The Carolina Panthers offense and defense have switched roles in a sense over the last few weeks. For much of the season, the Panthers defense was deadweight that held back an above average. Lately, the defense has played reasonably well—aside from a stinker against the Broncos—while the offense has floundered. Momentum is overrated, but it would be nice for this young defense to finish the season strong as a foundation for future seasons.
Before we get into the preview, I know from a fan’s perspective, it’s easy to root against the Panthers on Sunday. Long term, it probably behooves them to lose this game for draft positioning. DBelt talked about this conundrum in his offensive preview, and the same predicament exists on the defensive side of the ball. But that’s a fan’s perspective. The Panthers are going to try to win this game on both sides of the ball, so we’re going to look at how they can do that on the defensive end. Here’s what we’ve got:
- Cover underneath. This has always been a key to stopping the Saints. Drew Brees has always been the checkdown king, but that’s especially true this season. Brees averages 6.2 air yards per pass attempt, second lowest in the league. His average pass lands 2.4 yards short of the first down marker, fourth lowest in the league. Brees looks like he’s struggling to throw the ball more than 15 or 20 yards in the air, and father time seems to finally be catching up to him. The Saints are relying heavily on short passes, especially to Alvin Kamara, which leads us to our next point.
- Get Alvin Kamara on the ground. After a down year of sorts last season, Kamara has returned to peak form. He’s racked up 1,688 yards from scrimmage and a league leading 21 touchdowns after a six touchdown performance against the Vikings, and it should’ve been seven if Sean Payton didn’t have to make sure his boy Taysom Hill got himself a touchdown. Anyway, Kamara likes to do this thing where he doesn’t fall down when people hit him. The Panthers need to gang tackle and wrap up, else Kamara will slip away and pick up huge chunks of yardage like he did in the first meeting between these two teams, when he finished with 148 total yards on 22 touches.
- I guess maybe watch out for Taysom Hill gadget plays. As alluded to above, Sean Payton loves him some Taysom Hill, especially when he gets within scoring range. The Saints like to give him a few weird wildcat plays per game that sometimes work and sometime don’t. I’d like to see the Panthers make them not work because I find the obsession with Hill weird and annoying. I don’t want to hear about it all day on Sunday.