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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Four Wide

4 wide A Sign Of Spread?

Since Carolina hired Jeff Davidson, I had anticipated a more open offense - a sign that came a bit in 2007, and I assumed would happen more in 2008 despite being run-based (still surprised we traded for a huge RT after getting a power back - Deangelo Williams, a basic complement, and a LT would've made a lot of sense for an open O, and at the time DJ Hackett pointed to using the slot WR again).

Since then we've seen an offense that relies on 2 TE most, two backs next, and three wides only when necessary - third and more than ten in more conservative situations. Charlie Weis, meanwhile, ran the Pats offense using a ton of 3 wides - often mixing bigger receivers with open space. His offense, even without him, has been run with a heavy mix of 3 WR - consider the Matt Cassell Patriots, or the Todd Haley offenses (Haley comes to the O by way of Sean Payton), or just consider the Pats (big WRs plus Wes Welker in the slot), or Payton's Saints, the most open offense around. In comparison, while not "wrong", Carolina has used the same offense in a much more conservative way. Is that on its way out in favor of a more progressive approach?

The sign of drafting nearly a trillion wide receivers in the draft - and most importantly 3rd round pick Armanti Edwards - suggests that the Panthers will be using more spread. There's no need for 3 new WR, plus keeping all but one of the existing bunch, plus a very expensive trade for a slot-specific player, without the expectation of using them.

Then, in OTAs last month, they practiced exclusively passing game for the first few days, and centered on 4 wide sets. It points to the idea that, at the least, they're open to the idea of using it more, opening the offense.

It doesn't have to come at the cost of the running game. A 3 WR set against a nickel defense means much less run blitzing (teams often run blitz zone running teams), without giving up the zone. You still have six blockers, this time against a six man front.

And the main deterrent to our current offense, an eighth man in the box, immediately goes away. Teams can use it, but to the deterrent of the two-deep shell that almost every nickel D uses (exception goes to doubling the TE, which no one will do to Carolina). Running with one-on-one blocking, with no worries of a blitz or 8th man? Sounds great from here.

It won't mean a lack of reliance on the running game - it won't mean that 3rd and four becomes an automatic passing down. It'll just leave some options available.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

So, While I Was Out...

ey, look! It's another post where I excuse my absence (kid sick, me sick, achilles tendonitis, and vacation).

I also lost my laptop keyboard (I type in notepad now - don't ask) for a while and navigation isn't that easy right now. So in lieu of pretending I wrote something two months ago about Chris Harris, I'm writing it now.

Almost immediately after the draft, we dropped (half of) the heart and soul of our defense in trading Harris for backup Tampa-2 LB Jamar Williams. It's a crushing loss to miss out on one of your best run-stuffers and hitters, when you've let go a bunch of those guys already. Harris was a lot of our leadership, too. When we ran cover-1 Robber defenses with Harris near the line, the run problems eased off.

On the backside, Harris is the worst of our three tacklers at safety (statistically, according to Football Outsiders - I wouldn't have guessed otherwise), and he's never continued to be as good as he was in 2007 when he came on board. He used to be able to deliver the huge hits and knock the ball out, but since he'd deliver some big hits, and some big misses.

Don't get me wrong, he'll be missed, but this defense playing cover one (man with a free safety) with a safety up and a 350 lb DT inside wasn't the design. It worked, but it wasn't what we wanted. Not coincidentally, both parts of that are gone now (though Hollis Thomas was suspended anyway).

The hard part, as with many of these cuts and moves, is the leadership factor. Harris was a guy who led the secondary (but wanted to be the leader Jon Beason is, and he isn't as his offseason tirades showed). Muhsin Muhammad was a leader, Jake Delhomme was a leader. Now they're hoping Jordan Gross is. They can't even look to the backs - since they're interchangeable. Only point of addition by subtraction? The awkwardness of Mike Rucker leading (only awkward to Julius Peppers) gave way to not having the awkwardness of Julius Peppers as a leader. Now, coaches, and Beason, are the voices.


And, of course, we had the preseason injury. Well, two. Steve Smith broke his arm playing flag football (no one's said yet whether he scored on the play...let's face it, guy did set a pretty high standard for injury on the Giants' injury), and he'll be back.

But Thomas Davis re-injured himself also - days after posting a 4.4 time in workouts, and again busting the ACL in non-contact drills. It's a heartbreaking loss, given that this defense (and our lack of DL) relies so heavily on two guys who are as good as Davis and Beason are. And now, we just have the one (still a luxury, but still heartbreaking). Davis may actually try to make it back for the second half of the season (yikes), but we'll have to wait and see. ACLs and the recovery time is six to eight weeks, but rehab is grueling and he's already injured it twice in eight months.

Past that, there's the future (whether he's the player he was, and if he is, whether we sign him again), but for now it looks like the team has handed James Anderson the SLB job, and they're toying with the idea of Beason weakside. So depending on where Beason is, you have Dan Connor in the middle, or Jamar Williams outside.

So, they head to camp in a few weeks, already having replaced leadership and known ability, with hope and the expectation of young mistakes. Adding those two injuries don't help. But camp and its battles should entertain nonetheless.