Who: Carolina Panthers vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Where: Tampa, Fl
When: 1:00
I will be tweeting from the field starting around 11am with photos and observations. Follow @CarolinaHuddle on twitter. 
Keys to Panthers Victory: 
- Tackling must improve over last week. 
- Keep Winston in the pocket and force him into mistakes. An interception or two will be the result. 
- Jared Allen must fill the void left by Charles Johnson. 
- Greg Olsen will need to continue to impress as he will be the only receiver on the field getting extra attention. 
Bucs - 17
Panthers - 20

It's a Trap!

By Jeremy Igo, in Carolina Panthers,

I hereby am officially designating Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a trap game. 
Here are a few of the factors that went into making this official designation. 
- Record flooding in Charlotte a distraction, especially to the players with families. I know my thoughts will be at home, so will theirs. 
- Terrible officiating , as outlined here by our own PhillyB. Also, it appears Carolina is getting the worst of the worst, as far as officials go. 
- Tampa is not as bad as you think. They defeated a Saints team with Drew Brees in New Orleans in a much more convincing fashion than Carolina did at home without Drew Brees. 
- Division matchups are rarely anything but a dog fight for the Panthers to begin with. 
- Although AJ Klein is a good player, missing Luke Kuechly started to show itself last week. Tackling was very sloppy. 
In conclusion... 

Take this game against Tampa Bay lightly at your own risk. 
Hollywood director Francis Ford Cappola found out the hard way that no matter how much you plan, no matter how many details you consider, no matter how careful you are, sometimes things just go straight to hell. Cappola's masterpiece - 1979's Apocalypse Now - is widely considered the most disastrous production effort in all of cinema history. Marlon Brando showed up to the set surprisingly fat. Martin Sheen battled alcoholism and had a heart attack on the set. Monsoons blew into the set in the Philippines and wiped out million-dollar stages. Cappola's wife threatened to divorce him, his Italian filmmaker threatened to quit if they didn't fly in fresh pasta from Italy to Manila once a week, and no one could remember their lines. A live tiger walked onto the set. The army confiscated everyone's passports and filming permits for paying a local to drag cadavers onto the shooting location for added battle realism. Cappola reacted to these setbacks by going insane, throwing his Oscars out the window, binging on Filipino call girls, and telling the entire production crew he was going to commit suicide.
 I'm willing to bet a majority of Panthers fans had similar reactions Sunday to one of the most maddening, obstacle-laden wins in years.
Against all odds, Sunday's contest against the New Orleans Saints was a dogfight. There's a maxim in the NFL that suggests division games are always close no matter the disparity in talent or record, but that's just a popular misconception. Division opponents often clobber each other. With a 2-0 record and momentum building, it seemed Carolina was poised to put an early-season stake in the heart of the Saints. All signs pointed in the direction of a complete drubbing.
But no one thought to include atrocious officiating in the win/loss calculus. The following ten calls (or no-calls) stymied the team's efforts through four maddening quarters:
Tripping, #96, Q1 (Good call)Defensive Holding, #56, Q1 (Debatable)Offensive Holding, #88, Q1 (Bad Call)Offensive Pass Interference, #47, Q1 (Good Call)Ball spot for the Saints, Q2 (Bad Call by a full yard)Out of Bounds on Kickoff, #21, Q3 (Debatable)Tripping, #70, Q3 (Good Call)Illegal Use of Hands, #94, Q3 (Bad Call)Roughing the Passer, #99, Q3 (Bad Call)No Call on roughing the passer, Q4 (Bad Call) 
This is a pretty gruesome collection of penalties and no-calls. Anyone who sat through the game can attest to that. Some of them were Carolina's fault - Wes Horton can't blame anyone but Wes Horton for a silly tripping penalty - but fully half of the calls on the field were downright awful. Referees were making mistakes they shouldn't have been making at the professional level. The faulty spot and falsely-granted third-down conversion might've been the worst, in retrospect; the following sequence of shots shows the spot of the tackle, the officials' spotting of the ball, and the subsequent fix.

It really wasn't even close. Those are the kinds of calls that can blow games. And they didn't stop coming. Kony Ealy's phantom hands-to-the-face call had him livid, Kawann Short was clearly pushed into the quarterback, and of course there's the infamous no-call on the flagrant late hit against Cam Newton. It's a shame no one in the national media has shown coach's film of the actual hit, because it's flagrant. Here's a breakdown of the (very blurry) all-22 coach's film for you:

Pretty obvious. It didn't matter if Cam was out of the pocket because the ball was long gone and he was no longer considered a runner. Hochuli saw the entire thing from start to finish. We'll never know if he actually told Cam he was too young to get that call, but video evidence is clear: Ed Hochuli displayed wanton disregard for (or at least atrocious judgement in) the rules and regulations of the game.
But a beautiful thing happened on Sunday. The Carolina Panthers of past years have repeatedly fulfilled a tired prophecy: lose unless every little thing goes right. Carolina fans are witnesses. It's been a common thread through the Rivera era. On this particular Sunday every little thing went wrong - but the team responded, in spades.
Greg Olsen's negated touchdown was followed by a Greg Olsen touchdown.Rivera's challenge of the horrible first-down spot forced the Saints to punt and resulted in a 52-yard pass to Greg Olsen on the first play from scrimmage.Teddy Williams's special teams blunder was answered by a clutch drive for Greg Olsen's second TD (aided by a savvy hurry-up to catch 12 Saints on the field.)Kony Ealy's ludicrous hands-to-the-face penalty was followed two plays later by a critical forced fumble and a Carolina field goal.The Panthers answered Hochuli's no-call by an 88-yard march for a touchdown and a 27-16 lead.And of course we all know the game more or less ended with Josh Norman's jaw-dropping interception in the end zone.
The 2015 Carolina Panthers are 3-0 not because they've done everything right, but because they've shown the resiliency to win even when everything goes wrong. Championship teams have the enviable quality of pulling out wins that should never have happened. The 2015 Carolina Panthers did that on Sunday.
Apocalypse Now transcended disaster and went on to win Academy Awards nominations, top honors at the Cannes, and recognition as one of the most iconic films of its era. With this newfound penchant for gutty wins the Panthers just may follow suit.
This week I ventured over to a few Bucs media sites and message boards and afterwards needed an emergency session with my therapist. Good gravy is it dismal in Tampa Bay these days. 
Here are a few of my favorite tidbits....
Bucs will have their hands full with Greg Olsen
Of course, some Bucs fans are predicting a victory...
Some are discussing the Panthers adding Jared Allen 
But overall, things are fairly depressing in Bucs country
Jared Allen made his Carolina Panthers practice debut today and was welcomed by the heat and humidity the south offers in September. 
Ron Rivera spent a good amount of time watching his new acquisition, and I have a feeling he was pretty impressed. 

Allen is a physical specimen, that much is clear. He should immediately have an impact for the Panthers this Sunday against the Bucs. 
What I was not expecting was how quickly Allen seems to have taken up the leadership and mentor role left vacant by Charles Johnson (now on IR). 

Allen was especially talkative and demonstrative with both Mario Addison and Wes Horton. Throughout practice, Allen would stop and chat or demonstrate a move of the hips or perhaps a hand movement. The little things that can turn an average defensive end into a good one. 

After the media portion of practice, the Panthers defensive coaching staff seemed more than pleased with their new weapon. 

I have been singing the praises of KK Short and Kyle Love combo for a couple of weeks now. Again, they balled out on Sunday. Dwan Edwards is having a very down year, and PFF seems to have taken notice. 
Bene Benwikere had a bit off an off game. As a nickel, he has many more responsibilities than a corner. Facing an unknown QB and unkown Payton game plan for that QB likely contributed to his grade. 
 Play CountsRatings Pos.#NameTotalRunRushCov.OverallRun DefensePass RushPass Cov.Penalty# of PenQB SkQB HtQB HuBPTksAssMTStops DRT99 Kawann Short *49193003.  2 11 1 DRT93 Kyle Love25101503. 11  2   LCB24 Josh Norman *71260451.    41 1 SLB54 Shaq Thompson *41123261.   4114 RCB31 Charles Tillman *69260431.    92 4 DLE95 Charles Johnson *35151910.7-  1      MLB56 A.J. Klein *63253350.11.0-0.2-0.80.11-0    8 16 DLT98 Star Lotulelei *49202900.10.4-   121 1 FS33 Tre Boston165011-    21   SS41 Roman Harper *5622034-0.7-    4 23 WLB58 Thomas Davis *4922027-1.0-0.10.0-1.00.10-0    6421 FS20 Kurt Coleman *7227342-1.1-0.7-0.2-0.30.10-0     21  DRE96 Wes Horton *12660-1.10.4-0.50.0-1.01-0         SCB25 Ben� Benwikere6824440-1.1-0.4-0.3-0.50.10-0    5 21 DRE97 Mario Addison327232-1.40.4-0.90.0-0.91-0  1 2  1 DRE94 Kony Ealy4218240-2.10.7-1.5-0.5-0.81-0  2 3113 DLT92 Dwan Edwards4313300-2.4-1.9-         0.53.8-0.4-0.7-2.25-0117150161026
This week on the PFF grades, Cam Newton leads the offensive group this week, and rightfully so. The entire offensive line for the Panthers is in the positive for the first time this season. 
Ed Dickson and Richie Brockel are the last in line. This won't exactly help Brockel's case to those fans wondering what his role is on the team. 
Offensive summary
 Play CountsRatings Pos.#NameTotalRunPassRun BlockPass BlockOverallPassRushPass BlockScreen BlockRun BlockPenalty# of PenQB SkQB HtQB Hu QB1 Cam Newton *666362403.    C67 Ryan Kalil *660030362.9  -  1 LG68 Andrew Norwell *660030362.0   LWR19 Ted Ginn *400271301.    RG70 Trai Turner *660030361.0  1 LWR17 Devin Funchess310121900.    HB43 Fozzy Whittaker505000.    RT74 Mike Remmers *660030360.4  0.20.0-0.10.30-0  3 LT73 Michael Oher *660030360.4  1.70.0-1.60.30-0    TE-L88 Greg Olsen *650362900.    FB35 Mike Tolbert305111220.00.4-    HB34 Cameron Artis-Payne33000-0.10.0-    HB28 Jonathan C. Stewart *39141843-0.4-0.4-    SLWR11 Brenton Bersin *28014140-0.6-    RWR10 Philly Brown *49129190-0.8-    TE-R47 Richard Brockel20110-    TE-R84 Ed Dickson38016166-1.7-   
It is a wet, wet day my friends. Bank of America Stadium has been steeping in precipitation for a few nights now. Expect a fun, sloppy game. 
As such, here is the run down for today...
Who: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers
Where: Bank of America Stadium
When: 1:00 
Radio: 1110 WBT
Be sure to follow me on Twitter for updates from the sidelines - @CarolinaHuddle
Keys to Panthers Victory 
- Wake up. The Panthers cannot win today if they are asleep at home. 
- Wear Helmets. If the Panthers show up today without helmets they may not win. 
- Hike the football. Dozens of delay of game penalties reduce the chances of victory to 80%. 
Panthers - 34
Saints - 10 
Here's an anecdotal history lesson. During World War Two submarine operations became a critical part of the U.S. Navy's operations in the Pacific Theater. When I was eleven I read a book written by the captain of the USS Barb, a guy named Eugene Fluckey who had bigger balls than anyone in the United States Navy or even modern human history. This guy revolutionized submarine warfare from a tactical aspect, inventing several effective convoy approaches, and managed to do it while pulling off several Mission Impossible level escapades, including landing an impromptu team of engineers onto the Japanese mainland and blowing up a train. On the Japanese mainland. And that's not even his most notorious feat. This is: one night the Barb and her plucky crew crept into a heavily-armed, high-security Japanese controlled harbor on the Chinese coast and discovered it was chock full of anchored ships. Sitting ducks, all of them.
To get in firing position they crept 26 miles inside the 20-fathom curve of the Chinese coast, which is an incredibly dangerous thing to do (they could've run aground, hit a mine, or been spotted) and proceeded to unleash fury on the anchored convoys. Fluckey emptied one torpedo tube after another, launching spreads of six, shifting a few degrees, firing again, and laying down the most awesome display of underwater firepower in the history of the world. It was a target-rich environment and all nine levels of hell emptied bowels of fire into that Chinese bay. Ammunition freighters blew up in technicolor mushroom clouds, troop ships split in half, searchlights split the sky, furious destroyers began depth-charging fish and whales and rocks and anything that looked like a shadow, and meanwhile Fluckey literally scraped along the bottom of the sound and kept firing. Target after target, completely unprotected, vanished in a column white water and a muffled boom. And then they set a world record for submarine escape speed at the time, surfacing and racing off into the night. All told Fluckey and the Barb destroyed 30 ships, an incredible feat for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
I relate this tale because the utter chaos and explosive mayhem in that target-rich harbor was the first thing I thought of when I watched game film of the New Orleans Saints.

No, really, the Saints are horrible. They're 0-2, but they're actually somehow worse than their record indicates. They may actually be the worst team in the league. In fact, I am confident that if Mike Shula can exploit some of the glaring weaknesses in Rob Ryan's defense we could see a four-quarter, 40+ point drubbing up and down the field in our most dominant performance since ...well, since the last time we played the Saints. Here's a few reasons why.
1) No one on the Saints defense knows their assignments. Sean Payton isn't getting in yelling matches with Rob Ryan for no reason. That defense is completely unprepared and has been for two weeks in a row. It's a combination of talent and scheme and it's allowing teams to do whatever they want. Check out the third play from scrimmage against the Arizona Cardinals in week one. The Cardinals are running a 4WR set against what looks to be the Saints nickel defense. What happens?


Do you see what I see here? Everyone's open. Everyone. The ball is already out at this point, so the coverage isn't quite as bad as it looks, but the corners played off and both outside hitches and curls were open, Fitzgerald was wide open on the fade, and of course the slot receiver (near the 50-yard line) was wide open between the linebackers and safeties, all of whom completely froze. The result was an 18-yard gain en route to an opening-drive touchdown. This is just one play but it happened all day in this game.
2) The Saints' starting safeties are subpar. In this case, "subpar" is a euphemism for "worse diagnostic skills than a potted plant." They're thin at the position with Byrd down and offensive coordinators have found ways to isolate their backups over and over again. It's always a good matchup for the offense. I don't know why they're letting Jamarca Sanford see the field at strong safety, but between him and Kenny Phillips at free safety it's a lunch buffet for quarterbacks. They play deep, way deep, so scared to leave underperforming cornerbacks alone on deep routes that they constantly allow completions underneath. Take a look at this second-quarter play on third down:

In the above frame the Cardinals empty the backfield. This play is designed to get Larry Fitzgerald the ball - the receivers run a clear-out pattern against the defense, keeping backs deep and leaving Fitzgerald in a zone by himself. Watch what happens:

Once again it seems like everyone's wide open. Credit great scheming by Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin to get guys in zone holes, bound to be there since nobody on the Saints defense can cover man-to-man. And, of course, credit poor safety play (the strong safety has his man, but the free safety is in cover zero right now) and atrocious linebacking play. First down, Cardinals (they scored on this drive too.)
3) The Saints may have the worst linebacking corps in the NFL. Picture Mel Gibson's friend beating the primae noctis knight with a mace and that's what happens to middle linebacker Stephone Anthony every single snap (see: awful coverage in the above frames.) OLB David Hawthorne is serviceable but not much better than that. In fairness to them they're playing behind a declawed pass rush and in front of terrible safeties, so they've got a lot on their shoulders, but check out this running play in the third quarter.

Nothing spectacular here, just a standard single-back set, running to the left between the guard and tackle. The right guard pulls to help out in blocking. Look what happens:

This snapshot is taken right as the running back (Chris Johnson) reaches the line of scrimmage. The left guard and left tackle do a great job of controlling the point of attack, but the linebackers should be cleaning this up. Instead rookie OLB Hau'oli Kikaha gets blown up while the MLB gets sucked in and completely misses the gap. Brandon Browner (who has looked absolutely awful so far himself) gets easily blocked out of the play, allowing Chris Johnson a 12-yeard pickup for a first down.
4) Without pro-bowl left guard Jahri Evans, the Saints offensive line consists of Max Unger and four clones of Byron Bell. The right side of that line is playing like the 2006 Oakland Raiders. The Saints have moved Tim Lelito to right guard in Evans's absence, and together with right tackle Zach Strief allowed the Buccaneers two sack/fumbles in addition to countless pressures and hits. I grabbed this snapshot of the second sack/fumble exactly one second after the ball was snapped:

This should look familiar to Panthers fans, as it could've been our team at this point last season. As we all know, the Saints went on to lose this game. Thank God for Michael Oher and Dave Gettleman.
Okay, let's sum all this up. Through two games we've established that there's a target rich environment on the field for offenses and defenses playing the New Orleans Saints. The Carolina Panthers are the USS Barb, sneaking into a harbor full of sluggish, impaired enemies and manning the torpedo tubes. Here are two key things they can do to drub the Saints for four quarters on Sunday:
1) Inform Charles Johnson to utilize the speed rush. Forget the bull rush and inside spin, just haul around the outside corner. Streif couldn't handle it all game, and the return of Star Lotulelei will leave Streif by himself most of the time. Big Money will get his. 
2) Run this play until they figure out how to stop it.

The above play takes advantage of two Saints weaknesses: OLB/Nickel, and safety. In this scheme Funchess is the Z at the top of the screen, Philly Brown is the X at the bottom, and Kevin Norwood is the Y, in the slot. When the Panthers interviewed Norwood they wanted him to run the spear route, which, incidentally, works beautifully with Philly Brown's skillset. Here the quarterback reads the right side of the field. If the linebacker (or nickel) drops back to cushion Philly Brown's curl (X) then Cam hits Norwood (Y) underneath. If the linebacker (or nickel) drops down to cover the spear, then Cam hits X on the curl. The tight end splits both terrible safeties, demanding their attention and ensuring either the X or the Y will have advantageous matchups; if the safeties move down they're leaving Olsen unbracketed and Funchess streaking upfield on a deep curl against a single man.
Periscope up, boys and girls, we're scoring forty points. Bank it.