Life With And Without Luke
In “The Numbers Say” SQ will look at a hot topic in the NFL and dive behind some of the key numbers, both good and bad, that have contributed to the current situation in which a player or team find themselves.
The mood in Carolina was not that great when All-world linebacker Luke Kuechly was knocked out of Week 1 just 32 snaps into the season. In a fantastic twist, the Panthers have actually been playing outstanding with a 4-0 start, and with Atlanta’s loss, now sit in first place in the NFC South.
Perhaps most comforting, is that despite losing arguably the team’s top player, the defense has played well through the first four games of the season.
A crunch of the numbers says that while the Panthers are playing at an elite level, the return of Kuechly cannot come soon enough.
Of the four teams Carolina has played (Jacksonville, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Houston) 23.2 represents the average of where the teams rank in points per game. Clearly, the best way to keep the defense in shape while the star player is gone is to play offenses that are not that good to begin with.
In the absence of Kuechly the biggest star has been #24 cornerback Josh Norman. The former sixth-round pick from Coastal Carolina is off to an outstanding start, ranked the number one cornerback by Pro Football Focus. Despite Norman's best efforts, the Panthers have not been stellar against the pass, with the team ranked…
Although the Panthers have one of the better defenses in the league, and Norman is one of the better corners in the league, the Panthers currently sit in the middle of the pack when it comes to defending the pass. That number could potentially worsen in the coming weeks because...
4, 4, 3
The Panthers next four games are against Seattle, Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Green Bay. All four finished last season in the Top 10 in points per game. Three of those teams--Seattle, Indianapolis, and Green Bay--had their respective starting quarterbacks finish the Top 10 in QBR.
In fairness, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Indianapolis have not had the win loss records they had last season. Still, the Eagles have won their last two, Andrew Luck appears set to return soon, and two of Seattle’s losses have been to undefeated Green Bay and Cincinnati. All three could be due for a breakout.
Although Kuechly has not played a full regular season game, he earned a coverage score of 84.1 which ranks him 6th amongst linebackers. Yes, the sample size is small, but it echoes what many have said about Kuechly being outstanding in coverage.
Against some of the better offenses, and specifically the better passing games, Kuechly’s coverage ability will be critical in the coming weeks.
For the Panthers concerns with the passing defense, there are very few concerns about the run defense. The unit is surrendering just 92.0 yards per game, good for 6th in the league.
Unsurprisingly, Kuechly is also tremendous against the run. Specifically his tackling and range skills are some of the best in the NFL. In theory, Kuechly’s return should make the Panthers run defense better over this stretch. That will be important because…
Two teams (Seattle and Green Bay) have a rushing attack that ranks in the Top 10.
Through four games, the Panthers defense has been exceptional, but it is truly going to be tested with some of the better offenses coming up. The good news is that since Kuechly is so stout against the run and athletic in coverage, the Panthers defense should be able to at least contain some of the better offensive teams coming up. He makes a great run defense elite, and solidifies an already elite pass defense.