Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short can’t see many differences between New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees and this week’s opponent, New England’s Tom Brady.
“I mean, other than rings,” he grinned, before stating seriously that the future Hall of Famer will be another tall task for Carolina in Foxborough, Mass., this weekend.
Short expects Brady and the Patriots to use Carolina’s 34-13 loss to the Saints last week as a blueprint against the Panthers. Carolina was overwhelmed by New Orleans, which entered the game ranked near the bottom of the league in defense, both on the ground and in the air.
“We have to be prepared for another team to do what the Saints did,” said Short.
Here’s what Brady will see – and what Panthers coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Steve Wilks saw – on tape this week that the Panthers must rectify:
Why didn’t Carolina stop the run?
Short said that not only were the Panthers not communicating well when defending the run on Sunday, they were also not playing with gap accountability that they had in the first two games.
The Saints rushed for 149 net yards behind a stable of backs, and averaged 5.5 yards rushing per play. Wilks said that the inability to stop the run – the first item on the defensive task list – was the most disappointing of any facet of the loss to him.
“I think the biggest thing right here is that we have to get penetration up front and we have to stay in our gaps,” said Wilks. “The linebackers have to do a better job of playing downhill, playing with their hands, and the cornerbacks, which we have talked about, have to do a better job on perimeter runs.”
Carolina chose to use linebacker Shaq Thompson in their big nickel (or “Buffalo”) package over using smaller nickel Captain Munnerlyn because of their emphasis on defending the run as well as eliminating versatile receivers.
They especially wanted to limit gains on the perimeter, but the defense was inconsistent in that.
When a quarterback capitalizes on disarray...
On the Saints’ fifth offensive play of the game, a third-down-and 8, Brees saw Carolina’s defense lining up in an exotic blitz formation.
“They quick-counted us and they weren’t set,” said Rivera. “That play should have been stopped. That should have been an illegal procedure play. And they caught us still getting into position.”
Rivera said New Orleans’ running back was still moving and Brees’ receivers had just set their feet when the ball was snapped. The play resulted in a 16-yard catch by Michael Thomas.
Wilks implied the defense still should have been ready. Both coaches agreed it was a large momentum-setter for New Orleans.
“It was disappointing. We had the call, we have to get aligned,” said Wilks. “We have to recognize the formation and we knew (Brees) would quick-count. So it was unfortunate that the formation was not set. Again, all of that right there starts with me and we’re going to do a much better job this week in making sure the guys are prepared.”
Rookie mistakes by second-year corners
Carolina’s cornerbacks, James Bradberry and Daryl Worley, have shown vast improvement from their first to their second year in the league, but still made young mistakes Sunday.
According to Pro Football Focus, Bradberry gave up two catches on three passes into his coverage for 56 yards and a touchdown, and Brees had a pass rating of 149.3 when throwing into Bradberry’s coverage.
Worley gave up the game’s first touchdown after battling Thomas and falling down.
“You’d like to be able to stay up, keep your balance and be involved in the play,” said Rivera. Worley also fell for Brees’ signature pump fake later in the game, which led to a big completion, while Bradberry bit on a Ted Ginn Jr. double-move.
“I think it’s just eye discipline, and then understanding the personnel that’s in the game,” said Wilks. “We try to pride ourselves on playing smart. When you look at (Tommylee Lewis and Ginn Jr.), you pretty much know what’s coming.
“So at times, it’s a little disappointing with the double-move, they missed that one. When you talk about a receiver’s ‘bucket of plays,’ you know Ted’s and that’s one of his plays.
“We just have to be smart, keep our eyes on our luggage and be in much better position.”
Secondary bites on pump fake
Rivera mentioned a few separate occasions in which the Panthers’ secondary bit on Brees’ pump fake, including on the second touchdown of the game and on on the play when Ginn Jr. scored his long touchdown against Bradberry.
In the latter’s case, Ginn Jr. got a free release on the line of scrimmage against Bradberry and had a half-step on him, and safety Mike Adams committed to the outside on Brees’ pump fake, so he was late to help in coverage.
All last week, the Panthers’ defense had discussed staying wary of Brees’ pump fake.
“Well, it’s something we knew coming into the game,” Wilks said. “We just have to be a little bit more patient. We use the term, ‘you’ve got to babysit,’ and just buy time. I think we reacted a little too fast at times being a little too influenced by the play-action or the pump fake, which we have to have a little more patience.”
Screen after screen
Wilks said that because of the speed and savvy of both the Panthers’ defensive line and linebackers, the Saints offered misdirection plays and screen plays more so than any other team.
“We just have to do a much better job of really getting off blocks and setting the edge, getting those corners involved so that we can turn (the play) back inside to pursue,” said Wilks. “That’s the most important thing. You want to get it back to population (where the most players are).”
A second week without takeaways
For the second consecutive week, the Panthers did not force turnovers against the Saints. Linebacker Luke Kuechly almost had an interception but it was dropped.
“We have to find ways to take the ball away,” said Wilks. “It’s not about what happens on the other side of the ball. We have to match it.
“The biggest thing, our No. 1 element of our DNA is violence and effort. And if we play with that, we’ll find ourselves causing fumbles, you know, guys running to the ball in great position. So I think the emphasis is just to make sure we’re still playing according to our DNA.”