TiVo Time: Carolina Panthers
The Green Bay Packers never seem to make it look easy, but they did get a win against an overmatched Carolina Panthers team on Sunday. I’ve combed through the tape to see who got exposed and who did just enough to make a difference.
Kickoff: Quality first kickoff by Mason Crosby and the cover team swarms Mike Goodson at the 15. Goodson looks slow, but the Packers quickly learn everyone else on this field does too. I agreed with the strategy of deferring all of last season, but Mike McCarthy may want to start with his offense on the field until his defense proves capable of actually stopping someone.
14:55, 1st quarter: The Packers are in a run-heavy defense, with everyone near the line of scrimmage except for Nick Collins. Morgan Burnett is on the line covering Greg Olsen and Clay Matthews appears in man coverage on Jeremy Shockey. Jarius Wynn foolishly bites on the play action, and Cam Newton has plenty of room to find Shockey for 23 yards on a corner route. Matthews was looking in the backfield and reacted too late to Shockey running by him. Collins was the lone deep man and thus, could hardly be expected to stop a corner route. If Matthews has a QB-first assignment here, he might bury Newton at the 5 to start the game instead of the Panthers getting off to a hot start.
13:48, 1st quarter: It’s 3rd-and-6 from the Panther 42. The Packers blitz A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop and drop Erik Walden into coverage. Matthews flies around the corner and is a half second from a sack, but either Sam Shields or Walden are supposed to pick up Shockey in coverage and neither do. Newton finds him for an easy first down. If the Packers would have kept things simple here, they probably would have gotten off the field.
9:20, 1st quarter: The Panthers score for the second time this drive. I guess. Doesn’t look like the left foot was down in bounds to me, but the refs say Brandon LaFell has a 4-yard TD catch. The Packers were actually aggressive on this play with a seven-man blitz, but Newton just flicked the ball into the corner. Jarrett Bush had a lot of ground to cover in a short amount of time, but he put himself in decent position. Except, in what appears a constant for Bush, he never looked for the ball. Newton actually should have thrown it deeper. Bush has an easy pick if he just plays the ball instead of the man.
The Panthers actually scored a couple plays earlier when Shields totally forgot to cover Greg Olsen, leaving him all alone in the end zone for an easy score. Shields is having a miserable time in zone and needs to get back to man-to-man ASAP. However, a blocking call — the first of many — wiped that score out.
The Panthers quickly overcame the 1st and 20 resulting by, I’m guessing, picking up the Packers’ defensive signal. This happens, I believe, a fair amount, though no one talks about it. After a Panthers time out, the Packers were in the nickel for the first time in the game and sent Bush and Hawk on a blitz from the right. The Panthers just happen to call their only screen left of the game to Jonathan Stewart. Stewart proceeds to get 21 yards. Shields inexplicably runs right by Stewart without tackling him. I’m starting to wonder what the hell he’s doing out there.
9:13, 1st quarter: Randall Cobb takes the worst kickoff of the game at the goal line, runs up a seam in the middle of the field, and proceeds to run right into Ryan Taylor’s back. Out pops the football. Carolina ball at the 26.
6:32, 1st quarter: Carolina gets a 21-yard field goal and it is 10-0, Panthers. Thus, quietly goes the Packers streak of never trailing by more than seven points. It shows how amazing that streak was when all it took was 8:30 against the Panthers to end it.
The Packers actually played decent defense here. The only successful play the Panthers had after the fumble was a roughing the passer call on Desmond Bishop, where he made a perfect form tackle. This is not your father’s NFL. No, forget that. This isn’t the same NFL it was three years ago. Newton is a bigger man that Bishop. but apparently Bishop has to forget what he’s been taught since Pop Warner when tackling him.
4:12, 1st quarter: The last thing they need is a three-and-out, but that’s exactly what the Packers offense does the one time they have the ball in the first quarter. Their first mistake is Ryan Grant is in the backfield. Their second is they still give the ball to Grant, even though the Panthers line up with seven men at the line. Tom Crabtree and John Kuhn get beat at the point of attack and Grant gets one yard.
On 2nd down, the Panthers fake the blitz and drop eight. Rodgers doesn’t even look at the defense and throws Grant a swing pass. There are three Panthers waiting for him, loss of 2.
On 3rd and 11, Jerimichael Finley has a false start. It’s now 3rd and 16. A quick dump pass to James Jones almost picks up the first down because Jones shows good burst upfield. Unfortunately, middle linebacker James Anderson shows good hustle and just gets Jones from behind a yard short of the first down.
14:48, 2nd quarter: Newton leads another quality drive, but the tide is already turning. Carolina is forced to kick another field goal to make it 13-0. On 3rd and 8 from their own 33, the Packers rushed just three and left Matthews to spy Newton. It didn’t end up working. Newton scrambled to his right, juked Matthews, and dove for exactly eight yards. Everyone looks slow on this field and Matthews badly overran the play. Steve Smith got a 20-yard reception on the next play when the Packers blew a zone coverage. The biggest play of the drive is a dart to Olsen up the right sideline against Burnett, when the Packers finally played straight man coverage. Newton has had it pretty easy so far, but that was a great pass.
The drive ends after the second holding call of the game puts the Panthers in a second-and-long situation. Newton misfired on a pass to the end zone, and then on third down, a dump to Stewart was well covered by Bishop and Collins.
14:08, 2nd quarter: Arguably a key turning point in the game — the Packers have the ball on a must-score drive and it’s 3rd and 7 from their own 23. Except, it should be 2nd and 17 from their 13. Amazingly, Ron Rivera, who apparently didn’t fall far from the Lovie Smith tree, declined a holding penalty on Brian Bulaga, which would have pushed the Packers all the way back to their own 13. Faced with 3rd and 7 and dealing with just a three-man rush, Rodgers buys some time in the pocket before finding Finley down the middle of the field for 40 yards.
9:58, 2nd quarter: The Packers end an 11-play, 80-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge by Kuhn to make it 13-7. Besides the big play to Finley, the Packers primarily move the ball on a couple screen passes — one to Starks and then a great inside screen to Grant. The Packers went to the no huddle to jump start their offense.
8:01, 2nd quarter: The Panthers go three-and-out. Newton is clearly beginning to lose steam now that he’s outside his script. On 3rd and 3, the Panthers leave Clay Matthews unblocked. Newton eludes him again, but Bishop is there to clean up.
5:46, 2nd quarter: The Packers appear to have momentum after getting the ball at midfield. They go no huddle again, but after a first down dump to Cobb gets 11 yards, Rodgers has his worst series of the season so far and the Packers get nothing out of their great field position. Although Rodgers drops back to pass four straight plays, he never throws the ball to a receiver. Instead, he threw the ball away twice, despite facing no pressure. After a holding call on Josh Sitton brought on by Rodgers hanging onto the ball too long, the quarterback took off running twice in a row. Both runs were unnecessary. On the third-down play, Finley was open for the first down if Rodgers would have stuck with him instead of taking off.
0:45, 2nd quarter: After a Woodson pick fails to stop Jim Mora Jr. from putting Cam Newton into the Hall of Fame, the Packers show some commitment to the run. They promptly move into Carolina territory. From there, Rodgers and Greg Jennings conspire to stop the drive in its tracks. On first down, Jennings has a big play on a quick slant, except Rodgers throws the ball high and Jennings appears to mistime his jump. On third down, Jennings drops an out that would have picked up the first down.
I totally agree with McCarthy’s surprising call to go for it on fourth down, here. With the ball at the Panthers 45 and less than 50 seconds left, a Panthers field goal was the worst possible outcome, while the Packers could still score a touchdown if they converted.
Rodgers tries the low percentage back-shoulder throw to Jennings, but he doesn’t throw it behind Jennings enough. The ball bounces right off Jennings’ hands, but even if he catches it, the defender would likely knock it away, since it was right in front of him.
The Panthers’ follow-up drive was largely thwarted by a offensive pass interference penalty. We go into the half with the score still 13-7. Sickeningly, the Packers offense only has seven points against the Panthers defense.
12:23, 3rd quarter: I’m not sure why it took a half to figure things out, but the Packers change the tone of the game by running the football the first three plays of the half. Other than the rare times they’ve blitzed, the Panthers have been sitting in a two-deep shell most of the game. They open the half the same way, and the six they have near the line aren’t enough to stop James Starks from breaking off an 8-yard run.
Props to McCarthy for sticking with the run by calling a shotgun draw on 3rd and 1. The play was designed to go between T.J. Lang and Chad Clifton, and Starks has the first down if he goes that way. However, an even bigger hole opens up the middle when Bryan Bulaga pancakes the right defensive end, and Starks goes that way for 14 yards.
Two plays later, Rodgers takes advantage of the 2nd and 2 by going with a play action rollout to his right. The single safety plays the corner route and Greg Jennings pops wide open when he runs the post instead. Rodgers coolly hits him for a 49-yard TD to restore sanity and give the Packers the lead, 14-13.
11:41, 3rd quarter: The Panthers get off to just as bad of a start to the second half as the Packers did in the first half. The Packers finally have their nickel defense in the game, and even though the Panthers run the ball on first down, Bush makes his best play of the game by shedding Greg Olsen and dropping DeAngelo Williams for a 1-yard gain.
On 2nd and 9, the Panthers go right back to an empty backfield, but the Packers have their premium pass defense on the field, featuring B.J. Raji and Jarius Wynn, all four linebackers, and five defensive backs. This is a no frills defense with the normal four-man rush. There’s good initial coverage, and when Newton makes a mistake by stepping to his right, he ends up with Matthews in his face. Newton reacts like a rookie and chucks it behind Steve Smith who was running a short cross. Woodson was actually baiting the play and makes a nice catch for his second INT of the game.
10:22, 3rd quarter: Mason Crosby kicks a 37-yard field goal and that’s all the Packers get out of Woodson’s pick. The Packers looked good after Ryan Grant ran for 6 yards on first down, but a false start on Tom Crabtree made it 2nd and 9. On second down, Rodgers threw a bad pass in Jennings’ general direction, even though Crabtree and Starks were plenty open right in the middle of the field. On third down, Finley nearly pulls off a spectacular catch in the end zone, but loses the ball after he hits the ground.
Two years ago, that’s a TD, easy, but not in this NFL. That just seems to be the way things are going for the offense today.
9:14, 3rd quarter: A big play for the Panthers on a deep in by Smith against Woodson turns into a Panther disaster when Smith decides to go Walter Payton with the pigskin near the sideline and loses the ball on a hit by Burnett. Woodson picks up the loose change and then proceeds with the worst return of his life.
The Packers will need Burnett to make a lot more plays like this.
9:00, 3rd quarter: The Packers line up in their best running formation, the inverted wishbone, and James Starks breaks through the right side and up the sideline for 40 yards. The Panthers were playing the run and had their front seven crowding the line. Every Packers blocker stifled their man, however. Sitton opened the hole, and the play broke big when Jennings came down and got a shot on the safety.
5:45, 3rd quarter: The Packers add on another field goal to make it 20-13. Per the film, It appears everyone on offense is doing their job except for the quarterback. After Starks’ big run, Rodgers does well to find Finley for another first down at the 9. However, after Kuhn is inexplicably stopped at the 1, Rodgers throws the ball harmlessly behind Jordy Nelson on third down.
This has to be Rodgers’ worst play of the game. His two primary options, Jennings and Finley, are wide open. In fact, no one lines up on Finley, and Rodgers didn’t even need to drop back. He could have simply taken the snap and shot putted it to Finley for an easy score. Instead, Rodgers decides before the snap to throw the stop fade to Nelson. Unfortunately, Nelson seemed unaware of this plan.
5:50, 3rd quarter: So far this quarter the Panthers have turned it over on the second play of both their drives. Here, they wait until their third play to turn it over.
The Packers are in their nickel the whole time. On first down, Newton goes deep against Burnett, who has it covered. On second down, the Panthers get a big break when Matthews bats the ball down. Bush was cutting in front of Olsen and might have had a pick 6 if the pass gets through.
The Panthers’ luck is short-lived however, as Newton tries Nene on the stop and go against Bush. Bush can afford to bite on the stop because Burnett is over the top. Newton tries to strong arm it in there anyway, and Burnett makes a decent catch.
0:57, 3rd quarter: Wow, this has been a long quarter. The Packers stall in the red zone and kick their third straight field goal when they could have all but put the game away. It’s now 23-13, Packers.
On first down from the 13, Crabtree lines up next to Clifton to help him with Charles Johnson, only to find out the joke is on him. Clifton double-teams T.J. Lang’s guy and leaves Johnson alone with Crabtree. Johnson runs right through him to sack Rodgers for a 13-yard loss. Then on second down, a decent pick up to Donald Driver is erased by a horrendous holding call on Sitton. I believe this was a make-up call for the even more egregious roughing-the-passer call that helped the Packers get into the red zone in the first place.
After a dump off to Starks gained around 10 yards, Rodgers threw it to Driver to get into safe field goal range and give Driver the Packers’ receiving yardage record on the same play. The first person to congratulate Driver on the sideline? James Jones.
11:37, 4th quarter: It’s 3rd and 9, and a simple dump to Stewart turns into a Packers disaster beyond the football field. A.J. Hawk is supposed to be in the area, but he isn’t. Woodson and Nick Collins, two of the Packers’ best tacklers, fly up to tackle Stewart. Amazingly, both overrun the play. Unfortunately for Collins, he doesn’t overrun it as badly as Woodson, and he takes Stewart’s leg to the crown of his head as he hurdles a diving Hawk.
Collins lays prone on the field for several minutes and is eventually carted off on a stretcher. The NFL takes every precaution with neck injuries, so you hope it’s better than it looks as Nick goes off the field with a promising wave. Packers fans find out the next day that Collins is done for the season.
10:05, 4th quarter: The Panthers end their drive with a short field goal to make it 23-16. The entire drive consisted of dumps to Stewart and the Packers did an awful job of tackling. After a Newton run got to the 3, he did the Packers a favor by overthrowing a wide open receiver who burned Shields on a dig route. On 3rd down, Newton does himself a favor by overthrowing Nene on the quick out. Shields and Bush were both collapsing on the receiver and an accurate pass might have been Newton’s fourth INT.
7:30, 4th quarter: The Packers get stuffed on 3rd and 1, thanks to Johnson owning Clifton. Bulaga and Sitton collapse the right and middle of the Panthers line, and Starks is starting the cutback that could lead to a big run when Johnson stuffs him.
3:09, 4th quarter: Just another big play when you have to have one by Clay Matthews, as he pulls Newton down short of the first down on 4th and 4. The Panthers got a miraculous catch on 3rd and 22 by Brandon LaFell against Shields. They followed with the mysterious quick screen to Smith when the Packers blitz from the same side to get into scoring range.
On 3rd and 1 from the 4, Newton tried to run it around the right end. Lining up on the line across from Olsen, Burnett chased Newton down for a 3-yard loss. Jim Mora Jr. is inconsolable. Burnett is actually having a great game.
On 4th and 4, the Packers dropped eight and have everyone covered. Newton tries to take off up the middle, but Matthews corrals him at the 4. Packers ball.
2:14, 4th quarter: Game over. After a 12-yard run out of the inverted wishbone by Starks, the Packers show a rare aggressive side and go play-action pass. Nelson has his man on a simple slant and beats the safety on a cut to the sideline. He goes the distance with the help of a late block by Jennings. This play turns Rodgers’ day from a poor one, by his standards, to a good one. Without it, he only has 224 yards and 1 TD against the Panthers defense.
It was great to see the offense finish out a game for once.
Newton collects a meaningless 80 yards passing on the last drive to go well over 400 for the second straight week. Even with the Panthers scoring within 1:30, it didn’t matter. If they recover the onside kick, they still don’t have enough time to score again.
This was a really long and intensive analysis; so I’m not going to add a lot to its length by doing a long summary of the game. The Packers HAD to win that game and they did. Yes, they need to play better pass defense. Getting Tramon Williams back should help. It also would be nice if Vic So’oto would ever get over his weight room injury.
With Nick Collins gone, Morgan Burnett needs to continue to improve. Charlie Peprah was solid during his time on the field, and he should be fine.
Finally, Rodgers didn’t look as prepared as he usually does. I’m hoping that’s because he was already thinking of the Bears.
Shawn Neuser attended UWGB and lives and works in Green Bay. He enjoys long walks on the beach and being intimate with game film.