The New Orleans Saints week 3 matchup with the Carolina Panthers could be more interesting than initially expected, and it primarily revolves around this specific matchup. You have one of the better running backs in the league when healthy in Christian McCaffrey, vs one of the most proficient run defenses in the league over the last five seasons. In this article, I will cover the Saints’ past against the Panthers in terms of run defense, and then what we should expect this season based on that information and current statistics.
Christian McCaffrey vs Saints’ run defense
The Saints’ defense has been somewhat on and off with defending Christian McCaffrey over the 5 years he has played against them. Over this span of time from 2018-2021, he has played in 7 of a possible 10 matchups, however, has only played in 1 of the last 4. In his last 3 games against New Orleans, he has had 4 touchdowns total, 3 on the ground and 1 receiving, as well as a very low yards per carry in this span of roughly 2.9. In his career, he has been held to 265 rushing yards (37 per game approximately) and 3.2 yards per carrying average.
In the receiving game he has had slightly more success, but not a significant amount. He has 429 receiving yards against the Saints (61 per game average) and a 9.8 yards per reception average, on 44 receptions. He has certainly been one of the more effective backs against the Saints’ front 7 in the last half-decade, but all in all, that is not saying a lot considering their success at preventing the rushing attack in that span.
What to expect in week 3 from this matchup
Now we can move into the present and focus on how CMC has performed so far this season, as well as the Saints’ run defense. Through 2 weeks, the Panthers have had a very efficient run game, with a decently high yards per carry average (4.8 - tied for 10th) but a low overall yards amount (200 - 21st). This efficiency will be a huge test for New Orleans, as they were struggling to contain Cordarrelle Patterson in week 1, giving up 120 yards on the ground and a touchdown that week. However, in week 2, they held Leonard Fournette to 2.7 yards per carry, with 24 attempts for 65 yards and 0 touchdowns.
In terms of league stats and how the Saints’ run defense fares amongst the others, they have allowed the 11th most rushing yards this season at 273, but also the 9th lowest yards per carry at exactly 4. What this tends to show is that despite allowing quite high rushing yard totals, this is primarily due to usage, as both Fournette and Patterson broke 20 carries with 24 and 22 respectively.
Now, what to expect? The issue with predicting this matchup is the limited sample size we have had so far, especially with Christian McCaffrey. Both of these units have had their ups and downs, and both thrive on their ability to create or take away rushing efficiency. The key for New Orleans will be keeping CMC inside the tackles, which is easier said than done, but having Pete Werner and Demario Davis, as well as Tyrann Mathieu to range across the field, should help in living up to this difficult task. I would say expect CMC to have a pretty usual game for himself against the Saints, somewhere between 60-90 rushing yards on sub-20 carries, and about 50-80 receiving yards. The idea will be limiting him, not stopping him, the good old “bend don’t break” mentality. Keeping him out of the endzone, which the Saints have shown they can do before, will be the major deciding factor in this matchup.