Panthers defense vs. Cardinals offense:
The biggest threat to expose the defense will be the match-up of the personnel groupings and alignments that Panthers head coach Ron Rivera uses and calls against the high tempo/no huddle “Air Raid” passing attack using 10 and 00 personnel by Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury. The term Air Raid basically means an all out pass heavy attack from all angles. 10 personnel means 1 RB 0 TE 4 WR and 00 personnel means 0 RB 0 TE 5 WR. During the Rivera era our pass defense has largely been the nickel zone heavy sub-package 4-2-5 which is 4 DL 2 LB 5 DB. The 5 DBs are typically 2 outside CBs 1 nickel CB and 2 safeties which match-up perfectly against 11 personnel of 1 RB 1 TE 3 WR. The Cardinals offense leads the NFL in no huddle usage at 54% of their plays. The chess match will be how the Panthers game plan to defend the 4th and 5th WR of the Cardinals during a face pace.
- The Panthers defensive front must quickly disrupt the Cardinals offensive line blocking schemes with a combination of stunts and slants that allows quick penetration. Their starting five combined for a 59.7 overall grade this preseason. So whether the Panthers use a “30 front” or a “40 front” the interior defensive linemen must dominate early and often to disrupt the rhythm of rookie QB Kyler Murray.
- The Panthers secondary playing more press man-to-man coverage at the line of scrimmage on the Cardinals receivers is a high risk yet high reward approach. This “Air Raid” philosophy is largely timing routes where the ball is thrown before the receiver makes his cut to catch the ball. The WR group consists of future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald in his 16th season, former Panther Damiere Byrd, Christian Kirk, Keesean Johnson, Michael Crabtree and Andy Isabella. The ability to throw these players off their routes by just a couple of seconds can lead to multiple sacks and turnover opportunities. Also the defensive front getting their hands up on those quick 3 step drops to batter down passes will be a key part to slowing this offense down.
- The Panthers using more of their “Dime” sub-package of six DBs would allow us to have a CB on those 4th and 5th WRs on the field. As talented as the Panthers LB core is there should not be any situation where they are lining up in the slot to cover. This season we have seen more of the “30 front” dime package of 3 DL 2 LB and 6 DB. However it would not surprise me to see some “40 front” dime looks with 4 DL 1 LB and 6 DB. The current NFL pattern of various spread offenses is growing and it is important for Rivera to adapt defensively by using more DBs to counter with rather than relying on his LBs.
- Speaking of LBs it will be the jobs of Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson to contain and tackle effectively QB Murray and RB David Johnson in the running game. Both are capable of making huge gains on the ground when given the chance. The defensive front must maintain run gap discipline and run fit responsibilities at all times.
- A veteran loaded defense lead by Rivera must control the tempo and the line of scrimmage against a rookie head coach and a rookie QB playing in their 3rd NFL game. The film shows plenty of opportunity for multiple sacks and numerous turnovers. With a 10 day rest this Panthers defense should be licking their chops to get at this offense.