Breaking Down the Data: Saints vs. Panthers

Sep 16, 2012; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) with the ball as New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) defends. The Panthers defeated the Saints 35-27 at Bank of America Stadium . Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

After an unsightly performance against Tampa Bay, the Panthers Offense returned to form against the Saints. Sean McDermott and the Defense dueled against Pete Carmichael and the Saints Offense all afternoon, performing admirably, ultimately securing the victory for the Panthers. As one could expect, the Offensive play calling was much more balanced this week, as the Panthers were able to move the ball through the air and on the ground.

Some facets of the Panthers Gameplan from last week wiggled their way into this Week 2 matchup. We saw a bevy of read option plays on offense, and on defense, plenty of deep zones and scarcely any blitzes.

The Raw Numbers:

-The Panthers Offense ran 61 plays on Sunday (minus one kneel down).

-Coach Chudzinski called 24 passes and 37 runs.

This number is a little skewed as 14 of the last 16 plays were called runs.

-As usual, the top personnel grouping was 11 personnel: 42 total plays (19 passes; 23 runs).

-In a surge, the Panthers utilized 12 personnel on 15 snaps (4 passes; 11 runs).

Perhaps as a holdover from last week, Chud frequently played 2 TE's. However, this week Gary Barnidge saw playing time; typically running routes, rather than blocking an edge rusher.

-Once again, the Panthers Offense used 21 personnel sparsely: 4 plays (1 pass; 3 runs).

This usage is much different than what we saw in the preseason, and could be a byproduct of the offensive line's play.

-After achieving a first down, Coach Chudzinski called 4 passes and 14 runs.

After addressing the woes from last week, the Panthers decided to try and avoid 2nd and 3rd down and long.

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-The Defense was on the field for 76 plays (minus one kneel down).

*Disclaimer: Raindrops muddled some of the defensive numbers .

-On 26 snaps, McDermott called man coverage, while on 51 snaps, McDermott called zone coverage.

This number is skewed as the Panthers played prevent zone defense on the final 20+ plays.

-Due to the Saints final two drives, the most popular formation for the Panthers Defense was the 4-2-5, in which the Panthers played 30 snaps (Man: 3; Zone: 27).

-McDermott called 26 plays out of the 4-3 (Man: 14; Zone: 12).

-The Panthers played 17 snaps in the base 3-4 (Man: 8; Zone: 9).

-The 3-3-5 made some appearances in the second half; 7 snaps (Man: 1; Zone: 6).

-During the first half, the Panthers primarily operated out of 4-3 man defense on the first play of each Saints possession.

-The Panthers Defense did not succeed in keeping the Saints in 3rd down and long (3rd & 7+).

Almost all of the Saints third down plays came from third down and medium or short (3rd & 1-6).

-The Defense did not blitz very much, however, a majority of the blitzes came on third down and medium (3rd & 3-6).

Gameplan:

Offensively, the Panthers Offense looked to establish the run, running different dive plays, and a gaggle of off tackle runs. On first down the Panthers wanted to pick up yards in order to manufacture manageable first down conversions. Additionally, we saw a return to the read option; the option was successful this week in hesitating the Saints LB's. In order to exploit the Saints 'off and soft' coverage, as well as their fear of Steve Smith, the Offensive Coaching Staff often aligned the Panthers WR's in trips coverage, affording single coverage to Lafell and Murphy, who were able to find holes in the Saints coverage. Much like last week, many of the Panthers routes came on curls or crossing routes that allowed the Panthers WR's to cut through the Saints' zones. After sucking the New Orleans DB's in on runs and option plays, the Panthers were able to hit receivers on 7 & 9 routes for deep gains. Coach Chudzinski has continued to utilize 12 personnel in order to aid the offensive line, by either providing an extra blocker on runs, or a 'chip' on passing downs.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers wanted to contain the Saints WR's, and minimize big plays with zone coverage, operating Cover 2, Cover 1, and Cover 3, so as to prevent stagnancy and predictability. The Panthers made a concerted effort to dissuade the run game, and keep the Saints in third down and long. However, the Saints were largely able to keep third downs manageable, in part due to screen passes and check-downs to Darren Sproles. When in man coverage, Brees was able to find Jimmy Graham or Darren Sproles being covered by an outmatched LB. McDermott did not dial up many blitzes, however, when a blitz was called, the pass rushers were able to reach, or at least pressure Drew Brees. The threat of a blitz allowed the Panthers to feign blitz and drop 7-8 men into coverage, with regularity. Furthermore, by rotating defensive lineman throughout the game the Panthers were able to keep their pass rushers fresh, and when going against the tired Saints O-Line, the Panthers achieved pressure with only 3-4 rushers, a key reason the Defense was able to hold on.

Looking to Next Week:

The Giants run a very similar offense to the Buccaneers, so I expect that we'll see a similar gameplan: zone coverage to contain the WR's, and scarce blitzes to keep the Giants guessing. The Giants have largely abandoned their running game, and (possibly) without Ahmad Bradshaw, they'll live or die by the pass.

With such limited time to prepare, no new material will be installed on either offense or defense. Offensively, expect to see a continuance of the read option, a scheme the Giants have not seen yet. Yet with the Giants fearsome pass rush, expect to see plenty of runs, as well as 2 TE sets to help the Offensive Line.

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