Wednesday, January 14, 2009

To blitz or not to blitz

As noted in my column today, the Panthers blitzed on only 15 percent of Arizona's pass plays (3 out of 20 times) in the first half of their playoff loss Saturday night.

That's way too few, obviously. Arizona's Kurt Warner picked the Panthers apart in the first half, completing 15 of 18 passes (not including a time-killing spike) for 200 yards and two TDs. By halftime, it was 27-7 Arizona, and it was basically over.

This points out the big problem in the inherent conservatism of head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac, both of whom were way too vanilla and predictable with that defensive game plan. They both should receive a ton of criticism for it.

Fox likes to only rush four defenders so he can have 7 back to defend the pass, but that just doesn't work when your 4 defenders are generating only 1 sack and hardly any hurries. (Julius Peppers was absolutely no factor in this game, and what a time for Bad Julius and Bad Jake to show up on the same night).

But here's another problem: When the Panthers did blitz in the first half, it didn't work well at all.

Here's the breakdown: On 16 of 20 times Warner dropped back to pass (one turned into a scramble and one into a sack), Carolina rushed 4. In other words, Carolina was very predictable 80 percent of the time.

Once, Carolina rushed only 3. That worked well, actually, for a seven-yard loss on a screen. It gave Arizona a different look, and should have been used more often.

Three times, Carolina blitzed, rushing either 5 or 6. One caused Warner to hurry and throw the ball away on a third down -- a success.

But the other 2 blitzes were utter failures -- Warner lofted a ball to Larry Fitzgerald, who went over Ken Lucas and Charles Godfrey to get it for 41 yards; and Warner threw over the middle to Fitzgerald on a deep crossing route and he scored on a 29-yard TD.

So just saying "Blitz all the time" isn't the answer, either -- not when your defense is as bad as the Panthers' D was for most of the season's last 7 weeks. (Arizona didn't blitz that much, either, but consistently got in Delhomme's face with 4 rushers).

The 2-pronged solution for the Panthers: More blitzes, yes, as Carolina did in the second half (too late). But also, better players -- Carolina needs a far better pass rush and at least one more cornerback to replace Ken Lucas, who I think has played his last game as a Panther after getting torched so often in the season's last couple of months.


Michael said...

I couldn't agree more about the awful defensive scheme used in Saturday's game (and the decision to abandon the running game so quickly). Fox and Delhomme are holding this team back and until both are gone, I find it hard to believe the Panthers will take the necessary steps to become genuine Super Bowl contenders.

bill said...

You are the man Scott, this article is right on. The writing was on the wall the last half of the season and yet no adjustments made with two weeks off. Drew Brees showed Arizona what to do. 21 points in the 4th quarter. Thank you Scott, keep the pressure on for change and not complacency.

Jason said...

Trgovac must go, and a new coordinator must come in that will have complete control over the defense and play an aggressive scheme. A defensive line coach that teaches technique would be nice as well.

bill said...

On the two blitzes that were utter failures: DID NOT HOLD FITZ UP AT THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE, gave him a free release to go and find vacuum in the zone. Getting physical with at line would have given a couple of seconds for the blitz to get to Warner. Typical Tyrgovac, poor strategy, poor execution, JUST COME PUNCH ME IN THE MOUTH.

Jason said...

I don't understand the love affair with Trgo. He's not an aggressive play caller and he restricts the talent on this team. Peppers should not be resigned. He's not worth the money.

Michael said...

Peppers is the highest-paid player on the team by a wide margin, and he's the only one on the defense talked about as "one of the best to ever play" his position. The blame should fall to him for the pitiful pass rush we put up in most of our important games (ARI, NO2, ATL, TB, MIN.)

Also, people are happy to blame Ken Lucas for our deficiencies in coverage, but I think Charles Godfrey blew his fair share too. Nobody said anything because he's a rookie, but he looked really bad on a relatively frequent basis.

Michael, how would removing Fox and Delhomme make the Panthers "genuine Super Bowl contenders" when that tandem is the only one that has taken us there in the franchise's history?

ModryDesignStudio said...

I totally agree. I am tired of watching us play "safe" defensively and offensively. Our secondary sits back and watches the receivers catch the ball and then they attempt to tackle. Julius was a no show last season and now that he is going to be a free agent next year he shows up this year?? Fox is going no where, but we honestly need a new coach. One that teaches, (and demands) discipline, and that is more aggressive. Any team that has so many false starts at home is not a disciplined team. Yes we had a great season (by record) but so much of that was last minute wins because we got behind. They were hail mary throws that Steve Smith was able to bring down. Remember we almost were beaten by Detroit! We need new coaches, new QB, and a new secondary that can actually run with a receiver and make a play on the ball. I think ours forget that their job is to stop the guy from catching it... not just tackle after the catch.

But in the end nothing will happen. We will still have Jake, still have Fox, franchise Peppers and he will be non existent next couple of years and I predict we will have a .500 season. Go Kitty Kats... oh I meant Panthers.

Ron Wagner said...

And let's don't forget the Giants game, where the Panthers were embarrassed on the ground repeatedly. Derrick Ward cracked 80 yards twice all season, and one of those was 200-plus against Carolina. And it wasn't like he was breaking tackles - there wasn't a Panther in the picture half the time.

Their linebackers were completely out of position over and over again. How can that not be coaching?

Jermel said...

My concern with Jake is not about his performance in this last game. Jake is 34. I don't think anybody feels he has more than 2 years left in his tank and McCown and Moore don't appear to be top tier quarterbacks. I say we talk to the Browns about a trade for Derek Anderson. He had a bad year this year but he wasn't helped by Edwards dropping every other pass. Anderson will be 26 this year, so he could be a our quarterback for the future. There are a lot guys on that Browns team that wanted him to remain their QB. That says a lot. Maybe we could trade Pep for Anderson and get another draft pick in the process. What do you think Scott?

Papa said...

i think poor coaching set delhomme up for a bad game. 3 ints in second half wouldn't have happened if defense had stopped arizona and we didn't abandon running game early. this article is the most insightful assesment of this teams needs, more defensive talent and a little more agressiveness. QB is the next pressing need, delhomme is getting older. anderson from cleveland is a good idea, but i'm afraid we'll see the same old cast next year, and if we don't make and win a playoff game, then changes will be made.

Michael said...

Michael: "how would removing Fox and Delhomme make the Panthers "genuine Super Bowl contenders" when that tandem is the only one that has taken us there in the franchise's history?"

That was in 2003. In 2009, do you honestly think Fox and Delhomme will get us there again? I don't see it happening.

Tyrone said...

First and formost; coaching is one reason we've lost. Fox is way too laid back to pump up a team that needs a fire lit at times. Our offense is way too predictable. How many of us can called the play that the Panthers going to run before the ball is hiked? Everyone and their Grandmother knows who Jake goes to on third down or if he's in trouble. Smith is clutch; but he can't keep bailing us out in double and triple coverages. Trgovac must go. Every since we lost Jack Del Rio who was our best DC; the Panthers have lost their aggressiveness on defense. Their swagger.. We have the talent. But if you can't put players in position to make plays; then they look bad. Yes, we should have blitz more against Arizona as well as blitz more the whole year. You can't expect your d-line to get to the quarterback with help from the linebackers; whom for the first time we have the speed to blitz. Trgovac coaches scared. Scared to get beat. Well we're still getting beat. Our defense should be just as good as any. Baltimore, Philly, Steelers. The difference is their DC don't care if it's Peyton Manny or if it's Shawn Hill; they are bringing the heat. I like Fox; but he doesn't inspire, or motivate a team that should be winning championships. Cowher might be the solution...

Michael said...

Yes, Ron...the Giants' success in the run game had NOTHING to do with being without both of our starting defensive tackles. Good call, chief.

Truth Detector said...

Turdgoback is doing exactly what "is what it is" tells him to do. he is DC in name only.

Drew Ross said...

I need only refer to the dominance of the Panthers when Del Rio was calling the blitzes. Something I thought Scott was going to cover with this but didn't is the fact that the coaches stink at timing the blitz. The blitz has two keys, one is surprise. They can't know when you are blitzing. They can't know which players are blitzing. If they do, they just pick it up with the back or TE.
Secondly, the player blitzing has to time it/disguise it so that the assignment is missed by someone.
Now I know that Trgovac and Fox know this. But they are horrible at getting their players to execute it. I need only remember the Capers and Del Rio days to remember what it was like to have an awesome blitz package. For those that would say the Capers 3-4 is apples to Fox's oranges, Del Rio was in the Fox 4-3 and very successful because he understood when to blitz even when it isn't 3rd and long!

J Thomas said...

Procton glad to see you had the courage to post again after your mancrush Joke GoHomme cost the Panthers the game Saturday night. I'm curious to know what’s your argument now since his playoff QB rating and the Panther's season was throw out the window on Saturday?????

Ted said...

At first i was thinking that only Trgovac has to be replaced. After thinking about it thoroughly, Fox has to go as well. He cannot let go of the mediocre players that he feels committed to. As a head coach you have to cut your losses sometimes and get rid of the players who are not championship quality. Panthers should have gotten rid of Dan Morgan long time ago. Instead they kept building their defense around a guy that never played. He was committed to Deshaun Foster until his contract was up. Now he is committed to Jake. Jake would have a well below average QB rating if we did not have Steve Smith. Bring in Bill Cowher and his more aggressive style.

bill said...

Ted, I've come to the same conclusion as you. For the life of me I can't figure out why they thought that their defensive game plan was ok after Brees dropped 21 points on them in one quarter. Hubris, stubbornness, stupidity. From the tone of Fox's press conference I would vote for hubris. They do seem to hang with people(Henning,Morgan,Foster)a year or two longer than they should. If Crossman didn't get fired after getting 3 punts blocked in 6 games then Fox will probably hang with Turgo one more year and the Panthers will be one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
Problem is, fan support will be so low. Confidence and support take 10 times longer to get back then it takes to lose it.

Scicaster said...

Here is an idea: Next preseason play each game like it matters. Give Jake, Josh and Matt equal playing time. Whoever has the best stats starts in the regular season. In the regular season if the starter does badly in the first half the next man in line starts the second half. It could be done at other positions.

Moneypit702 said...

I totally agree with this article. It's baffling how the coaching staff continued to stick with a completely ineffective defensive scheme, using the 'well, we won' excuse. I sort of get Fox's approach of staying calm and not overreacting in short term situation. But when it became very obvious in every game of the last half of the season that this defence couldn't stop anyone at all - they should have adjusted and attempted changes in their approach. But they didn't, and just like in the last playoff, their weaknesses were magnified 100times. Fox is too reluctant and too stubborn to change until it's way too late. I bet anything he'll stick with this defensive approach again next year, as well as sticking with Delhomme. These were the team's 2 biggest weaknesses this year, and they need to be addressed - but with Fox, I'm sure it'll take him another year before he figures that out. Too bad.

emlit said...

Scott, blitzing more is only part of the solution. Fox and Trgovac: change your schemes! Don't run a zone every game you play! You had one playmaker to stop. You didn't allow your defense an opportunity to do so.

M said...

Yeah, defense was just AWFUL. People keep blaming Jake but the secondary totally forgot about Fitzgerald in an awful ZONE defense to START the game and they totally forgot to rush Warner and were too dumb to realize that Warner crumples under the rush and he far less effective under the rush. PLEASE GET A NEW DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR!!!

plaincrashed1 said...


Tim Hightower's touchdown.He was wide open for a TD pass because John Beason was helping the richard marshall on the play.

Larry Fitzgerald's 40 yard catch on 3 and 1.. Ken Lucas was responsible for leaving him wide open down the field.

Travele Wharton blocking Antonio Smith who caused the fumble and Jake Delhome holding the ball way too much with one hand.

Richard Marshall Unnecessary roughnes 15 yard penalty.

Richard Marshall left Larry Fitzgerald wide open on 1 and 15.

CJ Wilson left Larry Fitzgerald wide open on 3 and 7.

Ken Lucas left Larry Fitzgerald wide open on 2 and 9 for a 30 yards TD.

Jake Delhome's two interceptions and a fumble in first half.
He was 5 of 12 for 35 yards in the first half.

27-7 was the score and it was already over in the first half.

ajxx said...

2good running backs,good middle linebacker,good defensiveend,and most of all a great receiver"To:
The Owner of the panthers,this is what any owner would love to have to rebuild a team,your general manager should be the frist to go,Fox has shown he can win when others in the division is weak,you know like i do this Panther team was not that good,Green Bay,New Orleans,Arizona,San Diego,Detriot;
should had been a lost;record 7-9
Would you have keep this staff NO,
I'ts time for a change while we have player that can play or can be traded for draft picks that will help the team. Bill only 2hrs.
away,are may be Jimmy johnson,we do play Dallas in Dallas in their new home,imagine what he could with
young talent and a Qback who read.

DTill said...

This was the worst game plan ever. I really couldn't believe my eyes. We are being extremely hard on Lucas but how can he cover any WR if they get a 10 yard running start? I thought I was watching an Arena League game. Our defense is way to passive. You give any QB time and any WR space it is nearly impossible to defend. Every team in the league has 2 defenders on Steve Smith so why couldn't we do the same or at least game plan to not let Fitzgerald get off. We prepared for him as if he was an average WR like a Randle El or Brandon Lloyd.

Tom said...

I am sorry but I just disagree with the opinion that Trgovac should be fired or that Trgovac is to blame for this loss. I think when you look at his body of work during his tenure with the Panthers, he has had a very successful run as a DC. His defense has a few games every year where they get outperformed by the opponent, but we are in the NFL where every team has the talent to beat any other team in any given week -- the people who post here often forget that the opponent has a say so in the outcome of the game and are game planning according to the opponents tendencies. So if Carolina was to blitz every play for every game, or a high percentage of plays, like the majority of the amateur coaches who post here keep screaming about, the opponents will scheme for that and the Panthers will go 0-16. So he has to mix up his game plan every week -- and there were many games this year where the defense did blitz a great deal. But if developed an identical game plan every week, he would never win. When he blitzes a high percentage of plays for one week and then a low percentage the next, that is designed to avoid teams finding tendencies. During Trgovac's tenure his defenses have ranked statistaclly in the top 10 (or top 5) or have at least been in the top half, which is very good for this league. Be careful what you ask for when you talk about firing someone.

Now I am sure many of the amateur coaches who post here would agree that Jim Johnson (Phlly DC) is a great DC. Guess what his game plan was the last time Philly played the Cardinals? His game plan was to rely on his front four to get to the QB for the first half and to focus on covering the receivers with the DBs and LBs. In the first half, he did almost no blitzing (he had 2 blitzes in that half -- sound familiar), he rushed his D lineman, and put very little pressure on the QB. He focused on stoppping the run and covering the the wideouts with a zone scheme. His approach was to rely on the offense to get get a lead, and hold the ball for most of the first half. This way Arizona would have to play from behind and be lulled into thinking they could not run and would have plenty of time to pass. Then in the second half he came with the blitz packages because Arizona was one dimensional by then. The Eagles players executed that game plan and the Eagles won the game handily. That is the same game plan Trgovac used. What he did not bank on was Davidson abandoning the run so early and Jake turning the ball over all those times and giving the Arizona offense short fields and forcing the defense to be on the field way too much in the first half. That is what lost this game -- not Trgovac's defense game plan.

So all you amateur coaches can blame the DC for this loss -- you do every time despite having no credentials to coach at this level, but I happen to think Trgo has done a good job during his tenure and I would like to see him return. I just hope the suits who sign players will sign some D-linemen who can play the way they are expected to play in a 4-3. In a 4-3, the line has to pressure the QB without help from the LBs. Our linemen are capable of doing that, but they do not do that and they have not demostrated that they have the ability to consistently stop the run -- some games they were on fire and in others (NYG) they let the team down. So if they can find some players who can pressure the QB and take out the opponent's offensive linemen on the run (see the NYG scheme), they will be fine. If anything, I think the D-line coach is the one who failed here and if someone should be fired my gunsight would be on him. In fact, I think Fox should seriously consider a 3-4 scheme. I think their talent is better suited for that -- their strength is their LB corps and DBs.

Finally, can we please stop talking about the ghost of Jack Del Rio. He has been gone six years and is not coming back. And if you look at his Jacksonville teams over that time span he has not demonstrated that he is better than Trgovac as a defensive game planner. The years where Del Rio's teams have done better than Trgovacs are the years where Carolina had no offense because they were ravaged by injuries -- and those years Trgovac's defenses played well and finished with respectable stats. When Carolina's offense perfomed well, his defense either played better than Del Rio's or matched him.