Game Notes: Rams 30, Panthers 27

By Ross Ellis

Opening day:

Never easy. Always unpredictable.

With a 30-27 loss in their home opener to the Los Angeles Rams, the Panthers squandered multiple opportunities through a series of unforced errors and a shade of bad luck. Carolina has now dropped 8 of their last 9 regular season games dating back to November 2018.

Here are a few things I observed, and some suggestions on a better way forward:

Carolina needs more explosive plays.

I continue to be discouraged by the lack of explosive plays in our offense. It plagued the Panthers in the preseason, and it has carried over into week one, as we anticipated. This is now a full blown RAC-dependent offense. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner has a wide array RPO and short passing plays at his disposal, and it’s a fine a way to run an offense in the modern-day NFL. However, if your playmakers are not making plays, it turns into a Christian McCaffrey check down convention. 

DJ Moore, who has been widely regarded as one of the most improved players of the offseason, had a marginal game on Sunday. Moore received 10 targets, generated no explosive plays, and had a hand in two turnovers.

Look, I believe in Moore and have been one of his more vocal advocates. But he simply can’t put the ball in the other team’s hands. 

Speaking of explosive plays, the game featured a select few (thanks to our cutting-edge graphics department here)

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Limiting the explosive Rams to four explosive plays is good work. I wasn’t entirely discouraged by the defensive performance. Los Angeles averaged 33 points per game last year. The Panthers held them under that total, and it would have been less if not for the short field they inherited from the untimely swing pass turnover.

A new wrinkle in coverage.

I was very happy to see Rivera deploy a dime (6 DB) defense multiple times. If you’ve followed our work, it’s no secret that we have been harping on this for ages. Kudos to the staff for spicing things up. The Rams had no idea what to do with the dime look initially, which led Goff eating a sack from CB James Bradberry. 

Unfortunately, they also caught Carolina with 12 men on the field, but I still like that they’re getting away from forcing linebackers to cover wideouts on 3rd and 7.

3-2-6 DIME: The Panthers flashed this personnel grouping (3 dl, 2lb, 6db) eight times in the first half: Carolina stopped the Rams 5-of-8 times. 

 

The Bull Ratio

The Bull Ratio (a quasi-game plan I developed years ago that has generally proven effective with Newton at the helm—see graphic below) was unachieved, although I give Norv Turner credit for sticking with this attack despite a negative game flow. The target distribution seems justified, and while it’s insane to never have McCaffery come off the field until the sun expands and consumes the planet in 5 billion years, he’s still their best receiver

This is a non-scientific method, and it doesn’t guarantee results each time. “Touches” represents carries or catches (a pass is not a “touch” for the QB). It’s a general set utilization guidelines for the way in which this roster is constructed:

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I do wish the staff made more of an effort to get TE Ian Thomas involved. He was afforded one target, this after we spent a whole week chronicling Thomas as a potential matchup advantage against a 3-4 man coverage scheme. The Rams will put OLBs on TEs down the field. Tampa runs a similar system, so maybe the Panthers will correct this bit of personnel injustice before Thursday Night.

Cam isn’t Cam, unless he can be Cam.

I don’t like seeing Cam Newton registering 3 carries for -2 yards. We all know that the Panthers are a better team when he’s running. I understand the fear of having him take unnecessary hits to his shoulder, but you’re now making him a less dangerous version of himself by keeping him in the pocket. If the helicopter parenting of Newton is their new reality, it’s probably unwise to give him another contract. The team will have a hard time winning if they’re this focused on preventing an injury. 

Communication breakdown.

Who exactly is accountable for the earpiece malfunction? I’m assuming it’s the equipment manager, right? Perhaps in concert with the NFL? Regardless, this shouldn’t be happening in the year 2019. That ended up aiding a six-point swing in a three point loss. Little things.

When is the last time you saw the Patriots have an earpiece malfunction? It’s incredulous, and whoever is responsible for that disaster of a malfunction should be held to account for it. 

This is the NFL. The margins are razor thin.