Not a lot of things went well for the Panthers this past Sunday against the Seahawks – while they were able to grab a couple of late scores to make the game interesting at the end, the game wasn’t would barely qualify as watchable.
However, there was one noticeable bright spot for the Panthers on offense: a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown in which the Panthers ran for 59 yards at nearly six yards per carry while completing both of the passes they attempted. In fact, the Panthers only faced two third downs all drive, both of which were 3rd-and-1s and, most remarkably, the Panthers managed all this without at any point throwing a pass beyond the line of scrimmage. If you want a template for how the Panthers can be successful on Sunday without needing Will Grier to be a star, this seems like a pretty good place to start.
If you’re also looking for a glimpse at how Scott Turner was able to successfully get the ball out of the hands of a backup QB and into the hands of his playmakers……
Play 1. McCaffrey Run Right For A Loss Of 1 Yard
As good as this drive was for the Panthers, it didn’t exactly get off to a hot start, with the Panthers starting out losing a yard on an outside run.
However, even this was more an issue of execution over design, as can be seen from the following diagram:
Here, the Panthers are trying to pin the majority of the defense inside and then clear out the front side of the play. They have two tight ends on the right side of the line, and crash both back to create an outside crease, with Moton and Armah kicking out the end defender and the box safety. All this went fine, but the issue with comparatively slow-developing plays of this type is that because they require the running back to spend some time behind the line, they give the defense a chance to chase the play down from the back side, which is exactly what happened here. Paradis didn’t get much of a chip on the defensive tackle before kicking onto the linebacker and Williams is slow to get across to cut him off and the defensive tackle is able to run the play down from behind.
Play 2. Pass Short Left To Samuel For 12 Yards
Lining Curtis Samuel up as a running back is something the Panthers have done an awful lot more of since the passing of the Turner Torch, and this is something they do here, with McCaffrey starting out wide and then motioning back across the line. The Panthers rake the handoff to McCaffrey and drop back to pass before quickly dropping the ball off to Samuel.
This could initially look like a standard passing play, but when you look at the various routes run in combination with this it becomes clear this was a pseudo-screen to Samuel all along:
All four other routes are used to pull coverage away from where Samuel’s route is going, and this both gives him enough time to create some space to receive the pass and also for a couple of offensive linemen to get downfield and act like a cavalcade. Samuel does a really good job of reading the play and cuts back inside to allow the seam to develop before turning upfield to pick up the first down. As will be seen later, the Panthers based a lot of their plays on this drive off of the jet motion, and having a screen play like this as a counter to attack the back side of the play is certainly useful.
Play 3. McCaffrey Run Middle For 13 Yards
The Panthers ran another jet motion on the next play, though here, rather than using it to create motion away from a screen, they used it to drag the backside defender wide to create a rushing lane.
This play might initially look like a standard outside zone with a jet motion just to create some confusion, but when you look at the blocking assignments, it hard not to think that this was a designed misdirection.
Here, the majority of the line are all blocking down right and, crucially, when Ian Thomas works off the double team and moves to block Wagner, he does so by trying to pin Wagner back outside, suggesting that he knew all along that the play was going to come back behind him.
What this play is, essentially, is a designed run outside the left tackle, but where the entire offensive line shifts across so that the left tackle ends up where the center starts off, allowing McCaffrey to run pretty much straight downfield. This play is possible because of the jet motion holding the edge and widening the gap for McCaffrey. Of course, if the end crashes the inside run, this play would likely get blown up, but the skill in calling plays like this is being able to mix the fakes so as to keep the defense off-balance and prevent them from keying into where the ball is going.
This isn’t just a well-executed and well-designed play, but it was one that was called at the right time as well.
Play 4. McCaffrey Run Right For 13 Yards
Here we have the sister play to the fake-jet screen the Panthers ran earlier. Once again, the Panthers have Samuel at running back with McCaffrey motioning across with two tight ends on the line on the front side of the play. However, unlike in the previous instance, this time they hand the ball off.
Most of the blocking on this play is simply to create a clear seam outside so the Panthers can allow McCaffrey to focus on the defenders and blockers in front of him without having to worry about being chased down from behind:
There are, however, a couple of interesting things to note here. The first is the way the Panthers have Samuel working to expect a toss play in order to hold #57 on the back side of the play without having to assign a blocker to him – and the second is the block of Chris Manhertz. Here, Manhertz initially goes as If he is going to block down on the defensive end, but then sidesteps the block and works to the second level. This leaves the end unblocked but having hesitated momentarily on the Manhertz block fake, he is unable to get downfield enough to stop the play and the ball is outside of him. It’s not clear whether Manhertz was never going to block him and the Panthers just trust McCaffrey to bounce the run outside if he does get penetration, or whether Manhertz is reading him initially and when he doesn’t dive on the jet, he then works to the linebacker. Either way, this play shows how the Panthers were able to line up exactly the same way, run the exact same motion and yet run a very different play.
A key to top level offense.
Up Next: Two Opposite Outcomes & McCaffrey being McCaffrey