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Monday, 20 October 2014

Packers Pound Panthers: Three Things We Learned

The Carolina Panthers played in a wild and physical contest against the Cincinnati Bengals last week that ended up in a tie. From the first snap against the Packers, however, it was quite clear that they were simply not up for this game.

Green Bay dominated the entire game and did not surrender a lead once. Aaron Rodgers was firing on all cylinders as he threw for three touchdowns to three different receivers; Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams. He completed 19 of 22 passes for 255 and now has 18 touchdowns and only one interception on the year. Eddie Lacy and James Starks, pitched in rushing touchdowns for good measure. At the end of the first half, the Packers were already up 28-0, essentially ending the game and putting Rodgers and the Packers on auto-pilot.

Despite the thrashing, it was an entertaining game from a Packers standpoint, as we saw them play their most complete game of the season with the offense and defense absolutely firing on all cylinders.


Here are the three things we learned from Panthers vs. Packers one sided affair

1. The Panthers, and Cam Newton, have no chance if their offensive line cannot hold up.

Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers were dominant on Sunday as they were able to consistently get pressure against a very weak Panthers offensive line. This is an offensive unit, that cannot run the football with the lack of a consistent threat in the backfield and the offensive line features too many unproven players. Nate Chandler was used and abused all game at right tackle.

Newton narrowly could complete 3 to 5 step drops in the first quarter because there were defenders in his face as soon as he snapped the ball. This forced the Panthers to use a much more conservative offense that was predicated on screen passes and 1 to 2 step drops by Newton for quick slant passes. Factor in the blanket coverage by Sam Shields and Tramon Williams for the entire game, and it is easy to see why Newton and the offense were bottled up all game.

Last week, Cincinnati created absolutely no pressure against the Panthers and Newton was able to carve them up at will, not only through the air (284 yards, 2 TD’s) but on the ground as well (107 yards, 1 TD). Against the Packers, Newton barely completed over 50 percent of his passes and was sacked three times. He was hit and pressured many more times and rushed many of his throws. Newton will never be the most accurate passer, but there’s no doubt he’s made strides with his footwork. But for as tough as he is in the pocket, he like a lot of quarterback’s, will misfire on throws when pressured. Against Green Bay, even when the Packers didn’t hit Newton, it felt like he was rushing his throws for fear that the rush would get there eventually.

Newton has relied on all-world tight end, Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin has shown signs of being raw, but has been a revelation as a rookie wide receiver, as he leads all freshmen pass-catchers with five touchdowns (he scored again against Green Bay). Outside of those weapons, Newton is struggling to find help from other players, as the stable of receivers outside Benjamin are extremely weak. The offensive line protection then becomes so much more important to help them create running lanes in the ground game. Newton is the team’s leading rusher and that should not continue if the Panthers want to keep him healthy. The line, from a run and passing standpoint must be better.

2. Eddie Lacy dances around the line of scrimmage way too much

It seems to be a trend among big Alabama running backs. Trent Richardson, who is listed at 5’9” 225 lbs, is notorious for being one of the more powerful backs in the league, who struggles with indecisiveness when picking a hole to run into. For a back his size, instead of running straight ahead with full steam, he chooses to dances around the line. He’s known for rarely ever falling forward when trying to gain tough yardage.

Eddie Lacy suffers from this same fate and there were a couple of occasions where he was bottled up behind his offensive line. Instead of running in a straight line and getting any possible yards he could, he gets happy feet and fails to get every ounce of yardage he can get. For a runner of his size, he doesn’t fall forward enough to my liking and that is because he is not decisive. When James Starks comes in, a smaller back, (from a girth standpoint only, not from a height, as Starks is still 6’2”) he hits the hole with authority and doesn’t use any useless movements at the line of scrimmage.

Lacy had a fine game with 61 rushing yards, a touchdown and picked up most of his assignments in pass-protection. The latter was an area that he has narrowed the gap with Starks, who was always the man head coach Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers had confidence in during passing downs.

But Lacy, needs to find consistency in his running and use his size to always move piles forward. He’s a large ways ahead of Trent Richardson, but Lacy’s career 4.1 yards per carry (3.8 this season) is a mark that is average for a running back of his immense ability and must be improved for the Packers to keep teams honest with the running game. To compare, Starks has 35 carries for 152 yards this season. That is an average yards per carry of 5.1. Don’t get me wrong. I wholeheartedly believe that Lacy is the better back and more durable (his injuries this year and last were fluky concussions that I don’t think are recurring ailments), as Starks always seems nicked up somehow.

This is a problem many big backs have. I recall Steven Jackson being known as a dancer at the line of scrimmage early in his career and finally realizing that moving piles is key. Lacy will get there soon.


3. Dom Capers’ defense is finally proving its worth

Last season, the Packers had 10 total interceptions after 16 games. We’re not even at the halfway mark and already Green Bay has surpassed last year’s total with 11 interceptions. If you remember when Capers first became coordinator of the Packers, his teams would routinely be ranked at the top of the league in takeaways, thanks to the ball-hawking prowess of Charles Woodson and Nick Collins

Watching the game against Carolina, obviously you see the impact Clay Matthews has. He’s been penciled in to miss 3 to 5 games per season for the last 3 years, but is finally healthy in 2014. Matthews is the type of pass rusher that may not get egregious sack totals, but he’s always providing pressure and hurrying the quarterback. With the addition of Julius Peppers as a stand up linebacker and Datone Jones who can play with his hand on the dirt or standing, Capers can deploy various pressure looks as he did on Sunday against Carolina.

The secondary is playing at a high level as well. I mentioned the 11 interceptions already in only seven games. Sam Shields and Tramon Williams are performing at elite levels at the cornerback positions shadowing any and all incoming receivers and Morgan Burnett and Ha-Ha Clinton Dix providing support on the run and against the pass. This is shaping up to be one of the best secondaries in the game.

Entering this game, the Packers were 4th in passing yards allowed and tied for third in passing touchdowns allowed. As a group, they are also 13th in DVOA, according to Football outsiders, but that will surely improve after the dominant performance against the Panthers.



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