ReFo: CAR @ PHI, Preseason Wk 2
In a more meaningful tune-up than last week, the Carolina Panthers continued to display their trademark inconsistency on both offense and defense. They moved the ball to the red zone, only to kick field goals. They allowed the Eagles to drive over and over, only to create three turnovers. Michael Vick likely wrapped up the starting job and LeSean McCoy looked like his vintage self. Here is the breakdown of the notable performances from each team.
Carolina — Three Performances of Note
With Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell firmly entrenched as the starters, one of the most interesting and competitive battles in Panthers training camp and preseason has been for the third wide receiver position. The stakes for the position are high, as there will be virtually no targets given to a fourth receiver during the season. Ted Ginn managed to improve on his dreadful performance last week, but it was David Gettis and his +1.6 rating that stood out. Gettis caught five of the nine targets that came his way for 82 yards, including one spectacular catch across the middle where he plucked an early ball out of the air in stride. When healthy, Gettis offers the Panthers a height/weight/speed combination at receiver that they can’t find elsewhere on the roster. Armanti Edwards, Domenik Hixon, and Joe Adams all sat out due to injury, and while that might not have been a step back, it will require quite a showing to surpass the several steps forward Gettis has taken so far in preseason.
There was a perceived battle in the secondary going into training camp. Only Charles Godfrey’s starting spot at free safety was assured. But the fight took quite a while to materialize, with Drayton Florence and Captain Munnerlyn playing as the first team corners throughout most of camp. Josh Norman’s two-interception game last week made a case that he could start, and this week was Josh Thomas’ time to shine. Thomas got the start with Munnerlyn (-0.5) in the nickel. For most of his snaps, Thomas held DeSean Jackson in check, earning a +1.5 grade. Catching only two of his four targets for 28 yards, Jackson was largely a non-factor due to Thomas’ coverage. Panthers General Manager Dave Gettleman has been quoted as saying that the answer is often already on your roster, but he proceeded to bring in Florence and DJ Moore and overlook Norman and Thomas, who each started for stretches last year. If Norman and Thomas wind up starting, they represent better physical matchups than either Florence or Munnerlyn for NFC South foes Julio Jones, Roddy White, Vincent Jackson, and Marques Colston.
Carolina Panthers fans are worried about offensive linemen not named Jordan Gross or Ryan Kalil. The former Pro-Bowlers played admirably, scoring +2.4 and +2.8, respectively combining to only allow one total quarterback hurry while each scoring +1.6 or better with their run blocking. Each of the other three offensive linemen scored a -1.0, which did at least represent an improvement over last week. While Amini Silatolu and Byron Bell have been particularly bad at times, Garry Williams is going relatively unnoticed. The decision to cut Geoff Hangartner was an unpopular one for depth purposes, but the decision to start Williams hasn’t gone as poorly as Panthers fans envisioned. Reserves Nate Chandler (LT) and Chris Scott (RG) were equally as good at one facet of the game as they were bad at the other. Chandler scored a +1.1 in pass blocking and a -1.0 in run blocking. Conversely, Scott scored a -1.1 in the pass and a +1.5 in the run. The Panthers are looking for any positives they can find for the offensive line, so while the deficiencies of these players can be truly scary, their strengths in a line that has few mean they will both likely make the roster.
Philadelphia – Three Performances of Note
Backup Pass Rushers
Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry each made a case to see significantly more snaps with the first team defense. Graham finished with a +5.0 overall rating, +2.9 against the run and +2.0 against the pass. Likewise, Curry posted +2.5 against the run and +1.4 against the pass for a +4.0 overall rating. These ratings were earned on 25 (Graham) and 17 (Curry) snaps and on nearly every snap they played together, one or both of them positively influenced the result of the play for the Eagles. Graham (the subject of one of Ben Stockwell’s Pass Rusher Profile articles this offseason) recorded four quarterback hurries and a Pass Rushing Productivity rating of 27.3. Curry managed two hurries, two tackles, and two stops in his 17 plays, all of which were shared with Graham. Graham’s brilliance outshined that of his first-string counterpart Connor Barwin, who finished with a ho-hum -0.5 rating.
Vick in Command
While Michael Vick didn’t get the start, he was clearly the best of the five quarterbacks the Eagles managed to get into the game. Vick followed up his perfect quarterback rating from their first preseason game with an impressive +1.3 grade on 21 snaps. Controlling the offense with poise and efficiency and finding particular success on passes in the 10-19 yard range (6-6, 99 yards). Vick has been gushing about Chip Kelly’s offense, and his crisp, quick passes and timely scrambles demonstrated that confidence and enthusiasm. Nick Foles, on the other hand, had only an average game and rated +0.2. The few good plays he made were offset by one of the worst throw-away passes ever seen: Foles dropped his second snap of the night, picked it up, and attempted to throw it out of the back of the end zone only to have it intercepted by Josh Thomas. Unless Vick has a colossal meltdown in the third game, he will run away with the Eagles’ quarterback competition.
McCoy’s Broken Ankle Emporium
LeSean McCoy is in the business of breaking ankles, and Drayton Florence and Thomas Davis were buying in bulk. McCoy made the entire Carolina defense look ridiculous on a 21-yard highlight-reel stop-and-start run that set up a Foles rushing touchdown. “Shady” earned a +3.4 grade on only 21 snaps and proved that he is the ideal running back for Chip Kelly. In an offense designed to put athletes in space, McCoy was running to daylight before he even stepped onto the field. Given the rash of injuries already suffered by the Eagles, it might be wise to sit McCoy the rest of the preseason. There isn’t anything left for him to prove.
– Chip Kelly really likes his tight ends. Enough to put four on the field at the same time. Enough to split all four out wide. This offense will be creative and flexible and create multiple mismatches due to each of the tight ends being able to fully function in a receiver role.
– The Eagles’ offense ran 40 plays in the first half. They could have in the second half had they wanted to. All of the skill position players on this team will be rotated frequently and still end up playing a huge number of snaps. Fast-break football is here to stay.
– Quick strike Eagles offense? The team averaged 3.6 seconds to throw with Vick behind center and 3.3 with Foles. Over half of their dropbacks saw them each hold onto the ball longer than 2.5 seconds.
PFF Game Ball
While LeSean McCoy had the highlight of the night the PFF game ball goes to Michael Vick for decisively taking the starting spot with his commanding performance. If Michael Vick can’t sleep because he is too eager to get to practice the next day, the NFC East could be very interesting this year.
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