1. The Panthers ran some variation of a zone read or an option game 12 times in their season-opening 16-7 loss to Tampa Bay. The Panthers gained a combined 102 yards on those plays. They gained 107 yards passing and minus-5 yards rushing on six attempts. Cam Newton handed off five times on those runs. He also ran a QB draw twice for a combined three yards.
2. Three rushing plays lost a total of 12 yards. The big reason: penetration from the Bucs’ defensive line, tackle Gerald McCoy in particular. He contributed to a three-yard loss with quick penetration through the left side of Carolina’s line. (This was a true veer look; had Newton kept the ball he had a huge hole to the backside; Robert Griffin III typically runs to the playside). The Bucs other defensive tackle occupied two blockers on this play. Still, there was a hole but only if Newton had kept the ball. On a two-yard run the next time they ran a zone read, McCoy took care of two blockers on the backside, but that enabled the weakside ‘backer (Lavonte David) to run free to the ball.
3. On a four-yard loss, left end Michael Bennett’s quick upfield burst disrupted the play. He took two blockers and all three linebackers were unblocked. Instant penetration by the Bucs’ front caused a five-yard loss on a reverse pivot speed option to the left. The Bucs try to get upfield fast.
4. On their longest run from the zone read, five yards, the Bucs’ line slanted to the left and the play went to that side. There was enough hesitation from the linebackers to allow the tight ends to block. Can’t say the Panthers’ receivers did a great job blocking; either that or the Bucs’ corners were very aggressive coming up to make the stop. Saw both.
5. The zone read didn’t hurt them in the passing game as much as poor technique. However, on the first pass one of the safeties got sucked up (and their two ‘backers in a nickel look were as well), leaving the tight end open down the seam for 20 yards.
6. On the other zone reads, when in a nickel, one linebacker would come up and the other (usually the strongside) would drop almost automatically. Newton went to a secondary target a couple times because of that. But too much reading of the QB got the Bucs in trouble. On a 32-yard pass in which Steve Smith ran a deep crossing route and had no one within 10 yards of him when he caught the ball, the defenders bit hard in the direction Newton was looking. On a 22-yard touchdown pass in which the Bucs jumped hard to their right as Newton stared that way to a primary and secondary target, only to leave a receiver wide open over the middle. Newton saw it and flipped to him at the last second. No one was within 10 yards of him either.
7. They will read the QB hard and too often lose sight of their man. If the Redskins can give Griffin just a little more time it would result in big plays. Hello, Pierre Garcon.
8. They did drop the ends and sometimes used a linebacker to spy Newton. He ran five times for four yards overall, but he ran just the one time out of a zone read or option look and lost five yards.
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