In reeling off 17 consecutive regular-season victories, the Carolina Panthers have proven they can win in many different ways.
Although the philosophy and personnel have dictated a defense and ball-control approach, it was Ted Ginn's ability to take the top off a secondary that set the tone for the Panthers' convincing 38-0 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 14.
Showing more touch with a three-quarters throwing motion on deep balls this season, Cam Newton has significantly improved on throws of 25 or more yards, tossing a league-best eight touchdown passes with a 113.1 passer rating.
Ginn has caught four of those eight touchdowns, tied with Cleveland's Travis Benjamin for the most deep scores this season. If not for a series of egregious drops on wide open plays, Ginn could have seven or eight such touchdowns.
Just how fast is Ginn?
Per Next Gen Stats, he recorded three of the top six speeds in Week 14. Ginn reached 22.44 mph on his 74-yard touchdown, pulling away from Atlanta cornerback Robert Alford, whose 22.60 mph back in Week 5 is tied with Arizona's John Brown for the highest speed by a ball carrier this season.
Here's what else we learned from Next Gen Stats in Week 14:
- Just days after insisting that he needs to "shut up more," Packers coach Mike McCarthy reclaimed play-calling duties versus the Cowboys. The result was a markedly different offense, featuring an increased role for fullback John Kuhn as a lead blocker in a power-running attack. McCarthy rolled out 48 two-back sets, well above Green Bay's season average of 11.0 plays out of that alignment.
The Packers churned out their most rushing yards (230) since January of 2008, opening an efficient misdirection campaign through the air. Aaron Rodgers completed 10 of 12 passes (85.7 percent) for 115 yards, two touchdowns and a 140.5 passer rating out of play action -- all season bests.
- The most fascinating play in that matchup was courtesy of Dallas' ground attack. Rookie guard La'el Collins -- all 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds of him -- channeled Hall of Famer Larry Allen's incredible motor, reaching 18.25 mph after pancake-blocking Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on Darren McFadden's 45-yard scamper. Running stride for stride with McFadden, Collins' max speed was faster than Clinton-Dix's 18.06 on the play.
For comparison's sake, Eddie Lacy's fastest speed in the same game was just 15.63 mph on 148 yards from scrimmage. In fact, Lacy has surpassed Collins' 18.25 mph in only one game this season.
- The Packers weren't the only team adjusting their offense under a different play caller. The Rams got back to power football under new coordinator Rob Boras, using two-tight end sets 30 times for 7.0 yards per play. Deposed coordinator Frank Cignetti had run two-tight end sets a total of 25 times over the previous two weeks, managing just 2.3 yards per play.
Granted a consistent running start rather than getting pounded in the backfield, Todd Gurley was a tackle-breaking machine, reaching open space for six separate runs over 15.00 mph after doing so a combined five times in the previous four weeks. As we recently noted, Gurley's temporary vanishing act was no fault of his own.
- Whereas the Packers and Rams shifted their offense to find a long-lost spark, the Bengals were forced to adjust on the fly following Andy Dalton's first-quarter thumb injury. Play-caller Hue Jackson abandoned his Dalton game plan, returning to a conventional attack with backup AJ McCarron under center. After using "11" personnel just 32 times combined in the previous two weeks, Cincinnati turned to it 42 times versus Pittsburgh.
With a week to prepare, Jackson will open the playbook for McCarron's first NFL start at San Francisco. "We're going to find enough good things AJ can do," Jackson told The MMQB's Peter King Sunday night. "I'm not discouraged. ... This young man will make things happen, good things."
- Khalil Mack and rookie Mario Edwards Jr. have emerged as one of the NFL's most productive edge-rushing tandems over the past month. Mack has nine sacks in his last three games, including five in the final 24 minutes of the Raiders' upset victory over the Broncos. Mack was so disruptive that Brock Osweiler couldn't run Gary Kubiak's trademark offense, completing just one pass via boot action. Osweiler averaged just 10.33 yards per dropback, as Mack and Edwards prevented him from making plays outside the pocket -- the bread and butter of Kubiak's system.