The New Orleans Saints' 35-27 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday was pretty ugly. In real time, it was enough to make any Saints fan sick. The "All-22" film really didn't make the game any easier to stomach.
At least in the Week 1 game against the Washington Redskins, the Saints looked as if they were schematically capable of defeating the Redskins. It was merely a lack of energy in that contest that prevented them from coming away victorious.
The Panthers game was a different story.
The Panthers played a perfect defense to eliminate big-play opportunities for the Saints. They would drop both safeties and play the corners in bail technique which would prevent any receiver or tight end from getting open deep down the field.
It forced Drew Brees to check the ball down to Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas all day long. The Saints still managed 27 points, and could have easily had more, but the Panthers' conservative approach made life tough on Brees.
Of course the bigger issue was the pressure the Panthers' average front was able to get due to their conservative approach. By running stunts and twists all day, the defensive line was able to take advantage of an offensive line struggling to communicate effectively because it's only been together for two regular season games (though four of the five have been together for over a year, communication between Ben Grubbs and Jermon Bushrod has not gone well so far this season).
But the Saints' ability to run the football against Carolina was quite impressive. Mark Ingram ran well, but it's become apparent that Pete Carmichael and the offense need to run from a few more spread sets when Ingram is in the game. The Carolina game exhibited the Saints' tendency to run from tight sets and bigger personnel groupings with Ingram in the game.
As for Pierre Thomas, the team has a gem. Thomas is lean, mean and strong and has the best balance of any running back on the team. He broke tackles on several of his nine runs on Sunday—that ability led to at least half of his 110 yards on the day.
After watching the film, my original inclination that the Panthers gained most of their rushing yards on base runs proved incorrect. Most of the Panthers' 200-plus rushing yards were actually gained using trick runs.
That fact is enlightening and encouraging in the sense that watching the film shows just how talented the Saints are at almost every defensive position. Even rookie nickel corner Corey White showed a toughness and desire to come up and stop the run. He's not afraid to hit someone.
The Panthers were able to take advantage of an overaggressive front on most of their misdirection runs. By using such trick run plays, the Panthers did what few other teams can do.
When the two teams went head on, the Saints played pretty good run defense.
That said, the Panthers were able to exploit a Saints coverage scheme still learning to communicate, much like the offensive line. Even in man-to-man coverage the Panthers used their speed and talent to make plays in the passing game.
The Saints played pretty good man-to-man coverage, but were beat by the more talented Panthers receivers and perfect throws from Cam Newton. In zone coverage, miscommunication abounded and cost the team a huge gain on a sideline throw to Steve Smith in third quarter.
For some reason, Patrick Robinson, the outside corner on the play, decided to work inside on the No. 2 receiver, instead of staying outside against Smith. That mistake made for one of Newton's easiest completions on the day.
-Cam Jordan is a beast. Not only has he shown an ability to get to the quarterback this season, but his hustle and effort have made him stand out more than any other player on the Saints' defense in the first two games of the year.
-Malcolm Jenkins is being used perfectly this season. Sunday, he lined up in man-to-man coverage, with corner Corey White playing over the top almost like a safety. Though on that particular play Jenkins got caught looking in the backfield and got beat, you have to love Steve Spagnuolo's defensive design to use the versatile safety in multiple looks.
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