Bills-Panther Scouting Report

by Greg Gabriel, Buffalo Sports Page NFL Expert

After an opening day win over the New York Jets at New Era Field, the Buffalo Bills travel to Charlotte, North Carolina to meet the Carolina Panthers. On paper this should not be a close game.  Carolina has been a perennial playoff team under Head Coach Ron Rivera, including a Super Bowl appearance.

Games aren’t played on paper though, and this game could be a lot closer than many think. Why? Sean McDermott!

Inside Information

McDermott spent the last six seasons as the defensive coordinator of the Panthers and he knows the Carolina personnel and scheme as well as anyone.

There is not a person in the league that knows the strengths and weaknesses of Carolina quarterback Cam Newton better than McDermott. He knows what kind of defensive formations and blitz schemes bother Newton the most, and he knows how to take away what Newton does best.

Knowing what the Panthers are going to do and stopping them are two different things. The Bills defense has to not only put together a solid defensive game plan, but they have to execute that plan to perfection if they are going to have a chance of stopping the Panthers offense.

Panther Position Prowess

Not only do the Panthers have Cam Newton, but their skill position players on offense are as good as any in the league. The wide receiver group may not be the fastest, but most are big, physical-type players who can easily win the size matchups. Kevin Benjamin is 6’5 – 245, Devin Funchess 6’4 – 225 and tight end Greg Olson who is 6’5 – 255 and plays like a wide receiver.
The running back group is led by veteran Johnathon Stewart, another big and physical type who excels at getting yards after contact. His backup is first round draft choice Christian McCaffrey, who has outstanding versatility and can play running back, slot receiver and return kicks. His forte is his open field running ability. The offensive line might not have any all-stars, but they are a very efficient group.

In most cases, McDermott might not be involved in the offensive game plan. This week could be the exception as Sean coached this defense for six seasons. He knows what they can and can’t do and he knows what works against them. Like I said about defense, knowing is one thing and executing is another.

Lucky Seven

The Panthers front seven is as good as there is in the NFL and they are especially strong inside at the tackle position with Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei. The ends are Charles Johnson and Mario Addison who might be on the wrong side of 30 but still have very strong edge rush skills. During the offseason the Panthers signed ageless Julius Peppers.  He might be 37 and in his 16th season, but he can still make some big plays.

Be sure to watch the linebacker group as this is exactly what Sean McDermott wants in Buffalo. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly has rare instincts to go along with very good athleticism.  He’s the the best Mike (middle) in the game. The two outside ‘backers also have a great combination of size/speed and instincts.

I don’t feel that the Carolina secondary is as strong has it has been in the past. In saying that, the group is smart.  They are good zone players, which the Carolina coaches like to play. Last week against the Jets, Tyrod Taylor completed only four passes to his wide receivers.  If the Bills expect to challenge the Panthers that number has to go up significantly.

Closer Than You Think

This game is going to be a very tough test for the Bills, but the coaching staff’s familiarity with the Panthers player personnel give them a chance. The current point spread is seven points, the game could be closer than that.

Greg Gabriel’s 30 years of NFL scouting experience gives him a unique perspective.  Read it every week on Buffalo Sports Page.

Greg Gabriel

Gabriel has spent most of his adult life as an evaluator for various NFL clubs. He started his career in 1991 working for the Buffalo Bills as a part time scout under dormer Bills Director of Player Personnel Norm Pollom. He left the Bills in June 1984 to become the Great Lakes area scout for National Football Scouting. Following the 1984 season, Gabriel joined the New York Giants as their Midwest area scout and was promoted to Director of Player Development in 1996. The Giants went to three Super Bowls and won two during Gabriel’s time with the club.

Following the Giants appearance versus the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV, Greg became Director of College Scouting for the Chicago Bears under General Manager Jerry Angelo. He held that position until June of 2010. During his time with Chicago, the Bears won three Division titles and the 2006 NFC Championship. In his nine Drafts with the Bears, the team drafted 12 future Pro Bowl performers such perennial Pro Bowler Matt Forte, Tommie Harris, Devin Hester, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman.

In the 2012 – 2013 season, Gabriel was a consultant for the Philadelphia Eagles Scouting Department and has since done some small scouting roles for various NFL clubs.

Since leaving the NFL Gabriel has been a contributor for the National Football Post, the Bleacher Report and more recently Pro Football Weekly. He also is both a writer and contributor for WSCR (670the Score) in Chicago. The last three years he has authored the Pro Football Weekly Draft Guide.
Gabriel grew up in Amherst and is a 1974 graduate of Canisius College where he was a member of the football team. He and his wife Robin currently resides in the Chicago area.

Leave a Reply