They’re pretty good
On paper, Sunday’s matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers favors the Bills. Heavily so according to Vegas. That doesn’t mean there’s no cause for concern. The Panthers’ defense is quite possibly the definition of “flying under the radar.” They allow 4.9 yards per play, good for second-best in the league (Buffalo is best). They’re eighth in points per game (eight being my personal cutoff for “good” as opposed to average). Sixth-best in points per drive. I can keep going. They’re good.
They get things done a bit differently than Buffalo though. They blitz more often (32.5 percent or fifth most). That leads to hurries, sacks, hits, and knockdowns. For the first time in a long time, the Bills aren’t leading the league in pressures (hurries, knockdowns, and sacks). Carolina is (Buffalo is still in second place). That’s not ideal with Josh Allen likely nursing a foot injury. Let’s take a look.
I chose a couple games to highlight pretty deliberately. The Panthers kicked the crap out of the Arizona Cardinals. Part of it was the lack of Kyler Murray. Part of it was four sacks, nine QB hits, and a pressure rate over 40 percent on Colt McCoy who threw most of the passes for Arizona.
This play was right out of the gate and will be my main introduction to players to focus on. Haason Reddick (#43) leads the team with 10.5 sacks and shows off a good chunk of why that is right here. That plant and cut back is pretty great. He follows it up with a swim move and the rest is obvious.
Carolina likes to mix up their front quite a bit, but Bills fans should recognize the Wide 9 look from the Jim Schwartz days. The Panthers use it quite a bit, which also helps to explain their pass-rush success. This alignment can stress the offensive line by forcing them to fan out or let a rusher free around the edges. When it works, it’s because it helps dictate favorable matchups.
Stunts and trickery are a little harder for a defense that’s spreading their line out so you need players who can win one-on-one. Like this.
Dion Dawkins Whoever replaces Dion Dawkins and Spencer Brown will need quick feet this week to help protect Josh Allen from the speed rush. This could be problematic for a couple reasons. Not only is there a threat of a sack, but rushers rapidly establishing position at the edges can limit escape lanes.
Bills fans should also remember that the Wide 9 isn’t perfect. No defense is and that’s because 11 people can’t occupy enough space to cover the entire field. The Panthers often leave gaps at the line. A lot of times their backend defenders crash down to stop the play. Sometimes they don’t. If Allen is feeling OK, this might be a way to take advantage of the defense.
The other game I wanted to focus on was the loss to the Atlanta Falcons this past week. In many efficiency rankings, the Falcons had surprisingly poor numbers. They won the turnover battle and were content with taking what they could from the defense to keep drives alive. Blitz-beating quick passes aren’t a bad idea to have in your back pocket.
I hinted earlier that the Panthers don’t seem to use a ton of stunts or misdirection, instead relying on winning their matchups most of the time. That doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t add some wrinkles. The pass rush can come from all angles. Here’s the other name to know, Brian Burns (#53). Burns is second on the team with eight sacks.
This is not a great matchup for Buffalo this week, especially if Josh Allen is still hurting. Add in the loss of Dawkins, who was placed on the COVID-19 list Friday, and it’s a really big problem. The Panthers like to attack and they like to play fast. Allen relies on his mobility and the Panthers could have a recipe to slow him down.