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Cosell: Panthers Have Fastest LB Trio

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NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell shares his observations of the upcoming opponent through the tape study of the team's previous game. Here are Cosell's notes from the Carolina Panthers' come-from-behind win over the Seattle Seahawks. Fran Duffy's Eagle Eye in the Sky will feature the All-22 of the Panthers later today and tomorrow.

Ten Observations Of The Panthers' Defense

1. The Panthers may have the fastest LB trio in any base 4-3 defense in the NFL with Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson.

2. Kuechly is outstanding getting the Panthers' defensive line in position to face the alignment of running back Marshawn Lynch with quarterback Russell Wilson in the shotgun. Kuechly is clearly the quarterback of the Panthers' defense. He gets them in and out of fronts and pressures. Kuechly and Davis were both outstanding in this game.

3. The Panthers blitzed more in this game than they normally do and were successful, especially in the fourth quarter. Davis' red zone sack on third-and-9 in the fourth quarter came off a weakside zone blitz with Davis and cornerback Charles Tillman blitzing. Left guard Justin Britt too late coming off Short and reacting to Davis made it two-on-one on running back Fred Jackson.

4. The first time the Seahawks lined up tight end Jimmy Graham outside the numbers was late in the second quarter. The Panthers matched up safety Roman Harper man-to-man.

5. In the Panthers' nickel subpackage, they matched up Harper on Graham when they went man.

6. Bene Benwikere again the Panthers' slot corner. He's a very solid slot corner in the context of the Panthers' predominant zone concepts. Benwikere also played significant snaps on the outside in the base defense in place of Tillman.

7. The Panthers also have a very good nickel front with linebacker Ryan Delaire and NFC Defensive Player of the Week nose tackle Kawann Short making major contributions. Delaire flashed for the second consecutive game as an edge pass rusher, playing with outstanding effort and tenacity.

8. Big play early was third-and-6 from the Panthers' 13-yard line on Seahawks' second possession. The Panthers disguised red zone quarters took away Wilson look to Graham and Delaire's outstanding spin move versus tackle Garry Gilliam forced Wilson to leave the pocket. Kuechly in the middle of the quarters concept reacted to Wilson and tackled him hard for 1-yard gain.

9. Graham's 25-yard reception on second-and-13 in the 2nd quarter came out 12-personnel/3x1 set with a three-man tight bunch to the right. Graham was the inside receiver in the bunch. The Panthers were in Cover 3. Thompson made a mistake and played man on tight end Luke Willson, the point man in the bunch. The Seahawks called a four-vertical concept with Graham catching the seam ball where Thompson should have been in the zone coverage.

10. Graham's 27-yard reception on third-and-14 on the first possession of the third quarter came out of empty. Graham was the inside slot to the three-receiver side to the field. Wilson had an excellent late-in-the-down pocket throw on the seam to Graham behind Kuechly. The play pointed to Harper's limitations as a half-field safety.

Ten Observations Of The Panthers' Offense

1. The Panthers had four 80-yard touchdown drives in the game, and three in the second half. In the second half, quarterback Cam Newton was 16-of-24 for 223 yards and the winning touchdown. On the three second half touchdown drives, Newton 14-of-18 for 212 yards and a touchdown. The Panthers' first 80-yard touchdown drive was 14 plays. Eleven of them called runs including Newton's 2-yard touchdown run, a quarterback sweep out of shotgun.

2. The Panthers showed a read option-triple option concept on the second play of the game. Running back Jonathan Stewart gained 4 yards on an inside zone run. The Panthers utilized wide receiver Corey Brown on both a reverse and a jet sweep in the first quarter. Newton's 8-yard gain late in the first quarter was another example of multiple run concepts within the same play: jet sweep and QB power. The triple option dimension was a featured part of the Panthers' offense in the first quarter.

3. Newton was not sharp in the first quarter. He missed a wide open tight end Greg Olsen with an inaccurate throw on a deep over route that was part of a great vertical seam concept versus Cover 3 that put single-high safety Earl Thomas in conflict. Newton threw it too flat and too short.

4. Newton missed a wide open Olsen on well-designed fourth-and-1 play late in the second quarter. Newton made an inaccurate throw behind Olsen allowing Thomas to recover and make a play on the ball. It would have been a completion with a good throw. Newton did not throw the ball well in the first half. His ball placement was poor on a number of throws that were there.

5. One thing that stood out was that the Panthers focused on pass protection. They rarely utilized five-man protection schemes. They consistently featured six- and seven-man protections.

6. Thomas' first quarter interception came out of four-boundary lock coverage versus the Panthers' 3x1 set with Olsen the inside slot to the field. Boundary cornerback Cary Williams was matched up man-to-man on wide receiver Devin Funchess with boundary safety Thomas looking back inside to play any inside route by Olsen. Thomas initially played Olsen curl route with wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery running the dig behind Olsen. It was great route recognition by Thomas seeing that Cotchery dig was coming into his zone area and dropping off Olsen into Cotchery's passing lane.

7. Stewart's 11-yard touchdown run on the Panthers' first 80-yard touchdown drive was split outside zone with Olsen working across the formation and Brown ghost reverse action. Linebacker K.J. Wright and safety Kam Chancellor were impacted by the backfield action and reacted away from play side. Stewart's 9-yard gain on first touchdown drive came out of an unbalanced O-line. It was power strong to the three-offensive lineman side of the formation.

8. Carolina stayed patient with the run game in the third quarter even after it fell behind 20-7. They did not deviate from their initial game plan. Stewart ran hard all game, especially inside. He was the sustaining back the Panthers needed versus Seattle.

9. Olsen's 22-yard reception on third-and-3 on first second half touchdown drive came out of 12 personnel with Olsen as the line of scrimmage tight end closed to the boundary. Seattle ran a man free concept with cornerback Cary Williams matched on Olsen. The Panthers' mesh concept with Olsen and tight end Ed Dickson got Olsen wide open on the shallow crosser.

10. Olsen's 26-yard, game-winning touchdown came after Newton spiked the ball and the Seahawks' defense totally blew the coverage with a lack of communication. Olsen was x-iso to the boundary and he ran the vertical seam. Cornerback Richard Sherman looked like he was playing Cover 2 and Thomas looked like he was playing quarters. Bottom line was Thomas did not get the call which looked like it was Cover 2 which is inexcusable after a spike when you have time to set your defense.

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