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Saturday, December 28, 2013

The WRs, Without 89

Not to pick on Armanti Edwards, but it's nice to be without him this week (and the distractions that would come with the "is he going to get a chance?  What is he going to do?" crowd) and instead have real, legitimate depth at the position.   I think Carolina fans have had enough of the all-potential WRs that did only enough to barely stay.  Edwards could've had that same Dwayne Jarrett at the end of 2009 type game, but would it have mattered? 



The upcoming week without Steve Smith gives the team time to retool a bit.  If/when Smith returns, it may be tough to rely on him as much, leaving a new Panthers passing offense.    Which might be just what they needed.  

The new X receiver appears to be a mix of Ted Ginn, who’s expected to start, and Sunday’s hero, Domenik Hixon.   Marvin McNutt likely gets a jersey, over Travares King.   This puts the focal point of the passing offense on LaFell, likely a bit deeper than normal, and Greg Olsen filling around him (taking the deep out to clear LaFell’s drive, for instance, or himself taking the shorter out behind LaFell’s post). 

LaFell got a look in the WR screen role that Ginn often has used in packaged plays (including the package that had Smith on a naked WR screen and Ginn behind LaFell on the other side, all off a potential run play), which was less obvious and therefore less easy to stop than with Ginn himself using it 2-3 times a game.   Ginn and Olsen each got a few deep targets Sunday, and chances are, that will continue.  LaFell will get some deep play but with routes run to separate, not just on the 9/go route. 


While the crafty Mike Shula does a lot of shifting and motion, similar to the more mad-scientist Rob Chudzinski of years past, Shula doesn’t move the receivers around quite as much.     It might make more sense to have Ginn inside Hixon to the left, though over the last three years LaFell had been the more likely slot.  In New York, Hixon was an able player to work the slot but generally Victor Cruz was the overwheming guy to move inside in 3WR.   Ginn, as the 3rd guy, has taken some of those slot snaps from LaFell this year, but both are on the field most of the time Sunday so they’ll have to more adequately define Ginn’s role when he’s the X.

So, Hixon is most likely to be a sub-in WR who plays the X, while the other guys move around.   In base, Ginn will play the role.  The X, in this offense, gets a lot of the basic routes, the first look routes that help determine coverage. The 5 route is an option in a lot of playcalls here, so it can be a basic fade, curl, or out route based on the coverage read; not unlike the play in which he helped win the game Sunday, the X tends to be a player in isolation.  525 F Post, 585  being two key playcall examples out of base, the 5 part for the X is a lone route; the x25 F Post are all interplayed route concepts (the TE dragging, the flanker pushing upfield to clear for the F post) no less than the x85 (which pushes the TE upfield and gives the flanker the sideline route options, usually followed by a dumpoff which makes it, essentially, 585 H Corner or 585 F Swing, to that effect), where the strongside routes all interplay. 

But not the X, weakside all alone.  No TE to that side, potentially a back or crossing WR but only behind the X, not playing in tandem or combination.   It’s a role that Smith excelled in, and can be for Hixon when out there given his strength.    It’s a spot that often gets the go route, as is in the base play 940 – a play that puts Olsen across the formation on a 12 yard “in” and lets LaFell drag under the LBs.  

To that end, I don't know that there will be a lot of gameplanning changes.  Between the new roles and Cam Newton's potentially sore ankle, I do see a lot of shotgun, and a lot of intermediate routes, but that's mostly what's been there anyway.  I don't know that the Panthers will magically change to a lot of slants to fit LaFell and Hixon, that's not been a staple for this team.  I might imagine more square-ins, the 4 route, under a clear-out, but all of that's already there, already being used.  


So, Hixon is most likely to be a sub-in WR who plays the X, while the other guys move around.   In base, Ginn will play the role.  The X, in this offense, gets a lot of the basic routes, the first look routes that help determine coverage. The 5 route is an option in a lot of playcalls here, so it can be a basic fade, curl, or out route based on the coverage read; not unlike the play in which he helped win the game Sunday, the X tends to be a player in isolation.  525 F Post, 585  being two key playcall examples out of base, the 5 part for the X is a lone route; the x25 F Post are all interplayed route concepts (the TE dragging, the flanker pushing upfield to clear for the F post) no less than the x85 (which pushes the TE upfield and gives the flanker the sideline route options, usually followed by a dumpoff which makes it, essentially, 585 H Corner or 585 F Swing, to that effect), where the strongside routes all interplay. 

But not the X, weakside all alone.  No TE to that side, potentially a back or crossing WR but only behind the X, not playing in tandem or combination.   It’s a role that Smith excelled in, and can be for Hixon when out there given his strength.   

It’s a spot that often gets the go route, as is in the base play 940 – a play that puts Olsen across the formation on a 12 yard “in” and lets LaFell drag under the LBs.


So, with Hixon – a 29 year old vet with starts under his belt who was a strong 3rd WR for some good Giant teams – Dave Gettleman again proves that it’s not the top of the roster that counts, it’s as often the back end.  I don’t know that, absent Hixon, that Armanti Edwards, or the young kids on staff now in King and McNutt, are coming up that big or being able to contribute the way Hixon can.

McNutt, a 6’3, 215 lb 2nd year, has very minimal experience but will probably get on the field to block a few snaps and get into the swing of things.  He’s a somewhat prototypical Coryell type receiver with a wide catching radius and big hands, and the ability to post up as needed.    He’s not likely to get a lot of looks – Hixon as the 4th guy has four catches and sportingcharts.com’s suggestion that Hixon played 12.2% of team snaps feels high (though 1/3 of that would’ve come this past week, so I’d estimate he played about 6 snaps per game before this week).


But, anything else happens to thin depth, and McNutt becomes a critical component.  Not unlike Hixon, he’s likely to play mostly the X receiver. 

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