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Lighting Up The Scoreboard -- Week 15 -- Denver Broncos at Carolina Panthers

A lot of you have read my stuff on here before, and I'm kind of niche-less, really. For the most part, I have historically just written about stuff that I was thinking about, but I feel like I should use these last few weeks of the season to establish a new recurring feature.

I'm an offense guy, so I decided that my recurring stuff should be about offense. I am also a professional (financial) analyst, so I thought that something analytical in tone would be good. Also, I am a big believer in trusting what my eyes see, so I watch past games, and try to divorce myself of any preconceived notions which may taint my evaluation.

So the idea is this. I shall write specific thoughts about offensive strategy, and its application in practice against the defense we expect to see. And I shall call it Lighting Up The Scoreboard. And if it is well-received, it shall appear every Friday before games. So let It be written, so let it be done.

How The Panthers' Defense Looks On Video

(Author's Note: New Rule: I watch games on DVR or streaming internet video, not film. Therefore, in my features, video shall be called video.)

The Panthers are sound, but nowhere near dominant. HT had a great analysis of their talent here which I want to build off of. I watched 2 games last night (Week 2 vs. Chicago and Week 6 at Tampa Bay,) and saw a tremendous amount of varied zone defense. I saw some zone blitzing, some cover 2, and some cover 3. All 3 linebackers play 5 yards off the line, and MLB Jon Beason and WLB Thomas Davis pursue very fast sideline to sideline. SLB Na'il Diggs is pretty ordinary.

The D-Line (Tyler Brayton, Maake Kemoeatu, Damione Lewis, and Julius Peppers) are a pretty average bunch in total. Peppers is outstanding, as we know. I watched the Bears and Bucs both have a lot of success running North-South against them, with Matt Forte getting 92 yards, and Warrick Dunn 115 himself. I also saw outside runs consistently fail due to the speed of the pursuit. You can definitely run inside on the Panthers.

The good news is, you can also pass on them. They have 3 good players at CB in Chris Gamble, Ken Lucas, and Richard Marshall. Their Safeties are very ordinary though, and one is a rookie. The middle of the field can definitely be had.

To back up what I was saying, the stats also indicate that the Panther are pretty average against both the run and the pass, and they can be had either way.

Team Stats - Game Averages

Pts Yrds Pass Rush
Off 24.8 336.5 (13th) 190.5 (22nd) 146.0 (4th)
Def 19.5 318.8 (15th) 208.0 (14th) 110.8 (18th)

Attacking This Defense

The best way to attack a base 4-3 defense is to pass when they think you're going to run, and to run when they think you're going to pass. Mixing in some misdirection is helpful, and play action is good for getting downhill LBs out of position. If I had to think of who the Panthers remind me of, scheme-wise and personnel-wise on defense, I'd really have to say it's the Raiders. In Week 1, we saw a dismantling of that kind of defense, and more recently, we saw the Raiders more than hold their own.

I favor a lot of 3-wide packages against Carolina. I'd really like to see Scheffler or Stokley going up against Na'il Diggs, or forcing the Panthers to take him off the field. I especially want to run against the Panthers' nickel defense. The running game must stay north and south, which is not a problem when Bobby Turner is your RBs coach.

The Broncos O-Line is the best one that Carolina has seen this year, and needs to get hats on Beason (#52) and Davis (#58) on the second level in the running game. I wouldn't be opposed to running a little bit of Iso stuff with Pinnock being assigned to hit Beason either. I am very optimistic that the Broncos run offense will be fairly successful this weekend, even with the loss of Peyton Hillis. Tatum Bell and Cory Boyd will have opportunities to make chunks of yards.

In the passing game, I think Jay Cutler can have a really big day. The CBs are good enough to contain WRs when there is a lot of pressure, but I can nearly guarantee that there won't be, unless Carolina wants to blitz. If they've watched any film (assuming that NFL types stil watch "film" rather than just use the word film,) they'd see that blitzing has been pretty ineffective against the Broncos, and their best bet is to try to play coverage. The bad news for them is that Jay has been steadily improving against zones.

The key, from HT's analysis yesterday:

I trust the Denver OL to protect Jay, and trust Jay will get away from most of what gets through. But because Jay will be throwing against a defense that is in zone much of the game, he'll need to tone down his aggressive when he does get flushed.

Strategically, I like a lot of crossing stuff for Marshall and Royal, mixed with Scheffler and Graham challenging the seams of the zones. I also like WR screens in this game against the zone looks. Royal, Scheffler, and Marshall can all do damage running after the catch.

It will be tough to get deep on a 2 or 3 deep zone, but I think there is a lot which can be done in the intermediate areas. If the running game is going good enough to get an 8th man in the box, I could see something deep coming off of play action.

A Bonus Observation

In both games I watched, the Panthers' first punt of the game was blocked and returned for a TD, and a quick lead for the opposing team. Jason Baker also had a 3rd punt blocked somewhere along the way, and no other punter in the league has more than 1 this season. I am sure this has not escaped the Broncos' coaches' attention, and it will be interesting to see if a decision is made to go after their punt protection package.