Phil Snow enters his second season as the defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers. Through the first three weeks, he was the hot coordinator name as his unit stifled opposing offenses.
The praise has tapered off after the Panthers have dropped three straight games, but the former Baylor defensive coordinator has used a unique approach with his upgrade in personnel.
The Panthers spent every 2020 draft selection on the defense. The unit was terrible in 2019, and Matt Rhule wanted to ensure that Snow had the correct personnel. Last season, the Panthers were very multiple with many concepts and a lot of moving parts.
The personnel wasn't quite capable of handling Snow's vision with the youth and lack of experience, as the Panthers' defense ranked 25th in scoring and struggled to stop the run.
Carolina wasted no time and provided Snow with the experienced veterans he needed through free agency. The Panthers signed outside linebackers Haason Reddick and Frankie Luvu and versatile defensive lineman Morgan Fox.
Combine these additions with players like defensive back Jeremy Chinn, DL Derrick Brown, and outside linebacker Yetur Gross-Matos, all entering their second seasons, and we started to see the potential of this blitz-happy unit blossom through those first three weeks.
Multiplicity and versatility are more common philosophies in modern defenses and the Panthers an abundance. Snow's aggressive approach can cause havoc for opposing offensive protections and quarterbacks. The Panthers are currently tied for sixth in the NFL with 16 sacks. They'll look to bully a Giants' offensive line that the Rams abused in Week 6.
The Panthers spent a top-ten selection on Derrick Brown in the 2020 NFL Draft. The quick mountain of a man from Auburn has eight pressures and one sack on the season, but he's also a pivotal cog in the Panthers' run defense. Brown will be a problem for the interior offensive line of the Giants.
Free-agent acquisition Da'Quon Jones, who spent most of his career with the Titans, is playing very well under Snow. His impressive 6'4", 322-pound frame allows him to man the nose or plays shaded off the center, which forces one-on-one matchups for Derrick Brown. The tandem has worked well together so far this season. Jones has ten pressures and a sack this season.
Bravvion Roy mans the nose tackle position in this defense. At only 6'1", Roy is stout and has that natural leverage built into his frame. He is also an immovable 330 pounds. His snaps are usually kept just under 20 per game.
Behind Brown, Jones, and Roy is rookie fifth-round pick out of Iowa Daviyon Nixon. The former Hawkeye has monster hands that he uses violently. His snaps are restricted, but he played 22 last week, which is a season-high.
The Panthers have several young talented edge rushers, and perhaps one of the quickest ones in the NFL. Brian Burns is incredibly fast off the snap. He's very bendy and does a great job getting on top and around NFL offensive tackles. He has 19 pressures and three sacks on the season. He's a possible incoming nightmare for Nate Solder.
Morgan Fox was signed during free agency, and he's playing a big role in this defense. He has 13 pressures and two sacks on the season. He isn't as quick or long as Yetur Gross-Matos, but he's better at the point of attack and understands how to maintain defensive leverage a bit better at this point. Fox is 27-year-old and has been with the Rams since 2016.
Gross-Matos has taken a backseat to Burns, Morgan Fox, and the versatile linebackers that Snow aligns outside. He is still a very long defender who can be disruptive with his quickness. Gross-Matos is still putting it all together.
Reddick, Luvu, and Marquise Haynes are classified as linebackers, but they will also play on the edge. Snow uses three- and four-down fronts and loves to dress up his defensive looks.
Last year, Reddick was a thorn in the Giants' side when he recorded six sacks against that offensive line with the Cardinals. He signed with his former college coach at Temple (Rhule) and has played well in his new home, logging 15 pressures and 6.5 sacks on the season. Expect Reddick to be coming early and often on Sunday.
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Luvu was an excellent special teams contributor with the Jets who earned his way into defensive snaps. Last week, linebacker Shaq Thompson was out, which opened up more snaps for second-level defenders, and Luvu benefitted greatly. According to Pro Football Focus, he was one of the highest-graded defenders in Week 6.
Haynes is a bit more of a hand-in-the-dirt type of player rather than a play-in-space linebacker. He is a solid rotational piece in a defense that has many young talented players.
Shaq Thompson is one of the key contributors to this defense. When he is healthy, he's an every-down player, but he missed the last game with a foot injury. His status for the game is yet to be determined. If he does play, he's a great athlete at the second level who will look to close throwing windows and stick to routes coming in his area.
Veteran journeyman Julian Stanford will also see snaps on the defense, especially if Thompson misses the game. Stanford has only played over 100 snaps twice in his career that started as a UDFA out of Wagner in 2012.
He has two tackles on 67 defensive snaps this season. Stanford also saw the field because Kamal Martin, the long linebacker who was teammates with Carter Coughlin at Minnesota, was also injured.
Donte Jackson is an instinctive, very quick athlete at the cornerback position. He's not very big, and his run support isn't perfect, though not from a lack of trying. He is very good in man coverage. He also has good ball skills and concentration when the ball is in the air.
He intercepted Eagles' quarterback Jalen Hurts two weeks ago. New York must be careful when throwing underneath because Jackson can undercut and take the interception back for a touchdown.
The rookie out of Washington, Keith Taylor, has played solidly after the injury to fellow rookie Jaycee Horn. Taylor is a long fifth-round pick who impressed Rhule's coaching staff at the Senior Bowl. For a 6'3" cornerback, Taylor can flip his hips and isn't slow in his transitions. He's one of the higher-graded cornerbacks in the NFL right now.
A.J Bouye mans the slot for the Panthers. He may be north of 30 years old, but he can still play at a solid rate. The other cornerbacks who may appear are Rashaan Melvin and possibly C.J. Henderson, who was recently acquired via trade with the Jaguars.
Henderson is dealing with a shoulder injury but did see limited action in the previous two games. He was an excellent man coverage cornerback, which led to him being a top 10 pick in 2020 out of Florida.
Stephon Gillmore could also be active this week for the Panthers as his window to come off the PUP list was opened this week.
Jeremy Chinn is one of the more versatile defenders in the NFL. He's a hard-hitting, ball-hawking playmaker that Snow uses in coverage, on exotic blitzes, and, really, just all over the field. Chinn's position on the football field has to be on Daniel Jones' mind before every play. Chinn plays strong safety and will align in the box at linebacker at times.
Sean Chandler is the free safety. Chandler is very familiar with the Giants since he spent the previous three seasons as a special teams contributor. He's now the starting free safety, and he's performing well.
The long and physical Sam Franklin also sees defensive action in center-field at times. He has the desired measurables, but his game is still inconsistent, and he makes some errors in coverage, and with his tackling coming downhill.
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