Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 12/5/12
Breaking down Cam Newton’s TD Pass to Steve Smith Here is a 5 frame breakdown of what the Carolina Panthers did pre-snap to get the look they wanted from the Kansas City Chief’s defense this past SUnday. Down and Distance Situation:  3rd and 3 yards to go for a First Down.  Early 2nd Quarter  Here you can see a Trips set by the Panthers.  This coverage by the Chiefs is basically man, with a few defenders playing “soft man”, with 1 high safety.  This could be called Cover 1 Man.  Notice how some of the defense is slightly shifted towards the running back side of the Panthers formation.  The Middle Backer, the running back side Outside Linebacker, and Free Safety are all cheating over to the side of the formation that the running back is on.  I find this interesting, as it is though the Chiefs are expecting action away from the Trips side of the formation, based on the alignment of the safety and linebackers.  Given that it is early in the game and a 3rd and 3 situation, it’s probably not that surprising.  In this next frame we see how the #3 receiver from the Trips formation (the one closest to the offensive line) goes in motion to the other side of the formation.  When this happens, the defender covering him runs with him across the formation.  The middle Linebacker steps forward and alerts the defensive lineman of something.  The defender covering the #2 receiver on the Trips side also seems to shade in towards the middle of the field and opens up his stance a bit.With Cam under center, I am guessing that the defense is respecting and or expecting a run play, maybe with the man in motion expected to be the lead blocker for the running back or maybe even Cam.  This could have been a formation and play that the Chiefs saw on film and they may think they have discovered a tendency as to the type of play the Panthers might be running. Here is the snap of the ball, and we can see the final pre snap picture that the defense gives Cam Newton.  Notice the line drawn down the field dividing the defense in 2.  Only 3 defenders above the line, and below the line.  The safety is not even looking up towards the 2 receiver side (previously the Trips side, which is normally the focus of the safety in Cover 1 Man pass coverage).The Chiefs have to be expecting a run play opposite the 2 receiver side of the formation given the alignments of the 8 defenders on the bottom of the line drawn down the field.  You can also see that the defender covering the #2 receiver at the top of the screen is 8 yards off the receiver.  If #1 were to run a speed in, skinny post, post, or dig, # 2 could run an out breaking route and his defender would be nowhere near him.  It doesn’t seem like the Chiefs are even considering this as being an option on this play, given the way they are defending this set. Here we can really see things open up even more for the Panthers.  Cam sees the safety rolling towards the bottom of the field.  Cam takes the snap, drop backs, looks towards the bottom of the field to freeze the defense, then looks back up top.  Here he finds one on one coverage with his best and favorite receiver, Steve Smith.  Notice the tunnel I outlined on the field that shows how much space Smith has to work with.  The defensive back was lined up with inside leverage, therefore giving Smith a strong release to the outside.  Smith used it, released and got up field, and had no safety converging on his path towards the end zone.Cam sets his feet, sees this golden opportunity, and lofts a pass towards the corner where only his receiver can make a play.  The 5 offensive lineman picked up the 4 defensive pass rushers and gave Cam plenty of time to make his read.I am guessing that the Panthers saw how the Chiefs would probably react to this formation and motion in this specific down and distance situation and field zone area during film review.  They probably thought that they could “take a shot” and get man coverage with no safety help for Steve Smith alone on an island.The result, a second quarter touchdown!!!Great play call on 3rd and 3 early in the game.  I think this was a great situation to take a shot for an early TD when the defense was obviously looking for a run play in the off tackle/C Gap area on the other side of the field.  Not sure of this was a called play by Rob "Chud" Chudzinski, the offensive coordinator for the Panthers, or if this was something Cam Newton checked into at the line of scrimmage.Either way, it was a great call and clearly set the tone for the rest of the game.  I am sure the Panthers coaching staff was thinking “I love it when a plan comes together” as Steve Smith celebrated in the end zone.
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