Panthers' Draft Shows Rushing the Passer Reigns Supreme

"Mel Mayock's" last post got me to thinking about how teams are built, what they do, and why they do it. I'm taking a bit of a bigger-picture look at things here.

There's a reason pass-rushers are in high demand every draft. I think the New York Giants have twice showed us as well as last year's Seattle Seahawks teams that the pass rush is the best thing your defense can do well to help you win games.

Of course, Carolina showed us the same thing. We led the NFL in sacks, had a very anemic offense, and won the division at 12-4. When Kony Ealy fell to us in the second round, David Gettleman snapped him up declaring "You can never have too many pass rushers." He's on board with the concept as well.

It turns out Ealy was a great pick for more than just the fact he was rated around 15th overall in the entire draft, but fell because of a slow 40-yard time.  As "Mel" pointed out, 10 and 20-yard splits are more important dealing with linemen because 1) it shows quickness
from start to top-gear and 2) if you're chasing a QB 40 yards, he's already scrambled and extended the play to begin with.

What you need in a pass-rushing end is a quick, explosive first step off the snap, hand techniques, moves and counter-moves to defeat the tackle, and short-area speed.

Yeah, it's nice that Jadeveon Clowney is as fast as Cam Newton is, and at 15-20 pounds heavier. He can chase running plays down from the back side and do a few other things to make plays that most guys can't, but we all know he's the exception and not the rule. 

That's where Ealy comes in, and already is more valuable to us than even just on draft day. While David Gettleman probably knew about reserve DE Frank Alexander's positive drug test (and likely suspension for four games), the episode with Greg Hardy and his insane girlfriend had yet to occur. Just in case he's suspended for "personal conduct" or what-not, it's GREAT to have that third, starting-quality DE on your roster.

The Kraken or "Big Money" Johnson could get injured. CJ missed a couple of contests last year if you'll recall. Reserve DE Mario Addison will be a free agent after this season and so will the Kraken, as he's franchised. 

Clearly, Ealy was not only a bit of a luxury pick but also a bit of a "need" pick, especially considering our division. Any bumps in the road to the current starters only raises Ealy's value to the team, and you know Gettleman's idea is to use Ealy as leverage in contract talks with Hardy. That much is a given.

Even if both ends produce and stay healthy, it's nice to have a guy like an Ealy come into the rotation and provide a fresh set of legs to chase after Drew Brees when the defense has been on the field a while and begins to get gassed. It's also a good idea to mix him in during the game to keep your starters' legs fresh in the 4th quarter - something I've seen numerous coaches do.

The reasoning behind this is what I hit on early in this article...the fact that the NY Giants beat the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl - twice - and we all saw the dismantling of the NFL's highest-scoring-EVER offense in the Denver Broncos this past Super Bowl by the Seattle Seahawks.

All three winners (NFC teams) defeated the AFC teams by keeping them from getting comfortable on offense. When a QB gets harassed and hit even without necessarily getting sacked, even if it's Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, they start getting "happy feet" and are affected psychologically. When a QB isn't getting protection, his performance inevitably falls. He begins to miss targets, throw the ball too soon, or otherwise become rattled and not perform the little things he's been doing to get them to the playoffs and/or Super Bowl. It also has a spillover effect as the others on the offense see what's happening, and their performances inevitably suffer as well. 

This is why the Panthers went 12-4 last year - even with an offense that couldn't hit 4 yards per carry in the running game and was dead last in plays of 20 yards or longer.

When we played San Francisco in Candlestick our offense could only muster ten points so the defense only allowed nine. However, it was a different story when they came to Bank of America Stadium in the playoffs - with their previously injured weapons intact. 

While the story STILL goes "Defense Wins Championships" and is as true as ever, having the NFL's worst offense puts an extremely heavy burden on that defensive matter how good it is.

What we saw in the recent NFL draft was a draft split evenly between offense and defense for Carolina. Gettleman's strategy was to get some help for the weak part of the defense - the defensive backfield - while making sure we can keep the heat on opposing offenses in drafting Kony Ealy.

On offense, he reached in the first round for a "project" WR in Kelvin Benjamin. I did NOT like this pick because it will take some time for him to develop, even more than other WRs left on the board like Jordan Matthews and Allen Robinson (Robinson is a favorite of mine). He also added a guard in Trai Turner, then wrapped things up in the 6th round with a between-the-tackles runner.

Gettleman basically made our strong points stronger - defense and the power running game, while addressing injuries the last 2 years at guard. He did NOT address any edge-blockers and that is my greatest concern about this draft above all else.

After all....if "you can never have too many pass rushers," it would seem to follow that you can "never have too GOOD of a guy to block such people," does it not?

I understand he didn't want to "reach" for a starting LT in the first round, bypassing Nevada's Joel Bitonio, but what gets me is that Kelvin Benjamin is NOT a "safe choice" either. He's a redshirt-sophomore coming off the game-winning catch in the BCS national championship game, but otherwise he had something like 39 yards in the game on 4 catches. A lot of that was due to Auburn's defense, but the game-winning catch was due to Benjamin's size....playing "above the rim."
"Mel Mayock" noted that both Kony Ealy and Trai Turner had the best 3-cone drill times at their respective positions at the NFL combine, showing that they are very quick athletes for their size.

This makes the fact that Kelvin Benjamin's 3-cone time for WRs was dead last that much more disconcerting. Of course, one would expect a slot-type WR like Brandin Cooks to have a good drill time but it would have been nice to see that Benjamin has some agility that he apparently lacks. Again - not my favorite pick in round one. 

At least the Panthers have edge-rushers in place for 2014 along with the NFL's top middle linebacker in Luke Kuechly....the "Man of Steel." Add in the Pro-Bowl talent next to him in Thomas Davis as well as an untested but well thought-of rookie from last year in AJ Klein, and that front-seven is even better than it was last year.

If the additions of Tre Boston and Bene "The Fed Chief" Benwikere can start paying dividends by the stretch run in 2014, it's possible that the defense can remain dominant. 

12-4 dominant? With the holes we still have on offense?

Unfortunately, I don't see it....not with the improvements the other teams in the division made.

More on THAT, later....

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