In a tale as legendary as time itself, unlikely hero Martin McFly once found himself in 1955, trapped in his own past thirty years before the present. There he found his father, George McFly, pummeled and ridiculed by Biff Tannen, subject to the insults and repeated harassment of a bully able to impose his will every time they met. Marty watched in disgust as his father, a gangly, overgrown, underpowered high school milquetoast, kowtowed to Biff's every offense. It was a dynamic that molded his identity, indeed his very consciousness. Biff's bullying became the essence of who George McFly was. Does this dynamic sound familiar? Biff Tannen is the Seattle Seahawks, and by my estimation that makes the Panthers George McFly. But we've all seen how that one ends, and it's glorious. Faster than you can yell "Hello McFly!" the Panthers did swear, George, goddammit, and they punched Biff square in the face, knocked him out, and took the girl. And thirty years later, back in the present, Marty observed the difference that win made in his father's life, his personality, his outlook, his attitude. It became the single defining moment in his life and spawned greatness. But all did not end well. Just like Seattle isn't the end of the season, so did Marty find that his misadventures were only beginning. Having only just triumphed over his own family's fate, Marty found himself in a new crisis. So it goes with the Panthers. Forget the past, it's time to go back to the future and avenge the poor choices of your children: that is, the 2014 Panthers matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. October 21, 2015 That's the date Marty went to the future. He saw a version of his future that reminded him of his past: his son a criminal, his wife a drunk, his own life in shambles due to a series of terrible choices. And what's more, 78-year-old Biff stole the DeLorean, flew to 1955, gave that version of himself a sports almanac, and set in motion a chain of events leading to an alternate reality, a dystopian 1985 that finds Hill Valley in physical ruin, crossed with barbed wire, bodybags, machine guns, social decay, and the flickering neon lights of excess and immense economic inequality. In other words, they were in Philadelphia. Absolute disaster! Much like Doc and Marty, the Panthers last year found themselves humuliated by the Eagles, sacked nine times and overwhelmed from the opening snap. A starting secondary consisting of Melvin White, Antoine Cason, Charles Godfrey, and Thomas DeCoud couldn't stop Mark Sanchez from lighting up the scoreboard, and an offensive line consisting of Byron Bell, Amini Silatolu, Chris Scott, and Nate Chandler couldn't stop a formidable pass rush from shredding the point of attack. The result was a humiliating 45-21 loss that was a deeper drubbing than it sounds (14 of those Carolina points came in garbage time.) In the trash-strewn alleys of 1985, Doc and Marty knew they needed a plan to reverse the past and make the present right again. Just like they had to devise a plan to return to 1955 and steal Biff's fateful sports almanac, the Panthers need to devise a plan to clip the wings of a Philadelphia team coming off of two straight wins, surging in the NFC East and motivated to prove the doubters wrong. Philadelphia has fixed several early-season hang-ups, maximizing their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses. Taking them down won't be an easy task, but here's a few keys to making it happen: 1) Take advantage of a soft interior line. This is probably the Eagles' biggest weakness personnel-wise. Guards Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin are playing some of the worst positional football in the league, consistently allowing penetration by defensive tackles on both running and passing downs. More surprisingly, center Jason Kelce is having the worst year of his professional career (perhaps Panthers fans can sympathize, having watched Ryan Kalil's effectiveness plunge when sandwiched between subpar talent.) Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short should both have huge days. 2) Force DeMarco Murray to run laterally. One of the Eagles' biggest problems over the course of the season has been trying to get Murray going south downfield. He hasn't been able to do it, largely because of terrible interior line play, which plays right into the Panthers' strengths. Interior pressure should force Chip Kelly to treat Murray as the scat back he isn't, sending him outside, around the tackles, where rising star Kony Ealy and newcomer Ryan Delaire are good enough to seal the edge and allow a speedy linebacking corps to come up and make plays. 3) Put the ball in Sam Bradford's hands. Prior to this season Bradford was touted as having the best pass-to-turnover ratio in the league. Not so this year. Bradford has looked atrocious, and it's reflected in the Eagles' bottom-scraping average of 8+ yards to go on third down. Third and long has been standard fare for Bradford through six games and this is where Carolina can force him into mistakes. Bradford's problem hasn't been decision-making, it's been accuracy, and it's hard to imagine a defense better suited for making him pay for off-target balls. The Giants' last-ranked pass defense forced three interceptions last week, so expect a feeding frenzy. 4) Play physically against Philadelphia's receivers. None of them are playing good ball right now, and both have proven susceptible to being nullified at the line of scrimmage when pressed. Jordan Matthews has made a few plays but tends to come up short when it counts (see: game-losing bobble against the Falcons in week one) and Aglohor has proved deeply inconsistent, notching only eight receptions and a fumble through six games. (It's worth noting he didn't practice yesterday and may be out for Sunday's matchup, leaving the number two duties to second-year man Josh Huff, a negligible threat.) Riley Cooper is reliable but dislikes minorities. 5) Isolate the Eagles' cornerbacks. This is going to be key on offense for the Panthers. Last year the Eagles defense struggled in coverage, allowing the most yards after catch in the league, and retooled the entire secondary as an answer. Both safeties are playing at a high level, but corner Byron Maxwell is having an awful year, and his counterpart, Nolan Carroll, is only marginal. There are no tricks to exposing Maxwell. Here's a play the Jets ran in week three: Nothing special, just a deep out run by Brandon Marshall. Maxwell is turn inside in coverage, attempting to direct the route inside where he'll have safety help upfield, or simply not get beat over the top, which has been a problem for him. Much like Cary Williams last week, Maxwell often has to play off the line of scrimmage to avoid getting beat. This buffer often leaves openings for quick cuts and big plays. Cue Brandon Marshall: That's as easy as you're going to get in the NFL. Maxwell plays too far back to recover when Marshall pivots outside, and Fitzpatrick connects with him for a nice gain. The Panthers should be able to take advantage of matchups like this all day. One way Mike Shula can isolate poorly-performing corners like Maxwell is heavy use of two TE sets. A play like the following would likely be successful: Nothing special about this play other than that it utilizes a good tight end and a fast wide receiver. At the bottom of the screen the strong safety will probably have to come up to bracket the TE, Olsen, in the flat, leaving single coverage outside against the receiver (a safer bet than your strong-side linebacker alone against Olsen.) On the upper end of your screen the slot receiver (ideally Philly Brown or Ted Ginn Jr.) will force the free safety to give helped to the nickel back over the top, leaving one-on-one coverage outside for the receiver (who runs an outside hitch in this case.) Plays like this will isolate Maxwell and Carroll in space, where they struggle to position themselves properly against opposing receivers. If the Panthers can do these things they should come out with a convincing win - beating Biff, as it were, and restoring things to the way they were meant to be: victors over the Eagles, undefeated.
View full article