Bottom line, through the air, I am more than confident in our secondary's ability to bottle up Cam Newton. 1) He's been inconsistent 2) he doesn't have the weapons of a team like NE or NO 3) we have done extremely well as of late with the emergence of Chris Harris at #2 and Tony Carter. What worries me though are his skills to make plays through designed runs and scrambles when a play is not there.
Addressing the latter, Jack Del Rio and co. simply cannot play the amount of man coverage as they have in previous weeks. The reason behind this, when a defense is playing man, they are concerned with their assignment and usually aren't watching the QB---their backs are turned to him. With an athletic runner like Cam, he can turn those plays into big chunks of yards scrambling the ball. Watching film from all of Carolina's games this year, they line up a ton in shotgun and spread the field which in turn would dictate that our defense plays from nickel. If this is the case, stick Champ on Steve Smith, Carter (who acts as the #2 in this case) on LaFell, Harris on Olsen over the middle and Trevathan on the back or #3 WR. I'm not worried about that---as long as we have Woodyard in as a spy. Option 2 is you play a lot of zone and make Cam march down the field methodically for points. With the stellar play of Woodyard this year, I would say a combination of these approaches is not only feasible but will be a lot of what we see defensively this week.
What I want to focus here though is the running aspect that Cam brings to the picture. Many of his rush attempts this year have not been on scrambles when a play breaks down or coverage is good. They have instead come on a staple of:
1) QB draws
2) zone read (sometimes a zone read with an option)
3) designed bootlegs.
Though they haven't run these things as extensively the past 2 games, I think that this will be a big part of the gameplan against the Broncos. Reason being we have an extremely fast and aggressive defense---and both of those characteristics can be used against us. It will take discipline by our ends to not run themselves out of the play and discipline by our LB's to not bite on playfakes. Let's take a closer look at the concepts I have outlined here.
Things to look for:
- About 80-90% of them have been called near inside the 10 yardline or in 3rd and 3 and less situations.
- They are almost always called from Shotgun, many times the RB is used as a lead blocker. The man in motion tips off where the draw is designed too, and the guard will almost always pull to that side.
Here we have a 3rd and 3, Cam brings LaFell in motion (he brings his man with him which tells me the Bucs are in man coverage). In this instance the RB in the backfield is used as a lead blocker. The S creeps up toward the line before the snap and comes in on a blitz. He is picked up beautifully. Hat on hat allows came to make into into the defensive secondary before he is taken down, but not before he picks up good yardage and a 1st down.
In this next look, the Panthers are inside the 5 yard line looking to get a TD. Cam brings a WR in motion. At the snap, the Panthers linemen seal off the end and make it to the 2nd level (zone blocking). The RB heads off linebacker #52 and Cam has a clear line to the endzone and an easy TD.
With this next one, it is a 3rd and 3. Cam takes the ball and looks to go off left tackle. But Pierre-Paul stands his ground, sheds his blocker and stops the run for no gain. The Broncos must win their individual matchups much like this in order to contain this run.
Now, remember when I said these will be called almost always from Shotgun? Here is an example of a rare instance when it will be called from under center. Inside the 5, the Panthers are in a 2-back look. Cam drops back just enough to give his backs a chance to get out in front. At the top of his drop, he tucks the ball and heads for the endzone, TD.
How to defend it:
Especially near the goal-line, put your corners on an island with perhaps only a single safety over the top. Stick 7-8 in the box and have the LB's flow to the play. Even with blockers making it to the 2nd level, there should be enough defenders to limit the gain.
Near the goal-line, the QB draw is one of the Panthers favorite calls, so be prepared and look for it Broncos Country. Let's move on and take a look at the zone-read, zone-read option and naked bootlegs.
Zone Read, Zone Read/Option, Bootlegs
What to look for:
- It is a little more difficult to see a playcalling pattern here as it has been used on 1st and 2nd down quite a bit. The tell-tale sign of course is the QB sticking the ball right in the RB's breadbasket with a little hesitation.
We all know from witnessing Tebow and co. run it last year how it works. The QB from Shotgun tucks the ball into the RB's gut and reads where the opening is going to be and whether or not the DE crashes to the inside. If the DE stays put, the QB gives the ball off to the RB to run inside. If the DE pursues inside, the QB keeps the ball and runs off that end. This first look shows a big play that came from this call.
This formation is an odd one, and one I hadn't seen at the pro level until this game. The Panthers are in 11 personnel with two WR split out wide right and the TE lined up as the LT in an unbalanced look. The RB is to the left of Cam and Lafell comes from motion and settles down just a few yards in front of Cam to his right. At the snap, LaFell runs to block #23 on the weakside, the TE seals off the end. Cam sees the LB step to the middle to tackle the RB and he keeps it and runs for 32 yards off left end.
Good design as the unbalanced look forced the ATL LB to shift to that side essentially leaving just a couple of DB's on this side to defend.
Next, we have a more conventional look. LaFell comes in motion and waits in the left flat (almost as if there is a quick throw option available here as well). Cam puts the ball in the bread basket of the back and the DE holds his ground. At the last moment he relents and takes on the back which prompts Cam to keep the ball. The safety however reads the play well the entire time and flies up to the line to shut it down. Cam sees him and falls down rather than taking the hit. Good play made by the safety here (looking at you Rahim Moore).
How to defend it:
Stay at home. Let him hand it off to the inside and trust the rotation of DT to be stout. Also, Rahim Moore should diagnose the play early and be ready to seal off Cam if he comes to the outside.
Zone Read Option
What to look for:
- A WR is brought from wide to behind the QB just before the snap. He is the pitchman. The zone read look goes in the opposite direction (fake to the right roll out left with pitchman as an example).
I'll include more snips of this play as it will be easier to see what goes on presnap. Here the Panthers are in 11 personnel. The back is to the right of Cam. The TE is lined up off RT with two receivers at the top of the screen and one at the bottom. Cam motions the WR in the slot to come in motion, which he does behind Cam. Cam gets the snap, fakes the zone read with the RB going to the left side of the formation. Cam keeps it and is free to keep the ball or pitch it off. He has a favorable matchup here as the LB is forced to choose. The LB chooses Cam and at the last moment he pitches to the WR for a nice 12-yard gain.
Here's another look. Again good design, again there is only one defender there (safety who comes up). If the CB doesn't get a shoestring stop, this turns into a huge play.
How to defend it:
Again, stay at home. The LB's and S crashed the weakside of the formation for the RB leaving only the corner and LB on this side of the field. If the LB's stay at home they can flow to the ball and prevent a gain like this. I'm also seeing a trend at this point with the zone read/option stuff, it is being called more often to the weakside (side without the TE).
What to look for:
This play will come from under center either in "I" formation or with a single back. The QB runs playaction to one side and then rolls out the opposite direction. I've seen them run these plays in short yardage situations.
Here against the Bears, the Panthers are facing a 3rd and 1. They are in 22 personnel, "I" formation with both TE's tight to the line off RT. Cam fakes the handoff to the weakside and rolls out off RT. The end doesn't hold his position and TE Olsen gets out ahead of Cam with a few blockers. 16-yard gain.
How to defend it:
The LB and DE have to stay at home. If they get sucked up inside heading toward the RB, you're leaving a corner and safety on good blockers and a powerful runner.
Wrapping it up
Our defense faces a very unique and tough challenge this week. Cam Newton and these designed QB running plays add an extra dimension of strain to the defense. Simply put, you cannot defend him like a conventional QB. Both our ends and outside LB's have to remain disciplined to their side of the field. Furthermore, we either need to stick a spy on him or play a lot of zone coverage so that our defenders can be facing the line of scrimmage. The other thing I held off mentioning until now....the zone read and option stuff goes out the window when the Panthers are down by 2 or more scores. If our Broncos offense can get off to a fast start, I think we won't see much of those two looks much if at all. Near the goal-line however, think back the success of Tebow last year. Cam and the QB draw are definitely a viable option for Carolina at all times in these situations.
Good luck Broncos D, keep the man from beating you on the ground. GO BRONCOS!!!