Honolulu chart: 4 keys to victory for the Lions over the Panthers

In Week 16, the Detroit Lions face the Carolina Panthers in a game full of playoff implications. The Lions and Panthers both have a lot to play for and these numbers will be fun to watch on Saturday.

Let’s take a closer look at the key things the Lions need to do against the Jets in order to keep their winning streak going. Check out the odds for this game from our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook.

Basic Cheetah schemes

Despite the coaching changes, interim head coach Steve Wilkes chose to keep the Panthers’ offensive and defensive plans relatively intact after he took over in Week 5.

On offense, offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is a name you may recognize from his days as head coach of the New York Giants. After being fired in 2017, he took a hiatus from coaching until 2020 when he took over as the Jaguars head coach. He moved to Dallas in 2021 as an offensive consultant, before taking over the Panthers OC in 2022.

Not much of McAdoo’s scheme has changed over the years. He still favors first offense, where he will deploy 11 personnel (1 running back, tight end, and 3 wide receivers), keep the middle on the gun, and attack the short and middle areas of the defense.

On defense, even though Wilkes’ background is defense, interim defensive coordinator Holcomb calls the defense, which is likely due to the pair’s ten-year history together.

Wilkes and Holcombe first connected in 2013, ironically with the Panthers, when Wilkes was the defensive backs coach and Holcomb was the running backs coach. The pair held those roles for three seasons and then in 2017, Wilkes was promoted to defensive coordinator. In 2018, Wilkes landed the head coaching job with the Cardinals and brought Holcomb with him to be his defensive coordinator. After one season, the Cardinals cleaned up the house and the pair moved to the Browns with Wilkes as the DC and Holcomb players. In 2020, Holcombe returned to Carolina to coach linebackers again, and two years later, Wilkes joined as defensive backs coach and passing coordinator, before their interim promotions began in Week 5.

In essence, the Panthers run a 4-2-5 with one high safety, but hybrid players like defensive back Jeremy Chinn allow them to alternate looks and hide their intentions. Here’s a look at their standard base:

One of the things the Panthers like to do is put five players on the line of scrimmage in order to force an offensive line into a 1-on-1 forward block or set and keep a tight end or running back to block, thus having fewer goals available. Here’s an example of consecutive plays from last week, where the Panthers put five on the line of scrimmage despite having different combinations of personnel.

You can see the motif for this diagram is the Chinn flex, lined up as a nickel at the base, then the safety in the second photo, and the EDGE in the third photo.

As an offense, it’s not easy to play football the game, because the Panthers won’t always give you a standard appearance in your standard lineups (see pics 1 and 3, the Steelers give the same 11’s appearance, but the Panthers change up their approach). So, as an offense, you can attack the Panthers’ defense by getting out of the crowd early and trying to find the match you want, or simply beat the guy across from you – which the Lions will likely try and do.

Have them remember the offensive line

The Lions’ offensive line has been a huge catalyst for the team’s offensive success. They move bodies in the running game (Run DVOA: 12th) and pass protection at a high level (Pass DVOA: 9th) allowing Jared Goff to sit comfortably in the pocket and put the points on the board.

Pro Bowler Frank Ragnow leads them at the pivot, but he’ll be the first to tell you he’s not the only one deserving of the honor.

“Whether they’re in the Pro Bowl or not, to be able to play with three elite players (Penei Sewell, Taylor Decker, and Jonah Jackson) like that is incredible,” Ragnow told the media Thursday. “And to be honest, in addition to the football part of them — part of the thing I’ve been able to get through this year with all my injuries — these guys and everyone else in that room. They’re my backbone.”

Ragnow isn’t the only one who thinks he’s playing with the elite players around him. Here is what New York Jets coach Robert Saleh said about the Lions offensive line:

“It could be argued that their O line — you can go to them and Philadelphia (the best in the league) — is just a really talented offensive line. They play with an edge.”

The Panthers have two elite players of their own in snooty Brian Burns and nose tackle Derrick Brown, but they’ll take on Detroit in power-on-strength battles. No matter which side of the line Burns attacks, he will either have Sewell or Decker (most often Decker), while Brown will usually line up just over the nose, where Ragno will be waiting.

With their confidence flowing – and Maybe a bit of a Pro Bowl insult Fuel on fire – Lions will have a chance to win their battles and achieve their goals.

“It has been our goal and our continuing goal to be one of the lines that people remember,” Ragno said. “Not just this year, but hopefully for years to come.”

Let Jared Goff cook

Outside of Jaycee Horn (more on him in a minute), the Panthers secondary is vulnerable and can be vulnerable to Jared Goff’s recent play, as long as the offensive line continues to do what it’s been doing.

“He’s done a really good job of taking those chances when they’re there, but also the ones we didn’t throw, he quickly got to the check and found the completions,” the Lions’ offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said of Goff. “And that’s allowed us, particularly the Jacksonville and Minnesota games, to be able to call more aggressive play on the field, knowing it’s going to get done if it’s around and keeps us going.”

While the Carolina defense could be more unusual, their efficiency is more in line with the Vikings and Jaguars, as the Lions put up points, as opposed to the Jets, who limited the Lions’ offense.

DVOA Defense Rankings (Lions points scored per game):

  • Jets: Sixth (20 points).
  • Vikings: The Nineteenth Century (34)
  • Panthers: 20
  • Jaguar: 28th place (40)

Goff won’t need to be a hero in this game, he just needs to keep doing what he’s doing and executing Johnson’s game plan. Points will follow.

Give Jaycee Horn the “Ketchup” treatment

See, this is very simple. Horn is considered a rookie cornerback and the best player in the high school. It will be useful to determine its whereabouts in advance and calculate where it will be.

“Yeah, I think (Horn) is playing really good football for (Carolina),” Johnson said. “A little bit different (from Gardner’s sauce), I just think when you look at it, it’s a little bit less covered for the guys than the Jets were last week. Just generally, some situation will dictate a little bit of that and a different approach as well. The sauce was more of a pressure on your face and you’d play Horn more.” A bit of a guy, but very similar in terms of being sticky, BlueHawks. And Horn has done a good job of finding that ball in the air. If you don’t get that ball in front of the receiver, he tends to find a way to either get his hand on it or go down with the interception. Therefore, we must be aware that he is on the field at all times.”

They won’t necessarily need to avoid Horn like they did Seuss Gardner last week, but at the same time, with weaknesses elsewhere in the secondary, they probably don’t need to test him as often, either.

Defense has one function: to stop the escape

Recently, Justin Rogers of the Detroit News wrote an article discussing the Lions’ recent success in stopping the run and pointed out an interesting fact about the Panthers’ first offense, since Sam Darnold’s return to the starting lineup three weeks ago.

“During that three-week period, no one ran the ball more than the Panthers, who kept it on the ground 36 times per game,” Rogers wrote. “So, obviously if you want to beat this team, the best way to do it is to ramp up their rushing attack.”

Fortunately for the Lions, their run defense is the most improved district defense and they’ve held their three other opponents to an average of 55.6 yards rushing per game, including holding top rushers for:

  • Jets’ Zonovan Knight: 23 rushing yards
  • Vikings Dalphin Cook: 23 yards
  • Travis Etienne of the Jaguars: 54 rushing yards

“Well, that’s something we talk about every week in terms of stopping the run,” Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn told the media on Wednesday. “I know it’s a cliché, everyone says it, but it’s true about who we are and who we are. I’ve been talking about who we are for the last couple of weeks, so we know what they want to do, and they know who we are and what we want to do. And man, this is going to be a fight.” And this will be a good test of the will of the men in the field. Our men will be up to the challenge.”

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