The Game Notes: Panthers 23, Bears 13.

Grier in the headlights.

The Panthers website described Will Grier’s performance as “efficient”.

He tossed up a 63.8 passer rating against third and fourth stringers–rife with vanilla, preseason defensive coverages. That is not efficient. I liked the 20-yard scramble – it ended up being only one of two explosive plays the Panthers generated all night – but overall, he’s clearly a work in progress.

Allen, on the other hand, looked composed and efficient. I liked that he was able to sidestep multiple pressures allowed by a second-string offensive line. He was a little bit better than his 1-for-5 performance on 3rd downs would indicate, as Aldrick Robinson dropped one conversion, while another “failed” conversion set up a 4th and inches attempt (his bootleg).

The team would seem to have the quarterback depth chart correct, at least for now, but it’s obviously very early.

Little reason for concern.

Greg Little needs to pick it up.

The rookie LT gave up an ugly pair of pressures to Leonard Floyd’s backup, both of which would have been sacks if not for good awareness and nifty movement by Kyle Allen.

I’ve seen Little struggle much of camp against backup edge defenders, particularly Haynes. It’s quite troubling that he’s struggling so badly against speed rushers, specifically. Handling those types of rushers was touted as a point of strength.

Not many can say with a straight face they’re thrilled with the notion of Daryl Williams playing left tackle, as LG Greg Van Roten, in this analyst’s view, remains the weak link as a pedestrian interior lineman.

That left side of the line might be more problematic than we had imagined back in April. If Little can get it together and play to his potential–yea, we’d certainly appreciate that.

The explosive play: never unimportant. 

Chicago had four explosive plays, compared to a pair from Carolina.

As you’ll find out soon enough, I share the same emphasis on a healthy explosive play ratio as many fine head coaches past and present do.

It’s tough sledding when you aim to nickel and dime your way down the field for an NFL win. All the while, the opponent is biting off 30+ yard chunks of yardage on offense. Games you feel in total of control suddenly become 10-6 halftime deficits.

Granted, the Panthers “starting” receiving corps last night was far from elite. Robinson and Jaydon Mickens were each 1-for-4 in converting targets-to-receptions.


And, no–it won’t help Mickens’ case that rookie Chris Godwin is channeling his inner Jermaine Lewis on punt returns. Godwin’s moves and patience setting up blocks are laudable.

Eyeing the nuances and subtleties of Rivera’s defense.

Chicago ran 54 plays on offense. Defensively, the Panthers lined up in a 4-2 nickel presentation on 33 of those 54 plays. while offering up a 3-4 presentation for the other 21 plays.

It’s interesting to note: Carolina occasionally played their base defense against the Bears’ 3-wide sets–it’s something they have done in the past as 4-3.

I was wondering how Rivera would present this look in a 3-4. I got my answer: they would bring a safety down over the slot receiver, and effectively play a cover 3 defense.

This is markedly different that how they went about this type of situation when running a 4-3, as Carolina would often flex Shaq Thompson into the nickel position while employing cover 2 or cover 4.

It’s going to be a more predictable strategy in a 3-4, so I wouldn’t expect to see this wrinkle very much against, say, Drew Brees.

A numbers crunch to keep an eye on.

Jared Norris has not shown the chops to fill much of a meaningful role as a linebacker, especially in coverage, but he’s a solid special teamer. It will be interesting to see if he becomes 2019’s Karl Hankton.

Jermaine Carter and Andre Smith look much more natural in space than Norris, but neither match Norris’ impact on special teams.

I’m betting on a superior linebacker getting cut for the special teams guy, because that’s typically how it goes when the rubber meets the road on cut day. FWIW: Bryan Cox, Jr. appears to have a leg up on Efe Obada for the same reason.

Let’s hold off on the anointing oil, ok? 

Nice work on the sacks. It was good to see.

But, look. Let’s talk.

Haynes’ effort on a wham block that sprung Chicago’s opening touchdown was woeful.

There has been an ample supply of lavish praise heaped upon Haynes for torching one of the worst offensive tackles I have ever seen. I’d caution you to not do too much of that.

I do like Haynes and his speed rush. He can get low, rushing with power and agility with results. Keep in mind, it took Haynes over 40 snaps to rack up his pair of sack.

Brian Burns only needed 10 snaps to rack up two sacks on Thursday. He is special.

Haynes needs to work on his run defense if he’s going to carve out a meaningful role this year.

Hell of a special night.

Special Teams coach Chase Blackburn is earning every dime. What a great night for the “teams” unit.

Joey Slye: hey, look. Nice game. Nice leg. Our camp leg is better than any kicker competing for the Bears job, so there’s that.

Blackburn’s boys appear to be as well-coached this year as ever. The punt return teams did a good job of avoiding penalties. Terry Godwin broke off a 57-yard return with a great move and a hell of a convoy down the near sideline.

Here’s the stat: Carolina outgained Chicago in total return yardage, 131 to -3. Wins are often found in margins like these.


Ian Thomas. Just, Ian Thomas.

John’s covered this extensively this offseason and at camp. What an athlete this guy is, and it showed up again in Chicago.

I’m hard pressed to find a linebacker who can cover Ian Thomas on a crossing route. I’d like to see OC Norv Turner work to exploit this like a “CPU AI-glitch money play on Madden ’05”.

Keep doing this until teams put a DB on him–and then, run from this look against an extra DB.

Ross Ellis is the co-founder and lead analyst for OnePantherPlace.

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