Brian Billick has called four Carolina Panthers games as a FOX color analyst, and the Panthers have won them all.
The former Baltimore Ravens coach, who is working the Carolina-San Francisco game Sunday for FOX, joked that hes been something of a good luck charm for the Panthers.
Ive been giving Ron Rivera a little bit of grief, saying I should be on the payroll as well as theyve been doing, said Billick, whos also an NFL Network analyst. Ive been lucky because theyve been winning this (first) half of the season. Ill go ahead and take credit for it, but thats probably not right.
Billick said the credit for the Panthers success should go to a more mature Cam Newton, the commitment offensive coordinator Mike Shula has made to the running game and a defensive front seven that Billick believes is as good as any in the league.
And while some critics have questioned whether the Panthers (5-3) will hold up against their slate of tougher opponents the second half of the season, Billick doesnt see any deficiencies.
In coaching, you hope that in September and October you can position yourself to make a run in November and December, and thats exactly what the Carolina Panthers have done, Billick said this week in a phone interview. Their style of play is very portable, which is a good thing late in the season. Meaning they can run the ball and stop the run.
The Panthers are second in the league in rushing defense, allowing 79.1 yards per game. The 49ers have the top-ranked rushing offense (153 yards a game), and the Panthers are eighth (130.1 yards).
San Franciscos 33.8 rushing attempts per game are the most in the NFL; Carolinas 32.6 rushes a game rank third.
These two teams are carbon copies of one another. ... Youre talking about two very similar philosophies, Billick said. Big, physical defenses that can stop you without having the extra guy in the box. I dont know if theres two teams more committed to the run than these two that also have quarterbacks that can expand and hurt you in that capacity.
These two teams are two very good football teams. Its going to be a heavyweight prizefight with body blow after body blow, and last man standing wins.
Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick led his San Francisco (6-2) to the Super Bowl after becoming a starter midway through last season. Newton has an 18-22 record as a starter, but Billick said his development is readily apparent.
Cams playing very well, Billick said. There are areas he can be better. But has really taken on the challenge of doing what the team needs for him to do, rather than just putting up a bunch of stats and plays down the field. Hes managing the game the way it takes to win.
Like any quarterback, hes matured understanding what his team needs for him to do, when to take chances and when not to.
Hes being very smart with where hes putting the ball.
Billick served as analyst for the Panthers wins against the New York Giants, Minnesota, St. Louis and Atlanta. He said hed like to see the Panthers take a few more chances to add a quick-strike element that was a big part of their offense under former coordinator Rob Chudzinski.
The Panthers ranked first and second in the league in plays of 20 yards or more during Chudzinskis two seasons in Charlotte. This season the Panthers rank 31st with 24 such plays, one spot behind winless Tampa Bay and ahead of only Arizona.
At some point that explosiveness is going to have to come back Billick said. Cams going to have to make some of those plays that he made so well the last couple of years, which you can do when youre 5-11 and 6-10. What am I going to do, throw another interception? Who cares? Were making plays.
Well, now theres a price to pay. So he is being more judicious. If he can get to that next step where he can get more of those big plays without creating the turnovers, now youre going to be something special.
Person: 704-358-5123; Twitter: @josephperson
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