We’ve known for years that Carolina Panthers inside linebacker Luke Kuechly is a big-time difference maker (as is fellow linebacker Thomas Davis), and one play against the Philadelphia Eagles summed up how hard he can make things for an opposing offense.
The Philadelphia Eagles tried an outside sweep with Ryan Mathews in the first quarter. Kuechly showed off his excellent play recognition at the snap.
Kuechly moved at the same time as Eagles center Jason Kelce started to pull. Then Kuechly maintained his balance and control as he was pushed from behind by another Eagles lineman. Kuechly stayed up, beat the block by Kelce and made the tackle. It’s an outstanding play.
The speed of Kuechly and Davis, along with the emergence of a couple young players elsewhere on the defense, has keyed the Panthers defense and their 6-0 start.
The Panthers generally play more zone coverage than man, because Kuechly and Davis are outstanding underneath zone coverage defenders. Their speed takes away a lot of options.
In the run game, Davis still has great speed, range and excellent play recognition; he has outstanding short area quickness and burst. Davis is often overlooked because of Kuechly, but he is one of the best in the NFL. And Kuechly’s outstanding play recognition allows him to beat so many blocks. The play from before is just one of many examples of it. Offensive linemen can’t get to him and he makes so many plays on the move.
The Panthers are more than those linebackers. Cornerback Josh Norman is having an excellent season. So is defensive tackle Kawann Short, who is having a breakout year in his third season. He was exceptional against the Eagles. Jared Allen, brought over from the Bears in a trade, also was a factor in the pass rush and played the run well, too. The Panthers rarely blitz. Carolina had six blitzes in 54 drop-backs by Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford, and all five sacks came off rushes with just the four defensive linemen. They can play that way because of their personnel.
The Panthers are 6-0 going into a Monday night game against the Indianapolis Colts. Offensively the Panthers have a grind-it-out offense with their emphasis on the run game; they play a game of attrition. With the defense they’ve put together, led by linebackers Davis and Kuechly, it’s working for them.
Darren McFadden got a chance to be the Dallas Cowboys’ featured back last week against the New York Giants when Joseph Randle got hurt on his second run. He played very well, and you could see that the offense plays to his strengths.
What McFadden doesn’t have is a lot of lateral agility. But here’s what he does well: He’s a straight-line downhill runner with good speed and natural power, and he’s a hard runner. He’s like DeMarco Murray in those ways. McFadden is a much better outside zone runner than an inside zone runner, which fits the Cowboys’ offense. There are fewer options in the outside zone and it requires less lateral agility. McFadden can just be a downhill track runner.
Here was a good run by McFadden and the offensive line last week. It was an outside zone, with great blocks by center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin. McFadden gained 22 yards.
McFadden had 19 carries in the second half against the Giants. He should get plenty more against the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday.
Raiders dual touchdowns
The Oakland Raiders played very well against the San Diego Chargers last week, scoring on their first seven possessions. On two of the touchdowns, they ran the exact same play, just to a different target out of a slightly different formation.
Here’s the first play. In “11” personnel (one back, one tight end), Amari Cooper was the No. 1 receiver to the three-receiver side. It was a designed bubble screen with receiver Seth Roberts, tight end Mychal Rivera, left tackle Donald Penn and center Rodney Hudson as the lead blockers. Hudson and Penn did an outstanding job getting in front of Cooper, and Cooper showed off big time run-after-catch ability on a 52-yard score late in the second quarter.
Here’s the other touchdown, from early in the third quarter. The Raiders had a three-by-one set initially, with inside slot Cooper motioning across to make it a two-by-one set. It was again a designed bubble screen with Holmes, Penn and Hudson as the lead blockers. This time, Michael Crabtree took it 25 yards for the score.
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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.