The Panthers capped their hot streak with a victory in the Superdome, winning five of their last six games.
The Carolina Panthers finished a somewhat disappointing 2012 season with a win against rival New Orleans, concluding the year with a 7-9 record, good enough for second place in the division -a spot several pundits predicted they would take before the season.
I would consider this a signature win for Carolina, and for the Rivera regime: a relatively balanced game plan on offense, that was able to react and counter the Saints defensive measures; a hard-nosed approach on defense, leading to a stunted New Orleans running attack, and decent, if inconsistent, pressure from the front four, backed up by a secondary that guarded against the big play.
Several players had standout days, and through a team effort, the Panthers were able to turn the tide against the Saints, marked by a 28-0 run in the second half, and the survival of the Drew Brees counteroffensive.
-The Panthers Offense ran 75 plays on Sunday (including the final kneel down).
-The run to pass ratio was perfectly balanced; Coach Chudzinski called 37 passes and 37 runs.
The number was skewed, as the final 10 plays were running plays, however the game called was still very balanced.
-The Offense ran 30 plays in 11 personnel (22 passes & 8 runs).
-Coach Chudzinski called 12 plays from 12 personnel (7 passes & 5 runs).
-The Panthers played 14 snaps in 22 personnel (1 pass & 13 runs).
This number was heavily supplemented, as the Panthers ran 9 consecutive plays from 22 personnel, in the fourth quarter.
-The Offense operated out of 21 personnel for 7 snaps (5 passes & 2 runs).
-7 plays were spent in 23 personnel (1 pass & 6 runs) [and three touchdowns!].
-The Panthers had a lot of success in 31 personnel; 2 snaps (1 pass & 1 run).
These two plays, operated out of the inverted T formation, accrued 59 total yards.
-Coach Chudzinski also called 2 plays from 13 personnel (both runs).
-On first down the Panthers ran the ball 16 times, and only passed the ball 6 times.
-The Panthers did have some struggles keeping out of third down and long (3rd & 7+). The Offense had 7 attempts at third and long, however, they were actually able to convert 4 times (57%).
-The traditional-under center running game had it's best day of the year; 23 attempts for 136 yards (5.91 YPC). Even if you remove the outlier, DeAngelo Williams's 65 yard run, the Panthers still had a pretty good day, 22 attempts for 61 yards (2.77 YPC).
-Depending on how you look at it, the read option may have been even more impressive; 5 attempts for 116 yards (23.2 YPC). Once again, even if you remove the outlier, DeAngelo Williams's 54 yard TD run, the read option still had an exemplary day, 4 attempts for 62 yards (15.5 YPC).
-The Defense was on the field for 64 plays.
-The Panthers played 8 snaps in man coverage, and 56 snaps in zone coverage.
-Predictably, the Panthers spent 41 plays in the 4-2-5, nickel defense (Man: 7 & Zone: 34).
-For much of the game, the Panthers primarily spent first down in the 4-3; 14 snaps (Man: 1 & Zone: 13).
-The Panthers played 8 snaps in the 3-4 (Man: 0 & Zone: 8). Additionally, the Defense also played 1 snap in the 3-3-5 (zone coverage).
Offensively, this was more or less what we were looking for all season, a grinding running game capable of moving the chains, and a passing game capable of making the big play, keeping pressure off of the running game.
The patchwork Offensive Line that we've come to know over the past few weeks really stepped up, opening holes for DeAngelo Williams to break off electrifying touchdown runs, and for the most part, giving Cam Newton an appropriate amount of time to dice up the New Orleans Secondary. I would say that their performance exceeds par for the course; it was most definitely birdie for the course.
The plan was to run the ball on first down, largely keeping Carolina in uncompromising down and distance situations. New Orleans played their linebackers exceedingly close to the line of scrimmage, both as a potential deterrent to the running game, and as a way to mask blitz calls. Therefore Chud and Newton were able to hit targets over the middle of the field, using posts and crossing routes. When the running attack began to hurt the Saints (which was pretty early on), New Orleans brought their safeties in closer, stacking the box on several occasions, thus leaving the secondary vulnerable to the deep passing game, on which numerous passes were made.
Cam Newton was able to battle through what appeared to be a serious ankle injury, and after a very brief respite, returned to the game, leading the Panthers to their seventh win of the year. As Mike Martz noted in game, Chud did not set aside the game plan, as Derek Anderson, as serious as ever, was able to move the Panthers into the red zone before Cam's return.
The Panthers got legitimate mileage out of the read option and it's variants, punishing the Saints eagerness to stop the run, which afforded a couple of back breaking big plays. Even when the Offense was not running the zone read, the New Orleans' weak side DE/OLB often enough stayed home, rather than chasing after Williams and Tolbert, and crashing the play.
Defensively, the Panthers went with much the same general ideology that had brought them to this point. On first downs, the Defense usually lined up in a seven man front, either the 4-3, or the 3-4, in an attempt to curtail the opponent's ground game. Carolina was fairly successful in this endeavor, and thus was able to keep New Orleans in fairly straightforward passing situations. Depending on the down and distance, second and third down then brought the standard nickel formation, as Captain Munnerlyn/James Dockery would substitute in for Jason Phillips. As good as Drew Brees is, or any QB for that matter, the odds are not in favor of completing multiple third down and long conversions in succession.
The Secondary held tight. Even as New Orleans transitioned into more three step drops, and quick strikes, the Panthers were largely able to keep Drew Brees from the endzone (that is until late in the fourth quarter).
Looking to next season:
With the players returning from injury, improvement in the trenches, and the continued growth from our young core, I don't see why the Panthers cannot make the playoffs next season.
It has been a pleasure writing these breakdowns for you, I hope you've enjoyed reading them, and I hope they've been helpful when analyzing the team. I plan on writing a summary of all of the data in the coming weeks, so that we may formulate conclusions from some of the statistical tendencies of the 2012 Carolina Panthers.