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Carolina Panthers

Grill Bill: Prevent defenses, early timeouts and tacos


Let's start with how the Panthers nearly snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Detroit:

Chris, you're dead-on. Ron Rivera does say that often, and at the time, the Panthers' inability to put Sunday's game away on the ground was more concerning to me than the late-game defensive lapses. In the second half, Carolina gained a measly 13 yards on 17 carries, and their 28 total rushing yards were their fewest in a win in 17 years. 

With that said, this is the same group that pounded out an eight-plus minute drive to seal a win in San Francisco a month ago. Plus, the Panthers have rushed for at least 116 yards in three of their five games. They also failed to hit 100 against Buffalo, but there was no chance Sean McDermott was going to let his former team run the ball down his throat. 

But I think you have to give the Lions credit for what they did to stop the run. They went high-risk, high-reward, and the Panthers helped them out by missing a ton of blocks. 

"If you can block them and get (into) the crease, you're going to turn in a couple of big plays," Rivera said afterward. "If not, they're going to make big plays because they run very well to the ball."

Of course, while they were selling out to stop the run, the Lions left themselves exposed against the pass. They didn't think Cam Newton could beat them with his sore shoulder, but like in New England, he showed he's starting to get stronger. That doesn't mean we should excuse what happened to the ground game, though.

To answer the second question, it's too small of a sample size to be all that concerned, but it's something to watch. And it's not going to get easier Thursday night against the Eagles' second-ranked rush defense. They've had a soft schedule the past three weeks holding the Giants (30th), Chargers (29th) and Cardinals (32nd) to a combined 138 yards. But in Week 1, Philly held Washington (7th) to 64 yards, and a week later, limited Kansas City (2nd) to a season-low 112. 

Since I touched on the run game above, let's talk about what many of you feel is a rising concern. 

For the second straight week, the Panthers watched a lead whittle away. The first case involved some guy named Tom Brady, who rallied back against a banged-up secondary. But just because Matthew Stafford nearly added to his seemingly ever-growing list of fourth-quarter comebacks, that doesn't mean the Panthers were in prevent. 

Last week, I talked to one of Carolina's defensive-minded coaches about Stafford's uncanny ability to rally his team late in games. That coach then railed against defenses who choose to sit back against Stafford, playing right into his hands. So I didn't expect the Panthers to go into a prevent against him, and they didn't. 

I'm guessing you didn't notice how often defensive coordinator Steve Wilks dialed up blitzes in the fourth quarter. But a mix of things worked against that strategy: Stafford got the ball out QUICK, the makeshift secondary had some communication breakdowns, and guys like Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson made mental errors. 

I get the past two weeks brought flashbacks to 2015 when the Panthers nearly gave away a few wins late, but lots of teams in lots of seasons have similar issues. Guys get tired, mistakes happen and good quarterbacks like Brady and Stafford – or like Aaron Rodgers or Andrew Luck two years ago – can crack a defense by the fourth quarter. 

Email from Oliver: *What can we expect from Jairus Byrd and Colin Jones going forward? Will Byrd take over more of the snaps as he becomes acclimated to the defense? *

First, there was a bit of good news about coming out of Tuesday's media availability. But he'll likely miss at least two more games, which means more of Byrd and Jones. 

I get many of you aren't fond of Jones in the secondary, but the Panthers were pleased with how he played in Detroit. The Lions don't have much of a vertical game, though, and Jones was used primarily against the run. Byrd was fine, too, but don't expect him to take over a full-time role. This will continue to be a rotation situation. 


But gun to my head – and why wouldn't there be for a question as important as this – I'd go with the latter. 

I wouldn't say "expect," but I wouldn't say it's a crazy idea. It's all about managing him.

The Panthers need to continue to limit Peppers' practice time – it's not like he needs to be out there much, anyway. They also need to limit his snaps to no more than 30-something per game. Through five weeks, he's averaging 29.6. 

Well, they were already playing plenty of two tight end sets when Olsen was in the lineup. 

What will be more interesting to watch is if they utilize Dickson more as a pass catcher when Olsen returns. They could use all three tight ends in more 13 sets. That would spread out Olsen and Dickson while Chris Manhertz lines up in or near the backfield.  

Man, your first is an impossible question. I'll go with an unoriginal answer: Pliny the Elder. 

Sours are my favorite style these days. There are so many good IPAs now that it's tough to distinguish one from another, which makes my Pliny vote even lamer. Plus, I'm not the biggest stout or porter guy, which means I often miss out on some of the best beers out there. I try to make up for some of that with sours. They're definitely an acquired taste and not for everybody, but they open up a whole new world. 

Locally, I'd rank Wooden Robot slightly ahead of NoDa and Triple C.

Email from Geoff: Feels like at least once a half during a drive on offense the Panthers have to take a timeout as the play clock is running down. Is that a function of the play not getting in to Cam in time? The play call being complex? Guys not being ready on the sideline to sub in/out? Something else? Inevitably when it gets down to the last few moments of the half, not having that timeout looms.

You're one of MANY asking about this frustrating trend. Most assume it has something to do with play-calling, and perhaps there are instances when there's a communication failure, but there are at least two other reasons. One is reasonable – they've struggled at times to juggle in new personnel. The other is ridiculous but true.

The offense has a bad habit of spending an inordinate amount of time watching replays on the scoreboard. If they're doing that, they're late to the huddle, and if they break it with 14 seconds or less left, that's when Rivera's usually forced to take a timeout. 

How concerned should we be that Vernon Butler was a healthy scratch on Sunday? — Reek (@The_Reid) October 10, 2017

This bit of reasoning made sense: With Peppers and Mario Addison nursing injuries and Charles Johnson still not fully recovered from offseason back surgery, it was a good time for the Panthers to get a look at undrafted rookie Bryan Cox. But that doesn't explain why veteran defensive tackle Kyle Love was in the lineup ahead of last year's first-round pick. 

Honestly, Love has been playing really well, and Butler hasn't. The athleticism that made him a top pick doesn't do much if he's not using his hands effectively, and he's still not playing with enough violence. Perhaps he'll be back in there Thursday, but it's fair to wonder if and when the light's going to stay on. 

Yeah, they're temporary captains. The others will reassume their roles when they return, but for now, Rivera's giving a nice nod to Stewart and Jacobs. 

You'd probably expect Clevelanders to assume the worse, but I'm fairly confident going into Wednesday night's ALDS winner-take-all between the Indians and Yankees.

If the Tribe can't win at The Jake with the AL's best pitcher on the mound, they wouldn't get past teams like the Astros or Dodgers, anyway. #RollTribe

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