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CSR Film Review: How the Saints were able to exploit the Panthers run defense

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The Panthers saw a regression on defense against the Saints on Sunday. How did that happen?

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

After a dominating defensive performance against the Buffalo Bills, the Carolina Panthers regressed heavily on Sunday. The most disappointing outcome, however, was the lethargic display by the Panthers run defense. Despite holding LeSean McCoy to 12 yards a week prior, the Panthers allowed 149 rushing yards to the Saints.

The Panthers outstanding run defense versus Buffalo was the combination of sound fundamentals and excellent gap integrity. The inverse of that performance took place on Sunday. The Saints deserve credit, though. They were able to manipulate the gaps by placing an emphasis on presnap motion.

Presnap Motion

The Saints first rushing attempt was only a 5 yard gain, but the way they motioned some of their pass catchers was a sign of things to come.

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The Panthers are lined up in a 4-3 over. Strong safety Mike Adams is in the box. When Brees motions Tommy Lee Lewis, Shaq Thompson follows.

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Due to the motion and Thompson following, Brees is alerted that the Panthers are in man coverage. Therefore, the run goes to the weakside where the Saints have the advantage. Why is the B gap unaccounted for? If Thompson follows, then Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis have to shift quicker.

The next run was a combination of motion and a deceptive play fake.

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Before the snap, the Panthers have each gap accounted. The Saints fake a screen after the snap, which causes Davis to move away from the playside run.

Kuechly and Davis are intertwined into the same A gap. The B gap to the playside is open. In addition, the tight end has a free lane to lead Adrian Peterson. Peterson bounces the ball outside, but this was a great job of moving the linebackers without getting physical.

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The next run was the first explosive run by the Saints.

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Before the snap the strong side of the formation is to the right. Brees motions Fleener and the strong side is now to the left. As a result, Davis starts shifting to the weakside. The Saints have the numbers, again, to the playside.

The interior of the Panthers defense is expected to be a strength, but the Saints showed their physicality at the point of attack.

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Once again, New Orleans shifts the strong side to the formation with motion. The Panthers don’t shift. The center and right guard combine for a duo block on Kawann Short. He gets driven back. Davis should be targeting the B gap, but he hits the A gap instead. Mark Ingram has an open hole for a nice gain. Taking the correct gap fits are becoming a common theme.

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Brees motions the wide receiver to the weakside, which makes Shaq Thompson follow. Thomas Davis moves to account for the C gap. The Saints center and right guard combine for another duo block. Kuechly anticipates the inside run, but his aggressiveness causes him to over pursue the carry. The A gap is unaccounted by any linebacker. Alvin Kamara has a sizable hole.

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It wasn’t all bad for the run defense. The force or edge players on the perimeter had some issues, but this was a positive. The Panthers communicate well after the motion. The Saints run a pitch to the strong side, but Carolina has the numbers advantage. Daryl Worley quickly approaches Ingram after the toss and forces a tackle for loss.

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This is an example of the force player not executing. Prior to the snap, New Orleans has the Panthers defense running all over. The motion by the wide receiver causes Thompson to follow him. The Panthers had Mike Adams in the box, but he interchanges his role with Kurt Coleman. Coleman is now in the box to the strong side. Brandon Coleman’s block, opens a hole for Ingram. Bradberry is isolated, but as the force player he has to make this tackle sooner.

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The Saints don’t implement any motion on this run, but the Panthers were clearly expecting them to do so. The defensive line shifts to the weakside before the snap, but the Saints run a power concept to the strongside. This was another case of New Orleans having the numbers advantage to the playside.

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Alvin Kamara’s touchdown run late in the 4th quarter was the nail in the coffin for the Panthers. New Orleans is running a wide zone concept to the strongside. Carolina’s linebackers shift with the motion. Davis correctly sets a hard edge, which is exactly what he’s supposed to do on zone runs. The defensive line doesn’t win at the snap, which puts stress on Kuechly. He gets caught reading the wrong gap and he is left chasing. Bradberry is aligned off the line of scrimmage, but he doesn’t read the run quickly enough. He needs to approach the line of scrimmage sooner and execute a “crack/replace” technique to have the run flow outside.

Looking Forward

The pass defense also had a rough day too, but the run defense is expected to be the strong suit. The majority of the explosive runs came when the Panthers were in base defense. Shaq Thompson was moved away from the box, which allowed the Saints to dictate matchups. The Panthers showed commendable effort though, so that’s a positive for the long term. They didn’t show any quit.

The combination of individual breakdowns, scheme issues, and gap fits caused issues. The Panthers should play more nickel with Captain Munnerlyn moving forward. They have one of the best nickel units in the league. Hopefully this is a learning experience for defensive coordinator Steve Wilks. They have to find solutions because they face another hall of fame coach and quarterback on Sunday.

*- Video clips courtesy of NFL.com