We stand in a unique position. For the first time since the Caldwell era, we are playing meaningful football in December. And if we win this week, and a couple of other results go our way, we can end the week as the seventh seed. To quote Paul Rudd;
This week we travel to Charlotte to take on the Panthers, who themselves have something to play for due to the NFC South madness. So let's follow our usual process to analyse their team and see how we can beat them and make them the new Cardiac Cats.
Record/Standing: 5-9-0 (2nd in NFC South)
Expected Win/Loss: 5.9-8.1
Strength of Schedule: .452
Overall DVOA: -18.0% (28th)
We start with the man who gave us the title of this preview. Darnold has a 2-1-0 record when starting for the Panthers this season. He averages 13 completions on 22 attempts (59.1%) per game, for 169.7 yards (7.7 Y/A), 1 TD (4.5%), and 0 interceptions. His completion percentage is +4.7% over expected, with PFR (dis)crediting him with a 14.3% bad throw rate. Darnold is averaging +0.15 EPA/dropback, with his receivers averaging 4.1 yards of separation. 45.8% of his passes come off play action, 15.2% of his throws are deep, and 13.6% of them are into tight windows. Darnold has a passer rating of 98.6, and a QBR of 47.2. He has not attempted enough passes (>200) to qualify for ranking for FO, but they still have quantified stats for him. His DVOA is 28.3%, a DYAR of 178, 607 EYds and +4.9 in their ALEX metric. Darnold hasn't been too bad, but he isn't exactly been a revelation for Carolina, therefore we can follow a similar gameplan to last week, hopefully with better success.
Carolina's OL is ranked 9th by FO in run blocking, with 4.61 adjusted line yards and 4.30 RB yards. They have a 70% power success rate (15th), a 15% stuffed rate (8th), 1.14 second-level yards (22nd) and 0.64 open-field yards (22nd). They average 1.01 yards before contact per attempt, which is 28th in the league. FO has the OL as the 24th-best at pass pro, with an 8.2% adjusted sack rate. They give their quarterbacks 2.7 seconds to throw, which is 20th in the league. They give up a sack on 7.7% of dropbacks (equivalent to roughly 2.3 sacks a game) (24th in the league), but only give up pressure on 23% of dropbacks (8th in the league) with an average of 3.22 seconds to pressure (6th in the league). Therefore, while not exactly elite, the Carolina OL is one that isn't exactly made of Swiss cheese.
Their lead back is no longer Run-CMC, as we all know they traded him to SF at the beginning of their rebuild. He gets 11.2 carries a game for 46.1 yards (4.1 Y/A), 0.07 fumbles, 2.21 first downs and 0.29 TDs. He is getting 0.49 RYOE, 3.4 YACo, and -0.06 EPA per attempt. He is FO's 32nd RB by DYAR (-4) and DVOA (-9.3%), and 31st in EYds (540), with a 46% run success rate (26th). His backup is Hubbard, who gets the ball 4.92 times a game for 21.7 yards (4.4 Y/A), 0.08 fumbles, 1.42 first downs, and 0.17 TDs. Both are inside zone kind of runners, so this projects to be a DL kind of game, which plays into our hands.
Their leading receiver is DJ Moore. He is targeted 6.93 times a game for 3.64 catches (52.6%), 48.4 yards (13.3 Y/R), 0.29 drops (4.1%), 2.43 first downs, 0.36 TDs and a 79.3 passer rating when targeted. He has a -8.0% CROE, 0 EPA/target, and an average of 3.6 yards of separation per target. He is FO's 67th WR by DYAR (-37), 66th by DVOA (-17.6%), and 47th in EYds (573). For context, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond and DJ Chark all have better numbers in DYAR and DVOA, and Amon-Ra St. Brown far exceeds Moore in all these metrics. On the other side of the field, Marshall Jr. is thrown at 3.45 times a game for 2.00 receptions (57.9%), 36.1 yards (18.0 Y/R), 0.18 drops (5.3%), 1.73 first downs, 0.09 TDs, and a 102.6 passer rating. In the slot, Shenault gets 2.10 catches on 2.50 targets a game (84.0%), 19.8 yards (9.4 Y/R), 0.1 drops (4.0%), 0.7 first downs, 0.1 TDs and a 113.0 passer rating when thrown towards. Out of the backfield, their third-down back is Hubbard, who gets 1.08 targets per game for 0.92 catches (84.6%), 9.83 yards (10.7 Y/R), 0.08 drops (7.7%), 0.33 first downs and a 104.5 passer rating. Their leading TE in receptions is Tremble. He is targeted 1.86 times a game for 0.93 receptions (50.0%), 8.64 yards (9.3 Y/R), 0.07 fumbles, 0.07 drops (3.8%), 0.36 first downs, 0.14 TDs, and a 72.8 passer rating when targeted. He is 37th in FO's DYAR metric (-33), 40th in DVOA (-25.8%) and 41st in EYds with 78. Overall, this receiving core does not scare me and could present a real bounce-back opportunity for our secondary after last week's mistakes. The biggest issue might come in covering Shenault, as the slot has been a weakness for us and he has the shiftiness to confuddle WHarris right out of his cleats.
As you can predict, the only personnel sets the Panthers use on more than 10% of snaps are 11 and 12. They use 11 on 66% of their offensive snaps, passing the ball on 63% of these plays, and creating -0.04 EPA/p. 12 personnel is deployed on 16% of their offensive plays, passing the ball on 51% of these snaps for -0.1 EPA/p. Overall, they pass the ball on 52.1% of their offensive plays for -0.1 EPA/p. They average -0.17 EPA per passing play and -0.02 EPA per rush.
On the ground, they could try and wear us down, but I trust in our improved run defence to minimalist the bleeding to force the Panthers into third-and-longs where our DL can pin their ears back and go after Darnold. As with last week, this would be a game of getting pressure and daring Darnold to try and beat us deep. The big difference to last week is that the Panthers do not really have a top WR like Wilson. We should be able to feasibly contain their passing attack and stop Darnold.
FO has the Panthers' pass rush ranked 27th, with an adjusted sack rate of 5.7%. They allow opposing QBs an average of 2.76 seconds to throw, which is 15th in the league, with an average time-to-pressure of 3.16 seconds (25th). The team has an average get-off time of 0.83 seconds (8th quickest in the league). The Panthers are getting pressure on 29.8% of their opponents' dropbacks, the 10th-best rate in the league, but only convert this into sacks on 5.7% of dropbacks (26th). They blitz the QB on 38% of their defensive snaps, the second most in the league. Their leader in pressures and sacks is of course Brian Burns, with 49 pressures and 9.5 sacks. He gets pressure on 12.0% of his pass rush snaps, and a sack on 2.0%. He has an average get-off of 0.82 seconds, 3.2 seconds to pressure and 4.52 seconds to a sack. His pressures have led to 2 turnovers. The next leader in sacks is Luvu, who has 6 on the year from 19 pressures and 120 pass rush snaps. This is a 16.0% pressure rate and a 5.0% sack rate. The fact their second-best pass rusher is a blitzing LB suggests they are having to manufacture a pass rush because their DL is not getting the job done. This plays into our hands with how strong our offensive line is, especially in recent games.
Carolina's run defence is ranked 12th by FO, allowing 4.29 adjusted line yards and 4.60 RB yards. They allow a 79% power success rate (29th), stuff 18% of runs against them (15th), and give up 1.30 second-level yards (23rd) and 0.98 open field yards (27th). The Panthers are allowing 0.78 RYOE/attempt, which is 27th in the league, but only 1.02 yards before first contact per attempt which is 3rd. They stack the box on 39.1% of plays, which is 2nd most in the league, and deploy light boxes on 23.4% of snaps, which is 2nd least in the league. Teams run more outside the tackles (59.7%) than inside (37.0%) against Carolina. Thompson leads the team in both run stops (66) and hustle run stops (15), followed by his LB teammate Luvu (52 run stops and 11 hustle run stops). Given how good our pass game has looked in recent weeks, we can expect them to lighten the box, opening things up for our backs to tear them apart.
The Panthers' secondary allows +0.19 YACOE/completion, and an average of 3.2 yards of separation (8th in the league). Their most targeted player is Henderson. He is the nearest defender on 19.3% of his coverage snaps for 4 throws a game, allowing 2.86 catches (71.0%, +10.0% CROE), 32.9 yards, 0.21 TDs, 0.36 PDs, 0.14 interceptions, +0.18 EPA/target, 2.6 YAC/reception, 2.6 average yards of separation, and a 98.9 passer rating in coverage. On the opposite hash, Horn is the nearest defender on 4 targets a game (14.2% of his coverage snaps), giving up 2.33 catches (58.0%, -5.0% CROE), 24.9 yards, 0.08 TDs, 0.58 PDs, 0.25 interceptions, -0.27 EPA/target, 3.3 YAC/reception, 3.0 average yards of separation, and a 57.6 passer rating. In the slot, Chinn is targeted on 15.3% of his coverage snaps for 4 targets, 2.5 catches (63.0%, +6.0% CROE), 37.0 yards, 0.50 PDs, +0.42 EPA/target, 2.6 YAC/reception, 3.0 average yards of separation, and a 92.7 passer rating when thrown at. Further forward, Thompson is targeted 3.57 times a game (13.4% of his coverage snaps) for 2.29 receptions (64.0%, -8.0% CROE), 18.9 yards, 0.29 PDs, +0.06 EPA/target, 5.3 YAC/reception, 3.5 average yards of separation and a 77.4 passer rating. Further back, Woods is targeted on 8.3% of his coverage snaps for 2.33 targets, 1.17 catches (50.%, -4.0% CROE), 17.3 yards, 0.33 PDs, +0.08 EPA/target, 2.5 YAC/reception, 2.3 average yards of separation and a 74.7 passer rating in coverage. Beside him in the FS spot, Hartsfield is thrown at 3.67 times a game (on 13.9% of his coverage snaps) for 2.58 catches (70.0%, +2.0% CROE), 19.4 yards, 0.25 TDs, 0.17 PDs, +0.19 EPA/target, 4.1 YAC/reception, 3.1 average yards of separation and a 105.6 passer rating when targeted. The weakness of this Panthers secondary is Thompson and perhaps surprisingly, given his reputation, Chinn. This perhaps plays into our hands by allowing us to draw coverage to the outside to open up their weak middle for St. Brown, and our TEs and RBs, and to lighten the box for us to run on.
The Panthers have only run two personnel sets on more than 10% of their defensive snaps. They have run their 433 base on 29% of their defensive plays. They face a run on 67% of these snaps, giving up -0.1 EPA/p. They use 425 nickel on 67% of defensive snaps, facing a pass on 70% of these plays for 0.05 EPA/p. Overall, the Panthers face a pass on 54.6% of their defensive plays, giving up -0.02 EPA per pass play, -0.05 EPA per rush, and -0.03 EPA/p.
A combination of Chark, Reynolds and Raymond will draw coverage towards the outside, opening up routes for the Sun God and our TEs. Luckily for us, Chinn is a weak point in coverage and given his role as slot corner in their scheme, this means he'll be matching up against St. Brown. This will also lighten the box for our RBs, helping our run game get back on its feet metaphorically.
Pineiro is a decent kicker, but I could see a Cominsky XP Special on the menu this weekend.
Hekker is a good punter, but he's no FPOS like our own Jack Fox.
Smith is no Leaf, but Blackshear and Hubbard could be on the same level as Jackson.
Keys to Victory:
Use the outside WRs early- The strength of their secondary is on the outside, but we shouldn't shy away from targeting them. Go at them early, stretch the field and empty the middle where we can really hurt them.
Exploit their LBs- As is perhaps becoming all too common in the league these days due to how offensive schemes work, the LBs are the main weakness of this defence, Attack them often, both with the run and pass.
Pinch the DL on run-downs- The Panthers like to run it up the middle (61.8% of their runs are between the tackles), so we should try to stop this. Crowd the box and prevent them from grinding out yards.
Repeat last week's passing defence gameplan- This seems counter-intuitive considering how we gave up some big plays through the air last week, but as I mentioned above, the Panthers do not have a WR like Wilson (or Jeff Smith) to burn us. Blitz Darnold and dare him to try and beat us deep.
Goff- 23/36, 275 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 94.1 passer rating
Swift- 12 carries, 55 yards, 1 TD; 3 targets, 2 catches, 25 yards, 1 TD
St. Brown- 9 targets, 7 catches, 80 yards, 1 TD
Hutch- 3 tackles (1 solo), 0.5 TFLs; 2 pressures, 0.5 sacks
Anzalone- 10 tackles (8 solo), 0.5 TFLs; 1 pressure
Jacobs- 4 tackles (2 solo); 1 PD, 1 INT
Darnold- 21/38, 215 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 58.6 passer rating
Foreman- 15 carries, 55 yards, 1 TD
Moore- 9 targets, 5 catches, 60 yards
Burns- 4 tackles (2 solo), 1 TFL; 1 pressure
Thompson- 9 tackles (7 solo), 0.5 TFLs
Horn- 4 tackles (2 solo); 1 PD, 1 INT
Hot take- Pineiro misses an XP
Score- Lions 24, Panthers 16
Draft Rooting Guide:
6) Indy- win vs LAC
5) Arizona- win vs Tampa Bay
4) Detroit (via LAR)- tie vs Denver
3) Seattle (via Denver)- tie at LAR
2) Chicago- win vs Buffalo
1) Houston- win at Tennessee
How do you think the game will go? Who will win this week and become King of the Cats? Will Brian Burns us? Who do you think will be the stat leaders, and what will the final score be?
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