The Panthers defensive line put together a solid performance led by Mario Addison and Kawann Short who each had a sack and two QB hits. Defensive ends Charles Johnson and Kony Ealy contributed with one QB hit of their own. The Panthers front four was constantly collapsing the pocket and the impressive part was they were able to do it without sending many blitzes. Most of the pressure came when they were only sending their four down linemen.
They also improved in shutting down the Saints run game and specifically Mark Ingram. During their first matchup, Ingram was able to pick up 100 rushing yards and scored twice. That number was cut in half with Ingram only able to pick up 48 yards and not able to find the endzone once. The fact that the Saints were trying to play catch-up for most of the game may have contributed to them moving away from the run but all in all it was a much better performance from this group.
It was another strong performance from the heart and soul of the defense, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. The only difference in this game was that they had help around them and the defense really came together.
Kuechly finished the game with seven tackles, one tackle for a loss, and two passes defended while Davis had five tackles and one pass defended. One area that they did a good job in was keeping Jimmy Graham and the Saints running backs in check in the passing game. Graham finished the day with only three receptions for 25 yards while the three running backs (Ingram, Pierre Thomas, Travaris Cadet) combined for only eight receptions and 40 yards.
This was arguably the most improved position group from these two teams first meeting to now. The change from Antoine Cason to Bene Benwikere and Thomas Decoud to Tre Boston made a world of difference. The Panthers secondary was quick shutting down Brees’ targets and were making plays.
Josh Norman’s forced fumble and Benwikere’s interception on the first two series set the tone for this game and put the Panthers in position to grab the early lead. Even Roman Harper, who returned to New Orleans for the first time as a Panther, had a strong game and really provided a veteran presence for these younger players.
The Panthers defense today held Drew Brees to his second lowest passing game of the past two seasons. If this group can play like they did today the last three games, this defense is going to be tough to score on.
Unfortunately it wasn’t all good as the one group that continues to struggle, and it sounds like a broken record, is the special teams. The biggest area of concern is the team’s kick coverage units.
The Saints returned three of the Panthers punts on Sunday and on two of those returns they were able to pick up over 30 yards. The one kickoff return that was returned by the Saints was run back 28 yards.
The coaching staff is going to have to get creative with their punt coverages over the final three games to make sure these types of plays don’t change the outcome of the game.