Coaches Film Review: Charles Johnson
Two total tackles….two. Hardly the numbers you expect out of your highest paid player on the roster, and Panthers fans have taken to social media to express their frustrations. It’s easy to look at box scores and stat pages drawing conclusions that a player isn’t performing well, but rarely is it quite that simple. After watching the coaches film for the Panthers home win against the Detroit Lions, it became clear to me that the man Panthers fans call “Big Money” thanks to his exorbitant salary, was taking some undeserved criticism. While everyone (including myself) would like to see Charles Johnson go out and have multiple sack games each week, the truth is that’s just not realistic. What fans should know though is CJ is impacting plays, and I want to show you just a few of the ways.
Despite the lack of sacks, Johnson is still getting pressure on the Quarterback off the edge. Here we’ll look at a simple example of this.
The situation is 3rd and 2 and the Panthers have dialed up a blitz. They’re going to send Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis into the A-Gap to try and overload the interior of the Offensive Line. At the same time, Defensive Tackle Star Lotulelei is going to slant out to the LT while rookie Defensive End Kony Ealy stunts in on the Guard. Safety Roman Harper will drop back into Man Coverage on Tight End Brandon Pettigrew. DT Colin Cole will attack the Right Guard, leaving Johnson 1-1 with the Right Tackle.
Initially Stafford has a good pocket. The Lions seemed to have picked up the blitz, and it looks like Stafford will be able to sit back and wait for routes to develop. However, on the left side you can see that Johnson has gotten into the Right Tackles frame, and is starting to drive him back.
Johnson continues to drive with his legs, and ultimately is able to push the Right Tackle back into Stafford’s lap as he’s releasing the ball. The result is a hurried and poor release, that falls in the dirt. No Johnson doesn’t get the sack, but his rush does help to force a punt. On the ensuing drive, the Panthers would run 14 plays and take a second quarter lead on a field goal.
Here’s another play where Johnson impacted the game from the edge
It’s the beginning of the fourth quarter and the Lions are trailing 13-7. They’re facing 3rd and 5 from the Panthers 49. It’s a four man rush however Thomas Davis reads Bell as staying in to block so initially blitzes. When Bell flares out, Davis adjusts and shadows him into the flats. Kuechly will drop into coverage from the start. Addison will be one on one with the Right Tackle, with Dwan Edwards occupying the Right Guard and Center. Both Short and Johnson will be man on man vs the Left Guard and Left Tackle respectively.
Almost instantly, Johnson wins the leverage battle and is able to drive the Left Tackle backwards. He uses a powerful bull rush to dictate the Left Tackle’s position, and again collapses the edge.
Johnson’s bull rush is so effective that he actually runs the Left Tackle into Stafford’s back.
Realizing the pressure he’s now under, Stafford looks to move the pocket, however what he doesn’t realize is he’s sliding right into Addison who has worked his way across the line.
Stafford tries to evade Addison in the backfield to keep the play alive, but the more athletic Defensive End is able to close in and swallow him up with the help of Dwan Edwards. The play results in a sack for a loss of 15, and the Lions having to punt. Another play where Johnson doesn’t register in the box score, but he certainly had an impact.
As A Standing Blitzer
Johnson also disrupted plays blitzing up the middle as well. Here we’ll see Johnson lined up blitzing the A-Gap much like Luke and Thomas Davis were the previous play. While the Lions actually completed the pass this time around, it wasn’t because of anything Big Money did or didn’t do.
The situation is 3rd and 7 with the ball on the Detroit 40 yard line. The Panthers are once again blitzing, though this time their sending only one extra man, Safety Thomas DeCoud. They load up the line of scrimmage and give the appearance that they’re sending the house. However DE Mario Addison, Linebacker Luke Kuechly and Slot Corner Bene Benwikere all drop out into Zone Coverage. DeCoud comes down and looks to get around the edge.
The Left Guard is left in no mans land when Addison drops back, leaving Thomas Davis, Dwan Edwards and Johnson with 1-1 match ups across the line.
The Guard eventually adjusts, but by this time Johnson has driven the Center back, and is effectively collapsing the pocket in on Stafford. Stafford actually does an excellent job to even get the pass off, being that his Center was actually ran into him by Johnson’s bull rush. That said, the ball comes out high and if not for an outstanding effort by Wide Receiver Calvin Johnson, it likely is caught harmlessly out-of-bounds.
Interrupting Throwing Windows
Another way Johnson impacted Stafford’s performance Sunday was by getting into his throwing windows on passing plays.
The situation is 2nd and 10 from the Lions 27 with the Panthers trailing 6-7. This time it’s a standard four man rush, with Harper, Davis and Kuechly all dropping back. The TE furthest to the right will run a drag route across the face of Stafford, leaving the inside Tight End Brandon Pettigrew, to block Mario Addison 1-1. The Lions will commit two men to both Defensive Tackles on the play. At Right End, Johnson sill split out wide as he sees the Left Guard pulling. The RB tries to chip him (marked by the black x), but Johnson does a nice job with his hands and feet to slide by undeterred for the most part.
Here you’ll see the interaction between the RB Joique Bell and Johnson in the backfield. Again, with nimble feet and quick hands, Johnson is going to avoid Bell for the most part with relative ease.
Johnson engages the Guard to Stafford’s left, and once again has good leverage to drive him backwards.
He’s not able to drive him back into the QB completely this time. Realizing this, Johnson does a good job to interrupt Stafford’s throwing lane by getting his hands up at his eye level. The result is a ball that’s slightly off target for Bell in the flats, falling incomplete. Johnson’s effort helps to force a third and long, where the Panthers are able to create another incompletion. The Panthers will get the ball back, taking the lead on a long drive. It’s a lead they won’t relinquish throughout the rest of the game.
One of the more interesting looks throughout the game was when the Panthers dropped Johnson into coverage.
The situation is 3rd and 4 from the Lions 42. We’re in the second quarter, and the Panthers have a slim 3-0 lead. The Panthers will show a heavy blitz to Stafford pre snap, but ultimately it’s only a three man rush. Bene Benwikere will play a shallow zone to the far side of the field, Luke Kuechly will drop into the middle, and DeCoud will drop deep. Thomas Davis, Mario Addison and Dwan Edwards will all rush the passer. The Panthers will do something very unconventional, and have both Charles Johnson and Kawaan Short drop into shallow coverage.
Johnson actually does a decent job jamming Tight End Eric Ebron as he comes off the line, redirecting him to where he has more help in the middle of the field. Ebron ultimately gets free, but it’s hard to fault Johnson’s effort.
Ebron will create just enough space to catch a five yard drag route and move the chains, but the versatility Johnson shows on plays like this should be mentioned.
Ultimately a player (especially a pass rusher) is judged on his numbers, so Johnson will have to start producing for everyone to realize he’s still a very good player. What shouldn’t go unsaid though, is that he’s still recovering from a nagging training camp injury that caused him to miss a good bit of practices and preseason action. Even watching him on film and comparing to last year, you can tell he’s not quite up to full speed yet. When he does get there I have no doubt that he’ll continue to impact games both on the stat sheet, as well as beyond it. The Panthers will surely hope so, as they will look for Big Money to take the reins and help shoulder the load of Greg Hardy’s recent suspension.
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