- Build the offensive gameplan like Cam Newton is Derek Anderson
- Keep the ball in the running backs’ hands
- Score touchdowns when they get in the red zone
ESPN.com’s David Newton quoted Ron Rivera after practice this week saying, “He and DA are similar, but they are different. Cam obviously is a better runner. They both bring a lot to the table. What Cam does is he adds that extra dimension, the ability to run.” While a healthy Cam Newton does provide that for the Panthers offense, this week the coaching staff should treat Newton like Derek Anderson when building the gameplan.
Against the Bucs, the Panthers had an efficient gameplan that moved the ball well and didn’t have to rely on Anderson running the ball. It was based on high percentage throws utilizing all parts of the field with Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin. More important than that was the fact that they called plays that got the ball out of Anderson’s hands quickly. Rivera and offensive coordinator Mike Shula should continue to use this kind of game plan this week against the Browns.
While this game is important and is a must-win, next week against the Atlanta Falcons is much more important because it is on the road and is against a much better offensive team. Looking at the two teams on paper, it would be safe to assume the Falcons have a better chance of scoring points than the Browns. The game against the Falcons is the one the Panthers will need the explosive offensive player that Newton is and if he is still banged up, they may struggle putting up points.
The easiest way to keep Newton from taking unnecessary hits is to establish the run game with Jonathan Stewart leading the way. The last three weeks the run game has come alive for this Panthers offense, averaging 190.6 yards per game. This is a huge jump from the 96.5 yards per game they averaged over the first 11 games.
The Browns have been awful defending the run this year ranking 31st in yards against and giving up 137.6 yards per game. Establishing a running game with Stewart, Fozzy Whittaker and Mike Tolbert would be great for Newton and his health because not only will he be asked to throw less but when he does, it could come out of play action. This should keep the opportunities for Newton to get hit down.
The last key for the Panthers offense is to score touchdowns in the red zone and not settle for field goals. The past four weeks the Panthers have only scored four touchdowns in 12 trips to the red zone. It is clear that this offense hasn’t had a problem getting to the red zone based on their 12 trips but something changed when they get there and they quickly get bogged down.
This is one part of the field that the Panthers may want to use Newton’s ability to run on a few designed runs and read option plays. If the Panthers bring in four wide receiver sets, it should space the Browns defense out enough for Carolina to pick up those last few yards on the ground and punch it across the goal line.
- Keep Johnny Manziel in the pocket
- Control the middle of the field
The Panthers defense has not faced many mobile quarterbacks this season with Seahawks’ quarterback Russell Wilson being the only one that comes to mind. In that game, Wilson ran for 35 yards on six carries which is a pretty good job considering Wilson has three 100-yard games this year. The Panthers will have to find a way to limit Johnny Manziel’s opportunities to scramble for big chunks of yards.
The key to stopping any mobile quarterback is to keep him in the pocket, which takes a coordinated effort from all the players in the front seven. Defensive linemen, particularly the ends, have to pay attention to the gaps and not over-pursue to get the sack. If their focus is just to speed rush and get to the middle of the pocket as quickly as possible, if the defensive tackle isn’t there, the quarterback can step up and outside, which allows him to slip right by the defensive end and break off a big run.
This game is going to be very important for the Panthers defensive tackles (Star Lotulelei, Dwan Edwards and Kawann Short in particular) to get penetration up the middle and be the first defender to get to Manziel. This is going to collapse the pocket and force Manziel to run to one side of the field. If the defensive ends play more of a contain role rather than pass rusher, they should be in position to get the sack on Manziel.
This game is not only going to be important for the Panthers defensive tackles to pressure Manziel on pass plays but also to improve against the run. Last week against the Bucs, the interior of the Panthers defense got beat badly on the ground by Doug Martin, who broke off a 63-yard run on the very first series thanks to great blocking by the Bucs.
The Panthers defensive tackles need to do a better job of holding their ground. This would then allow Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis to attack the gaps and stop run plays before they start. If the defensive tackles are moved off their spot though this creates massive running lanes that would be tough for any linebacker to fill.
Since coming back from the bye, the Panthers defense has really clamped down on opposing offenses, giving up an average of 13.3 points per game, which is down from 28.9 points per game over the first 11 games. The hope will be that trend will continue on Sunday against the Browns.