The Saints and Panthers will face off for the 50th time on Sunday. The Panthers lead the series by only one game 25-24. These two teams have been on opposite trajectories as of late despite both being teams early in the year that were getting some impressive wins with backup QBs. The Saints have won three of their last four while the Panthers have lost three-quarters of their own most recent contests. Some research yielded some interesting patterns in those streaks. Patterns that display a clear path to the Saints securing their 9th win of the season and 25th franchise victory against the Panthers.
Let’s first take a look at the Panthers’ last three losses. I am always very interested in the personnel groupings teams use each game. Which ones in particular, how many different combinations they use, the team’s tendencies from each grouping, etc. I think it is a very telling tool for what teams like to do with their offense week-to-week.
Now before we dive in, a quick lesson on personnel groups; It’s very simple. Basic personnel groupings are referred to by a double-digit number. There are some exceptions, but we’re sticking with common ones for the Panthers – as you’ll learn their offense hasn’t been very diverse.
A very popular grouping is 11 personnel. The two-digit number represents the number of running backs (first digit) and tight ends (second digit) on the field. This gives you the number of skill position players in each formation. So 21 personnel, 2-1, represents two running backs and one tight end. Because there are already five offensive linemen and a quarterback in most occasions (thanks Taysom), that would leave two wide receivers to fill out the eleven-man offense.
Panthers Week 8 Loss at San Francisco (13 – 51)
Personnel Groups Used: Three (11, 12, and 21)
Run/Pass Split: 30%/70%
Against the 49ers, the Panthers only showed three different personnel groupings on offense. That is a very repetitive and predictable rotation, especially with such an outweighed pass/run balance. The lack of diversity continues when you realize that the Panthers marched out 11 personnel 68% of the time, leaving only a 29% and 3% split for 12 and 21 packages respectively. There are a couple of offenses in the NFL that run two or three personnel groups per game, but their offense is predicated on that gameplan – Carolina’s is not. Which is further evidenced by looking at their next two losses.
Panthers Week 10 Loss at Green Bay (16-24)
Personnel Groups Used: Five (11, 12, 21, 22, 13)
Run/Pass Split: 33%/67%
A bit more diversified at first glance but when you see that 11 personnel was run 65% of the time with a 16% share to 12 and a less than 10% elsewhere, it’s clear that Carolina struggled again in this game to keep from getting one-dimensional. That one-dimensionality is what this trend shows is continuously a shot in the foot for Carolina. We’ll talk about why after this last Panthers loss.
Panthers Week 11 Loss vs. Atlanta (29-3)
Personnel Groups Used: Four (11, 12, 21, 22)
Run/Pass Split: 21%/79%
More of the same. You can clearly see a trend here. When Carolina focuses on less diverse looks and produces a pass-heavy approach, they’ve lost their most recent games.The answer for why is simple, Kyle Allen
That’s not to say that Allen is a bad quarterback, he did rattle off four in a row when Cam was first hurt and that’s nothing to dismiss. However, the dependence the Panthers and Ron Rivera have affixed to the young QB is severely hindered when so out of balance with the run game. Especially now that, and here’s the other big factor in his downfall, defenses have multiple games of NFL film to watch on Allen. An out-of-whack offense with no balance and a second-year QB who can now be studied don’t often make for a winning formula.
To further expand this I went ahead and looked at this same criteria in Carolina’s most recent win.
Panthers Week 9 Win vs. Tennessee (20-30)
Personnel Groups Used: Six (11, 12, 21, 22, 13, 00)
Run/Pass Slit: 49%/51%
Six different groupings with 11 personnel taking up a share of only 49%. That leaves a lot more offensive looks a lot more opportunity to catch the defense off-guard. Giving a defense different looks throughout a game is important for an offense as it allows them to spot trends, coverages, and create mismatches. We see the Saints offense do it often. You can also see a much healthier run/pass split for Carolina in their win. In this game, Carolina threw for only 214 yards, but had 2 touchdowns and 1 interception while also piling on 156 rushing yards and a pair of scores on the ground.
Those same stats during their three losses, they averaged nearly the same in passing yardage with 217 per game. But threw only 1 touchdown to 8 interceptions. On the ground they added only 109 yards per game with 2 total rushing touchdowns. Also, Kyle Allen was sacked 15 times over these three games as well. The more the Panthers relied on him without diversifying the offense, forcing him to throw an average of 43 times per game, the worse this team performs.
Now how does that play into the hands of the Saints defense? Their goal all season has been to limit the opposing run game and force QBs, especially young ones, to beat them with their arms. It works, and to a tee at that.
Panthers Percentages Over Three Losses
Personnel Group Usage: 11 – 72%, 12 – 16%, 3 Groupings – < 10%
Run/Pass Split: 28%/72%
Saints Percentages Over Three Wins
Opponent Run/Pass Split: 15%/85%
Vs. 11 Personnel (64% of Defensive Snaps):
Pass: 4 touchdowns allowed, 3 interceptions, 9 sacks, 79.0 passer rating
Pass Success: 45%
Run: 4.3 yards per carry allowed, 0 touchdowns
Run Success: 47%
The Saints, vs. the Panthers’ most used personnel group have seen a split of only 14% run to 86% pass. 11 personnel is one of the most popular groupings in the NFL today, it’s your standard three-receiver set. The Saints play out of a nickel base (five defensive backs), so they match up very well with this pass-heavy scheme. This is why the Saints try to force teams to throw the ball, as you can see by the overall run/pass split they’ve forced over their three losses.
Now on the other side of the coin, this pattern matches further. Not only does what Carolina produces in a loss often fuel a Saints win, but vice versa. Remember that the Panthers’ Week 9 victory against Tennessee shows a healthy balance on offense of 49% run and 51% pass as well as six different looks on offense. Have a look at what the Saints defense faced in their Week 10 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
Saints Week 10 Loss vs Atlanta (26-9)
Personnel Groups Faced: Five (11, 12, 21, 22, 13)
Run/Pass Split: 49%/51%
The exact same run/pass split that lead the Panthers to victory in Week 9, fueled the Saints’ first loss since Week 2 at the hands of a bitter rival.
Patterns and tendencies are important in football, whether you’re in the NFL, a bettor, or just someone that loves to follow the game. What we can look for in this weekend’s matchup with Carolina in New Orleans is a clear indication that the patterns and tendencies that Carolina has shown of late, directly correlate to what New Orleans’ defense does to secure the team’s wins. The Saints will still have to do their part, though. If New Orleans can take force a pass-heavy approach by limiting the run game, the Panthers’ lack of assortment on offense should play right into the hands of Dennis Allen and one of the league’s best defenses.
Top Photo: © Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
Percentages from Sharp Football Stats