is hard to say.   Brown does offer pure speed, and Carolina might use it if needed.  An early big play could help blow things open. 




Defensively, Carolina faces the arm of Roethlisberger and OC Todd Haley.  Haley's uncorked methodology leaves inconsistencies in their O that make Bruce Arians seem sane; Arians has been quite successful without the Steelers, and the Steelers much less so without him.  Who knows if that says what I believe it does.   Haley seems like the sort of guy who stays unhinged - his constant outbursts, his missing the team flight last week.  I read he and his wife sued McDonalds regarding a rat in their salad - while even getting the salad at McDonalds seems like a bad idea in the first place. 

Haley's O is a downfield one, and certainly can be successful with a deep arm and good WRs.  Without new Panther Cotchery, the deep part seems to have improved; the third down and redzone parts declined.   It runs through Antonio Brown, the smallish, shifty type WR that gave Antoine Cason trouble compared to the bigger WRs he's seen (in, essentially, Golden Tate, though even then, Tate was 5 for 55 yards).   Brown had 1500 yards las tyear, 8 scores in his breakout while Mike Wallace left.  Brown already has 200 yards and a score.  He's also their end-around guy - with two rushes already, as does other starter Markus Wheaton.   The younger Wheaton also lacks size, and while he's pretty productive so far this year, he started one game last year and had 6 receptions.   

Third guy is Lance Moore, so - yeah.  Three deep ball guys.  Rook Justin Brown is the size guy, 6'3, 209.   Otherwise, they can't post up on you, they can't battle hard.  With the newfound worries on holding calls, you hit them, you release them at four yards and you just stay with them.

During playaction, expect a lot of the deeper stuff - post/slant, slant and go, fade - along with a Cardinals staple, the deep cross  - in a perfect world, the Steelers want to jam the ball down your throat for time of possession, and throw deep on playaction. 

But, then, disjointedly, the non-playaction stuff is a whole other animal.   It's short stuff, almost totally forgetting the speed at WR and the arm and escapability of their massive QB.  Put simply, Roethlisberger is more accurate in the portion of the field where his guys have room to work, and it's not short field.   He's not built for the dumpoff.   This defense will cream the short game of the Steelers, and they can't throw deep every down. 

The run game should be easy.  The Steelers have thrown tons of resources into their OL just to be okay at blocking - and Carolina's got a lot of strength and depth along the front seven.  Leveon Bell and LaGarrette Blount do have talent, and the Steelers have good success behind power (pulling/leading) plays, but it's not enough.  Their run game has some promise, but the Steelers have had to win a shootout to be successful, and then got beaten senseless by a team that could control their run game properly. 

For that reason, I see the Steelers as a flaccid version of the Panthers.  I rarely feel this confident in a win, but here I am, pretty confident.   Carolina's stronger, deeper, more able, at home in primetime.   This should be a win. 

Darrin Reaves is In

Camp RB and practice squadder Darrin Reaves is a Panther, at least this week.   He was moved up for Greg Hardy's position, now that Hardy is exempt.

Reaves had a score early in preseason, and was part of what moved Kenjon Barner out.  Fozzy Whittaker, another piece of that puzzle, is doubtful this week and probably sits inactive.  I don't know if Reaves will be around long on the active, however.

Deangelo Williams likely does play this week.


At WR, Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant will be gametime decisions - if I had to guess based on the tone of the year, at least one will sit.  Brenton Bersin may get a jersey again; Philly Brown will definitely see a little more time.   Joe Webb, in a somewhat worst case scenario, might play WR.

Otherwise, I think everyone is OK. But it's a skill position concern, undoubtedly.

Former Baylor RB Lache Seastrunk was brought to the practice squad this week, though that was to cover Tavarres King's position.  Seastrunk is a shifty back who has tons of skill, but he runs a bit high.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

State of The DL

So, Greg Hardy's out in definitely. Given that it's related to his
court date, which is months away if it's not held over, we might've seen
the last of Hardy (unless there ends up being some loophole regarding
having not actually played in more than one game in the season, but
he'll be getting paid so I imagine it's a season accrued nonetheless).

I have more questions than answers about that, but in the meantime
there's football. So here's what we know:

*You still have some of the best DTs in the league.
Kawann Short has come alive, and Star Lotulelei is a dominant run
player. Dwan Edwards is looking alive, whereas last year an early
injury robbed him of his quickness (and his starting spot). Colin Cole
is getting off blocks a little quicker. So, from that standpoint you
have an interior strength that can pull its weight. With Edwards and
Short in the rotation, it's less critical to play an end


*Charles Johnson is still a top end.
While he hasn't finished with any sacks, he remains the team lead with 6
QB hurries and 3 hits, per profootballfocus.com. A mid-preseason injury
hopefully doesn't nag him over time, but him playing a total of 90% of
the snaps available in the first two games suggests Johnson will be OK.

*Mario Addison had a breakout game in Hardy's absence
Greg's the most physically gifted end. There's no doubt of that. But
Addison eased the blow with 2.5 sacks against Detroit.
Addison, who re-signed for three more years in the preseason, has good
outside speed. Last year, with Johnson hurt, Addison had 2 sacks and 7
tackles in three games (it appears he didn't play much in two other
games without Johnson active). In those games, he'd held up his load of
roughly 30 snaps and had been productive (in the non-productive games,
he played an average of 20 snaps, though I don't see in what role).


*You still have Frank Alexander coming back.
Alexander wasn't worth the trade (that could've been Keenan Allen -
ugh), but he's grown this year and Ron Rivera singled him out as being a
lot more consistent this year. Alexander has size to be a run-downs
player but the athleticism to bend the outside. He packed in 2.5 sacks
early in his rookie year but hit the wall hard in '12 and only has one
sack since (in the '13 finale, so a long drought). His drafting came
along with Hardy's breakout, where the pairing of he and Johnson started
to come alive, but Alexander's lack of playing time was also in not
doing enough of the little things. Hopefully that's over, per Rivera's
suggestion. Alexander has two more games before he's back from a PED
suspension.

*Wes Horton has somehow become a run-downs player
Horton, a UDFA last year, outperformed Alexander above, who only got
significant playing time when Johnson was out. I might've gotten my
signals crossed but figured that Horton was the rush guy (he tended to
have preseason sacks that Addison didn't, and it felt like Alexander was
on run downs). But this year, Horton is playing the run snaps and
Addison the pass snaps, based on rushes v/s runs. So far it's seemed to
work, based on the want/need to contain a suddenly mobile Matt Stafford
(who kept things closer in the first half with sprint outs and a bit
more of a moving pocket, shut down in the second half).

*Remember Kony Ealy?
Yep, it's a nice luxury to have a 2nd rounder (who could've been a late
1st) on deck who wasn't active with Hardy playing. Sure, he can rush
inside and they pushed that, figuring it to be his role this year. But
he has size to hold up outside and possibly the most pure talent of
what's left, depending on how you view Johnson (who has a nice first
step but who many crapped on because he's not 6'5, and didn't run a
4.59). Ealy moves like a LB in open space and had a great shuttle time,
and that leads to his splash plays. Time will tell if a 4.92 40 is a
negative. Mike Mayock notes a lack of consistency in his play,
something that's plagued those that came before him (including Johnson
and Hardy early on), but it's fixable. Ealy will still have to earn his
playing time, but there's obviously a ton of potential here.

*There's also the 3-4.
I saw some 3 man lines, and while Carolina tends to put up one of the
DEs as an OLB in that situation, it can be fluid. You could even stack
three DTs across the line, throw one end in as a standing OLB, and one
true OLB to the other side, and get nice rush. Granted, that's base
defense - Carolina doesn't play a ton of 3-4 anyway, but even if they
did 10% of base, that becomes 4% of total snaps historically.





The rotation:

I anticipate Johnson will still play 80% of snaps or greater on the left
end. Historically Johnson and Hardy would each play at least that
amount when either or both would be healthy, and it was always a platoon
around that if one wasn't.

So for now, Horton appears to play early downs, Addison late. When
Alexander comes back, he'll be fresh and Addison might get fewer snaps
(as he's still an integral part of special teams). Ealy remains a bit
of a wildcard, the most fluid of the players regarding potential and
consistency. Last week, he played 30 snaps (42%), essentially the same
as Horton/Addison, but that was in a game that saw the Lions taking a
lot of quick snaps. Assume that there are about 5 snaps at left end,
maybe 5 inside, and 65 snaps at right end to go around between the three
(with Alexander, four) guys, assuming all stays well with Johnson.

This was going to happen for 2015 anyway, so the remaining players
simply get an earlier audition to be an heir to Hardy's position.
There's always that chance something happens with his issues that allows
him to play, but who knows. For now, this is what the team looks like,
heading forward.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Bene Benwikere, Kelvin Benjamin Get Love

http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/11534508/branden-albert-miami-dolphins-leads-ranking-top-nfl-newcomers-nfl

the story is apparently insider, but it ranks Benwikere 5th and Benjamin 7th, including free agents, in newcomers.

It gives a bit of Profootballfocus information, including Benwikere's 54 QB rating.  I see Melvin White is worth a 51, too.   Benwikere is apparently PFF's 2nd best corner in the league right now.  

All in all, not so awful to be a young guy in Carolina's passing game on either side of the ball.  Credit to Steve Wilks and Ricky Proehl for coaching these kids up, and to them for making the absolute most of their shot.

Tavarres King a Jag?

Jacksonville drafted a guy a lot thought would be a Panther - Marquise Lee - though Carolina passed for some other kid that's working out allright.  They then drafted possession guy Allen Robinson soon after.  Breakout Allen Hurns bested both as a UDFA rookie with two scores in what looked like an Eagles upset (before the Eagles solved the issue).

None of that's kept the Jags' passing attack from being in disarray, while they hold onto a 2010 Panthers style attack full of inexperience with a journeyman QB at the helm, and a rookie on deck (that kinda feels doomed, but who knows).

Having a heavy reliance on rookie WRs didn't keep them from reaching for Carolina's own inexperience - the Jags picked up Tavarres King from Carolina's practice squad, to kinda get to a point.  Good luck Tavarres.


There are rumblings about Greg Hardy.  Looks like he won't play again this week possibly - who knows. No accounting for political decisions.  The general public wants blood, the team wants to wait for the legal process to play out but that's not the situation Carolina lives in right now.   I'll leave the rest alone.  It's an unfortunate situation to which I know too little to really judge.

Monday, September 15, 2014

V/S LIONS, aftermath

Carolina left a mushroom stamp on the Lions during their retreat from
The Bank. Having a tenuous command of the early game, Carolina finished
with an 18 point unanswered streak to finish 24-7 in their home opener.

It was a game that started out funky - the last second inactivation of
Greg Hardy (disciplinary) and Deangelo Williams (injury/groin) cast some
uncertainty, not unlike last week's Cam Newton deactivation; I wonder if
Rivera's just going to start randomly clipping guys to keep everyone on
their toes. Newton himself started, and there was a heavy variable
around that one, too - how would he do coming back from two different
injuries?

Well, it turns out. 22/34 for 281 yards and a score, adding 19 rushing
on 4 attempts (one was a kneel). He spread the ball around well and
seemed to have strong control after shaking the early rust off (I
noticed he had a little starting the second half as well). He hit Greg
Olsen (6/72, long of 20) often and still targeted Kelvin Benjamin often,
but the rookie seemed to get extra attention from the Lions. Benjamin
had some trouble on a few passes, but he made count his two for 46 yards
including a gorgeous one-handed catch at the sideline.

The attention to Benjamin, along with his relative inefficiency, left
room for Jason Avant's first score, finishing with 5/54, and Jerricho
Citchery's 4/46. Brenton Bersin brought the mullet to the show with his
first catch for 8 yards. Philly Brown didn't get anything, officially,
but had a nice reverse called back for holding. Olsen appears to have
gotten all the TE targets.

The backs got theirs - getting more in the air than ground, where
Jonathan Stewart had 15 arries for 37 but a 22 yard reception, and Mike
Tolbert's 4 carries for -5 yards paled compared to his 3 receptions for
33 yards. Carolina couldn't get anything going there, and the bulk of
the pass pressure came from inside as well. Stewart's one 22 yard run
might technically make it look better than it was, but he had to have
broken a legitimate 10 tackles Sunday.

Carolina's early command had to come at the hands of Lions' ineptitude,
where they'd marched downfield but stalled, including two early field
goals missed. After squeezing out two FGs for Graham Gano, the Lions
got their only lead of the game, 7-6, on the TD by FB Jed Collins; after
that, Carolina answered, and answered, and answered. The defense came
alive, led by CBs Antoine Cason (10 total tackles, 2 forced fumbles) and
Melvin White (INT off a deep ball tip drill by Thomas Decoud, 3
tackles). Thomas Davis (7 tackles/3 assist) bested Luke Kuechly (3
tackles, 8 assists, and a batted ball on a late-game deep ball). Credit
to Sean McDermott for a great gameplan and Hardy fill-in Mario Addison
(2.5 sacks), and vet DT Dwan Edwards (1.5 sacks)

The front seven held the Lions to minimal yards on the ground (Joique
Bell gained 36 on 10 carries, Reggie Bush 26 on 6), but the challenge
was going to be in the passing game. Caldwell and company are the
prototypical dysfunctional Coryell team - tons of formations, with a
hundred ways to do the same few things; a million pass attempts, with
plenty of talent, that get used but not optimally. Seeing Johnson and
Stafford work can be fantastic at times, but sheer numbers make it look
better sometimes. 6 receptions for 83 yards isn't awful, but it's not
the best Johnson can do, Carolina disrupted things too well. Six
receptions came on 14 targets.

That led Stafford, whose (v/s NYG) mobility was quickly limited by the
Carolina rush, to 27 completions on a whopping 48 attempts. 291 yards
in the air led to the short Collins TD but also the White INT; they
couldn't string together any true consistency in those 48 attempts.
Sure, you're going to have players get their stats (Golden Tate's 5
catches/57 yards; Bell's 6/61), but that's out of pure inevitability
with that many targets.

Carolina held the ball and was efficient - driving down for two TDs,
three FGs, and the 2 point conversion - while the Lions weren't. It
took Carolina a minute to get warmed up, but held a top offense to 7
total points, and won their way. Once Carolina regained the lead, it
started forcing turnovers - including a kickoff that kicker Graham Gano
recovered to go with his 3 FGs.

Meanwhile, the Saints are 0-2, and everyone else in the NFC South lost
as well - Carolina has a game lead in the division and two on the
Saints.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

LIONS

I had a lot of nonsense written on Detroit. I'm out of town in the very Germanic town of Helen, GA, for an Oktoberfest, so let's call that a loss. Obviously the Lions are loaded on skill, but I have doubts about their depth, and their OL/DBs. By manner of stocking their DL in the past, and their offensive skill, they're an explosive but poor fundamental team. That's why I could see it going either way...the Lions are able to put up seven at any time, but they're willing to throw their whole game into chaos based on that same ideal. They rely heavily on talent, so I'm hoping Carolina's talent and coaching can tip the scales. Below is the fragmented bits of what I had written earlier that week, spooked from the Lions' short-week win, but I've since seen some fundamental issues that see me thinking of a Carolina win. Below are some notes that might or might not be coherent thoughts. 




Lions are not a playaction team.  They ran for 2 ypc in a big win, they may be down to their third best RT and almost played TE Brandon Pettigrew there.   Warford is a beast, but Dominic Raiola isn't, and Rob Sims is pretty lackluster, too.  I'm not saying that LaAdrian Waddle (real name) or Corey Hilliard were world beaters, either.  Reiff is somewhat stiff. 

 

So while Stafford and Johnson are seemingly unstoppable, and Stafford has an underrated escapeability, there's still a feeling that you can get to them, disrupt them.  Something the Giants couldn't do with their rush.

 

They do have some screen game, and some draw to them, but while you saw more base formations from the Lions, don't be fooled, they're a straight ahead passing team. 

 

 

They have some holes in the secondary, too, especially at CB.  They have a rookie in the slot to exploit.

 

The Panthers' secondary has to cover Megatron.  Without holding. After watching him for the past few years I'm unconvinced that's possible without covering two safeties in Stick-Um and hoping they can latch on, and I'm pretty sure that gluing yourself to another player falls within a penalty.   Carolina's choices are somewhat minimal honestly.  I don't know how I'd approach it – you could go Seattle 2005 v/s Steve Smith and put a LB plus a trailing corner on him, but then there's Golden Tate on the other side – not a slouch himself, and a candidate to either go deep, beat you for 15 on a screen, or run the full route tree in between (so you can't just sit on him at 8-10 to balance for holding two guys on Johnson).   Eric Ebron in the middle is just a rookie, but he's a starting-class TE in the middle, and Reggie Bush might not be a ridiculous runner anymore, but he did clear 1000 yards last year.

 

Watching them against the Giants, and while the announcers crowed at "how different an offense they're running", and that's only partially correct.  Caldwell is Coryell like Scott Linehan was, so to that end there isn't a ton of change in terminology or concept.   I bring that up because there's a difference – yes, the Lions are now using less 3 WR and more base formations, which changes how you have to deal with them.   They seem to want you in base defense.  That's a small advantage for Carolina, and Carolina may be better suited to jumping in and out of a Big Nickel type format if the Lions are showing base on 3rd down.    But, I saw a significant amount of 2 TE or 2 back on a lot of downs.  

The Lions are very talented – adding Tate and Ebron gave that balance they needed.  Matthew Stafford doesn't strike me as special, but he's nonetheless excellent and he does his best with a ton of attempts (634).   The Lions have made a career on average midwestern tackles with suspect feet like Riley Reiff, but they pulled an amazing guard in Larry Warford last year, possibly the best lineman of the draft so far, in the 3rd.

 

On defense, they have another Megatron level guy in Ndamukong Suh, and they supplanted him with Nick Fairley and Ezekiel Ansah for a good rush line. Carolina can't just sthrowk and throw deep all day, Cam Newton has to be smart and not hold the ball.

 

This is a team that was held back by coaching last year.  Jim Schwartz, Linehan, and Gunther Cunningham were a good mix, but they finished 7-9 with two other QBs in the division hurt a significant part of the year.  At 7-9 it's not that they were awful, they just should've been in the playoffs.   Last year's ranking of 6th in yards/13th points Offense, and 15/16 Defense, wasn't a bad team, but it had a great chance to capitalize on a suddenly-weak division and failed.



My final impression is of a team that can hurt you at any time. I'm uneasy of this game, though I do believe that Carolina is the better overall team. Strong defense should matter here. But if it's a shootout, I don't see Carolina having the guns to keep up.