Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

21 Nov 2014

Under Pressure: Carolina's Sorry Season

by J.J. Cooper

The NFC South is the cesspool of the NFL this year. That's pretty apparent when the two teams tied for the division lead are sitting at 4-6. The NFC South leaders are two games worse than the last place team in the AFC North.

All four teams are disappointing this season including the Panthers, who started 2-0 and have gone 1-7-1 since.

There are plenty of problems for a team that has won one game since fall arrived. They have come by this record honestly, as they currently rank 29th in DVOA. The defense has badly missed Greg Hardy, held out because of a domestic violence case. The Panthers tried to survive with a wide receiver corps that brought back virtually no one from last year's group.

But the offensive line deserves plenty of blame. Carolina ranks 29th in Adjusted Line Yards (3.36 yards) and also 29th in Adjusted Sack Rate (8.3 percent of dropbacks).

It's hard not to blame Panthers' general manager Dave Gettleman for attempting to get through the season with a group of tackles who have been outmatched. After Byron Bell gave up eight sacks last year, primarily playing right tackle, the Panthers decided he was the replacement for retired left tackle Jordan Gross.

That has gone much as one would expect. Bell has given up seven sacks in 655 snaps. New right tackle Nate Chandler has given up five sacks in 690 snaps. Injuries haven't helped as the Panthers have shuffled their starting front five for six straight games.

But if you're wondering why Cam Newton seems to have taken a step back, it's in part because of what the Panthers have around him. He doesn't have time to throw, and he often doesn't have a lot of open receivers to target.

Never was that more apparent than in Week 10 against Philadelphia, when the Panthers gave up nine sacks.

Bell was simply overmatched by the speed on his side. He gave up 2.5 sacks. Chandler didn't have a much better time on his side, giving up 1.5 sacks. Guard Amini Silatolu gave up two more. Running back DeAngelo Williams gave up one more and Newton was sacked twice more when no receiver came open and he held the ball too long, eventually getting run down by the Eagles' spy.

Newton was pressured on 24 of 49 dropbacks that night. On pressured throws, he went 11-of-15 for 83 yards, but that pressure forced him to continually dump off the ball for short gains. Only two of those 11 completions gained more than 10 yards.

When Newton had a clear pocket he went 15-of-25 with two interceptions, two touchdowns, and 222 yards. Seven of those 15 completions went for 10-plus yards.

Carolina has a lot of problems to fix, but high on the list is a need to take a long look at their tackles. Bell does not look like Gross' long-term successor at left tackle, which is something the Panthers will need to address before 2015.

Matt Kalil Sack of the Week

Unfortunately, Kalil keeps providing highlight-worthy sacks. A Pro Bowler as a rookie, Kalil has taken a massive step backwards in his pass protecting ability as a sophomore.

Against the Bears, Kalil had plenty of problems with defensive end Jared Allen, but he did only allow one sack. It was a pretty bad one, as the GIF shows:

Kalil has now allowed 10 sacks this season.

Back to the Drawing Board?

Washington tired of watching right tackle Tyler Polumbus get beaten week after week in pass protection, and it's hard to blame the club. Polumbus had given up six sacks in the first seven weeks of the season.

But after this past week, it's not all that clear that third-year right tackle Tom Compton is all that much better.

In Washington's embarrassing 20-point loss to the Bucs, Compton was beaten for 2.5 sacks. The worst was this one, where he left a door open for Jacquies Smith to cut back and beat him to the inside.

In the long run, the Redskins may have an answer to the long-running issues at right tackle, but for now rookie tackle Morgan Moses is filling in at left tackle for Trent Williams, sidelined with a knee injury. When Williams is healthy, it would be surprising to not see Morgan step into the starting lineup at right tackle.

Short Sacks of the Weeks

There were a pair of 1.6-second sacks in Week 11. On the first, the Rams decided to leave DeMarcus Ware unblocked on a mistaken line protection. The result is pretty much what you would expect. Leave Ware unblocked on the quarterback's blind side and a big hit is sure to follow.

The other 1.6-second sack came when Buccaneers running back Bobby Rainey tried and failed to slow down Redskins linebacker Trent Murphy, who hit the gap at full speed at the snap. Murphy simply overwhelmed Rainey for a 1.6-second sack.

In Week 10, the fastest sacks were a trio of 1.7-second sacks:

  • Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was nabbed in 1.7 seconds when he took a quick three-step drop, found his intended target covered, pulled the ball back down and was quickly overwhelmed.
  • Dolphins linebacker Cameron Wake flew by Lions rookie right tackle Cornelius Lucas with a speedy introduction to the NFL for another 1.7-second sack.
  • The third took place when the 49ers left Saints linebacker Parys Haralson unblocked to come off the edge. Much like Ware's sack, it was too easy.

Long Sacks of the Week

Cam Newton of the Panthers is one of those quarterbacks who will get plenty of long sacks because of his legs. That was the case in Week 10, as he gave up the week's longest sack with a 6.0-second sack against the Eagles.

In Week 11, it was Newton who again had the longest sack, a 9.8-second epic. It was the longest sack of the season so far.

Posted by: J.J. Cooper on 21 Nov 2014

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