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Saints run offense vs. Panthers run defense: How they stack up

Time of possession could be a key factor in Sunday’s game

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Saints are coming out of a bye week against a Carolina Panthers team that just suffered a tough loss to the Bears. It marks return of Teddy Bridgewater to New Orleans, but it could well be the running game that ultimately determines the winner of the Saints’ showdown with the Panthers.

This game features two marquee running backs playing on massive extensions: Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey. With that being said, the key to the Saints’ running game this season has been Latavius Murray, who is just 18 yards back of Kamara on the season.

This game has an interesting bit of serendipity, as the Panthers are 18th against the run — giving up 121.7 yards per game — and the Saints are 18th in rushing at 115 yards per game. Shaq Thompson and Tahir Whitehead have been strong against the run at the first level, but safety Jeremy Chinn leads the team in tackles at 49.

The Saints still appear to be figuring out how Kamara and Murray will work in tandem, but progress seems to be being made. The blueprint is the Lions game in Week 4, in which Kamara had 19 carries and Murray had 14. That seems like a good ratio for the Saints to strive for.

Terron Armstead’s status will also be a key factor for the Saints. The tackle appears to be battling a hand injury that kept him out of practice on Wednesday and limited him on Thursday, but it’s likely he’ll still play.

For the Panthers, the key will be push. The defensive line has been susceptible to good offensive lines, but it has made great strides. Analyst Brian Baldinger had an excellent breakdown of how the Panthers’ line has begun to improve.

I guess in talking about the Saints’ running game, you also have to talk about Taysom Hill at quarterback. The Panthers haven’t really dealt with the read option this season, but they may actually be candidates to overpursue due to their youth. The Saints would need to be clear on the mesh point for it to work, but an important point here is that the Saints need to stop using Hill on 3rd and <4. It limits the team.

Time of possession and winning first and second down will be huge for this game. The Panthers struggle on third downs, they’re 29th in the league, giving up just over 50 percent of third downs to opponents.

The Saints will need to be consistent on the ground to be successful. When you face off against a young defensive line and you let them get into a pass-only mindset, they become infinitely more dangerous. The Saints can take advantage of that mentality, and that will come by running early and often. Expect to see the Saints go with a lot of first down runs in the first half. Kamara has killed the Panthers in the past, and look for him to continue to do so.

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