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Panthers vs Saints defensive preview: The Panthers defense has a very difficult task this weekend

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The Panthers defense has been struggling, and now they’re tasked with slowing down one of the league’s most potent offenses.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers defense has been bad. We touched on exactly how bad it’s been in last week’s preview, and it didn’t get any better on Sunday. The Cleveland Browns averaged 7.7 yards per play- 9.7 through the air and 5.5 on the ground. They had five plays in which the gained at least 25 yards. The Panthers were gifted two turnovers via poor ball security but were only able to stop the Browns from scoring on three of their other eight drives. The Panthers defense had no answers for the Browns.

If the Panthers can’t contain the Browns offense, they probably won’t do well against the Saints. The Browns have been better since they reshuffled the coaching staff, but they’re not the Saints. Drew Brees and company sit seventh in the league in both total yardage and yards per play. They’re second in scoring and fourth in offensive DVOA. They have an MVP candidate at quarterback, and All Pro caliber receiver, and arguably the most dynamic running back duo in the league. There are few, if any weaknesses on this offense.

For the Panthers to have any shot on Monday, here’s what they have to do:

  • Capitalize on Saints rushing attempts. The Saints have become one of the more run heavy teams in the league over the last two seasons, but their efficiency on the ground isn’t what it was last year. They’re averaging 4.1 yards per carry, 23rd in the NFL. Their passing game is as efficient as ever, so the Panthers best chance to get the Saints in unfavorable down and distance situations is to push the Saints back when they try to force being balanced.
  • At least try to make life difficult for Drew Brees and the receivers. The Saints have had 22 plays go for 30 or more yards, twelfth most in the league. That’s a relatively low number for an offense with stats as gaudy as the Saints’. They pick up consistent smaller chunks instead of going for home runs. The Panthers like giving up smaller chunks. The Saints will happily take those and probably won’t make many unforced mistakes along the way. The Panthers need to force the issue and try to pressure the Saints into a mistake.
  • Tackle Alvin Kamara. This was a huge problem in last season’s meetings between these two teams. In the two regular season meetings, the former Volunteer averaged 8.8 yards per attempt and scored three times on just eleven carries. The Panthers did a better job slowing him down on the ground in the playoffs, and instead let him gain 62 yards receiving on just four catches. Ron Rivera’s defense needs to take the best of both those worlds.

The Panthers defense has done little to inspire hope these last few weeks. I don’t know if the Steelers game demoralized them or if it just put together a highlight reel of ways to dismantle this group, but they’ve been unable to contain anybody sense. The Saints have exorcised their road demons and will be looking to make a statement after a pair of dicey performances by their standards. They’ll come out with their hair on fire. It’s tough to see a way the Panthers can make this work, but it’s the NFL, and it’s the Panthers, so anything is possible.