I feel like a broken record at this point. The New Orleans Saints have still yet to allow a 100-yard rusher since they faced off against then-Washington running back Samaje Perine back on November 19, 2017. They’ve faced some of the top running backs in the NFL since then, including Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley (when he had knees), Christian McCaffrey multiple times, and most recently new stud Josh Jacobs. Not a single one of them has hit the 100-yard marker. This week the Saints get ready to face the Carolina Panthers without Christian McCaffrey, the highest-paid and arguably best running back in the NFL, and the Panthers will instead rely on his backup for most of the carries.
So naturally expect Davis to break that streak this weekend.
While obviously not being Christian McCaffrey, Davis has still been able to contribute to Matt Rhule’s offense in place of the former Stanford product. Since McCaffrey went down in Week 2, the Panthers have run 99 designed run plays, with Davis carrying the ball on 63 of those plays. The next highest on that list is Reggie Bonnafon, with 12 carries. Davis has taken those carries for a respectable 271 yards and a pair of scores, averaging about 4.3 yards/carry in the last four games.
Now, if there’s a spot on the Panthers offensive line for the Saints to attack, it’s the offensive guards. Starting guards John Miller and Chris Reed are tied for 40th among guards in run blocking, per Pro Football Focus, both registering a 55.6 grade so far in 2020 (slightly below average on their scale). This is the weak point on their offensive line, and it’s the reason Davis has averaged just 3.3 yards/carry when trying to run in between the tackles. With the proficiency that the Saints have shown this year in stopping the inside run.
For example, the run shown above. With Panthers knocking on the door of the Chicago Bears goal line in their Week 6 matchup, the Panthers attempt an inside zone run to the left side that gets blown up by our old friend Akiem Hicks (#96) when Hicks manhandles John Miller (#67) and closes what was a wide open hole to the right of the center.
Here’s another run where we see something similar, this time with Reed (#64) getting blown up off the line and the Bears forcing another stop on a goal-to-go situation.
Granted, it’s very unfair to judge on offensive line by how poorly they perform against the Chicago Bears. However with the Saints run defense arguably being the best part of the team so far in 2020, it’s fair to say that they have the firepower on the defensive line to stop what the Panthers will try to do if Mike Davis tries to run into the box.