Cleat Geeks

The Eye Of The Panther: Panthers Maul Bengals, Sign Eric Reid

The David Tepper era is truly underway in Carolina, as the Panthers made arguably the biggest news of the young season by signing former All-Pro safety Eric Reid to a one-year deal earlier today. Not only does it fill a position of dire need for the team, it also signals that Tepper is here to win, and will not succumb to outside pressure when it comes to how he will run his team. What a day to be a Panthers fan!

With that out-of-the-way, lets look back at the win over Cincinnati with a critical eye and see what went right and what went wrong.

The most glaring example of something that went right is the run game, specifically CMC’s 28 carry, 184 yard performance. Not only did he answer questions about his ability to carry a heavy load, he also answered questions about his ability to run between the tackles.  CMC went 23-154 on plays between the guards! Part of that is due to McCaffrey getting North/South a with a little more purpose, but what I have been really impressed with so far is the play of the patchwork offensive line.  According to Tim Weaver of msn.com, the team leads the league in yards before contact, which means the O Line is smoking the opponent’s D Linemen and LBs. Chris Clark has been an absolute find by Marty Hurney and the rest of the front office crew. He got bullrushed a couple of times on Sunday, and Carlos Dunlap really ate his lunch one time en route to Cam, but overall he has been solid in pass pro, and really good in the run game. Ryan Kalil looks like his old self, even getting out in front and mauling two Bengals defenders on CJA’s TD screen and run.  Taylor Moton graded out at as the Panthers’ best offensive player by Pro Football Focus, and looks like the next in a long line of Pro Bowlers up front for Carolina. And I would be remiss if I left out rookie TE Ian Thomas, who the Panthers have been using like a pulling guard, leading CMC into the holes. Norv Turner and run game coordinator/O Line coach John Matsko have done a great job finding ways to block the run game absent three starting linemen, but it was really the execution up front on Sunday that got it done. The Panthers now lead the NFL in rushing, and Ron Rivera must be tickled pink.

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On the flip side, the run defense was not thoroughly tested on Sunday, as the Bengals somewhat abandoned the run in the second half. What we did have to watch, though, was not great. Although the Bengals only ran for 66 yards, they averaged 5.1 yards per carry, and were able to seal off running lanes on the left side of the Panthers’ defense for gains of 12, 23, and 22 yards. I expect the Panthers to improve once Thomas Davis returns, primarily because Shaq Thompson will likely stay on the field and Captain Munnerlyn will see fewer snaps.

The other big story of the week is the Panthers’ defense being on the receiving end of four Andy Dalton passes. Since Thieves Ave. disbanded after the 2015 season, the Panthers were minus three in turnover differential entering the game Sunday. The secondary especially has struggled mightily to make those vital, game-changing interceptions that flip field position and help the offense out. In my opinion, Cam owes a large part of his success in 2015 to the fact that the defense handed him so many short field thanks to their 39 takeaways that year. Donte Jackson, who I felt didn’t play his best game against Atlanta, was stellar in this one. He ran step for step with Cincinnati speedster John Ross, and took the ball away in a one-on-one situation in Carolina territory Sunday. His second interception was a little luckier, but still a product of good coverage and outworking Ross for the ball.  Jackson is tied for the league lead with three interceptions and looks like a legitimate star in the making. The Panthers will have him under his rookie deal for three more years (until 2022), so they now have a cornerstone piece around which to build a secondary that can rival the front seven.

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Not to be outdone, however, Efe Obada recorded an interception, a sack, and a near strip-sack that the officials overturned on review in his first NFL game ever. I’ve covered Obada’s story here before, and it’s an amazing journey to the NFL from Nigeria by way of London, where he was a homeless child. The league named Efe NFC Defensive Player of the Week this week. He only played 19 snaps, but showed above average speed off the edge, using a shoulder dip move to get past Bengals LT Cordy Glenn. He looks like a situational player for now, but if the Panthers can use him on third down and other passing situations to enhance the pass rush, it will pay huge dividends going forward.  He is still relatively young, and has time to develop into a better run defender, but for now, we should be very happy that edge help fell out of the sky and into the laps of Eric Washington and Ron Rivera.

A couple of other odds and ends from the game…DJ Moore played 33 offensive snaps, almost equaling his combined total from weeks one and two, but still only caught one pass for three yards on two targets. There are two reasons why I don’t see this as a big problem. The first is that the Panthers only threw the ball 24 times for 150 yards on Sunday. There just weren’t many targets to go around. The second is that Turner moved Moore all over the field with a variety of motions and shifts, which forces defenses to plan for a multitude of threats. At some point this year, I think we will see DJ Moore start to get the football in his hands more regularly, so there is no need to panic right now…also, Rivera put on his Riverboat hat with a (failed) attempt on fourth-and-four from the Cincinnati 41. Although the attempt failed because of a good play by Carlos Dunlap, the call to go for it in the fourth quarter with a seven-point lead was the right one. Many coaches (including Rivera in the past) would punt the ball away there and give the opponent a long field.  With the way Michael Palardy has kicked since coming aboard two years ago, you could reasonably expect that he would put it inside the 20 at least.  But the Panthers controlled the line-of-scrimmage all day long, and Cam’s unique ability to run and pass make the Panthers very difficult to defend in situations like this. Kudos to Riverboat, hopefully this is a sign of things to come.

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Back for a moment to Eric Reid. His signing comes at a great time, as DaNorris Searcy is on IR, and the Panthers head into a bye week. It’s hard to say how well Reid will play after sitting out for so long, but he is almost certainly an upgrade over Colin Jones. Mike Adams is a strong safety by nature, but the Panthers use both of their safeties somewhat interchangeably, so Reid should fit in well regardless of which label the team puts on him. But more importantly, the Panthers did the right thing. Regardless of where you stand on the anthem protests, you should respect that Eric Reid had the courage to back up his friend and teammate Colin Kaepernick in the face of immense pressure. And you’ve got to feel the same way about the Panthers’ organization now. It’s a nice break from the last days of the Jerry Richardson era, when there was so much ugliness surrounding the organization.  I wish Eric Reid the best, not only because he could be an outstanding player on the field, but because he had his friend’s back in a time of need, and was willing to risk his career in the process. That is the type of guy you want in the trenches with you. Cheers to you, sir.

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