Week 7 Marquee Matchups

Warren Sharp
·6 min read



Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints

The Panthers have lost one game all season by over a TD, and that was week 2 in Tampa Bay, where the Panthers turned the ball over 4 times.

In that game, Carolina punted just twice all game, but threw two interceptions to go with two fumbles. And those turnover were primarily in high leverage situations. They threw an interception at the Bucs 22 and 40 yard lines, removing potential points, and leading drives totaling 10 Tampa Bay points. They fumbled on their own 21 and 28 yard lines, leading to 7 Tampa Bay points.

Teddy Bridgewater was actually dominant save for those interceptions.

He threw for 367 yards at 8.7 YPA, completed 79% of his passes and recorded a 53% success rate. Carolina was very successful on the ground as well (58% success rate on 24 rushes). But the turnovers and the lack of production in the red zone (2 of 4) were the reasons for their failure in covering.

Producing in the red zone will be critical for the Panthers on Sunday.

They have the 5th worst red zone conversion rate in the NFL.

But fortunately for them, they are facing the Saints, who have the NFL’s worst red zone defense. The Saints allow teams that average a 68% conversion rate on the season to record an 85% rate against them. That’s a -17% variance, worst in the NFL.

The problem with the Saints Defense in 2020 is they are at their worst in high-leverage situations. While they rank 15th against the pass, 4th against the run and 8th overall, they rank 26th on third downs and 32nd in the red zone.

In Carolina’s last 5 games, they’ve played 4 defenses that ranked top-11 in red zone defense and then the Falcons. If the Panthers Offense can take advantage of these high leverage situations, they could set themselves up to score enough to cover this number.

On the other side of the ball, the Saints have seen a lot of success against the Panthers, winning 4 of their last 5 games. But the Saints are just 1-4 ATS in those games, and have won by over 5 points just once.

Since 2009, the Saints have gone 8-2 SU and 9-1 ATS when playing off a bye when their opponent is not off a bye. 8 of these 10 games went over the total. If playing at home, the Saints are 6-0 SU, ATS and over the total, although they haven’t hosted a game since 2017 and Drew Brees arm isn’t close to 2017 shape, though the extra rest likely doesn’t hurt.

The Saints Offense has played the 7th toughest schedule of opposing pass defenses, and the Panthers pass defense is balling way over their head. Somehow, the Panther pass defense ranks 13th (having played the 7th toughest schedule of opposing pass offenses), making them the third toughest pass defense the Saints will have played on the season.

But the Saints have shifted to a run-first team.

And the Panthers run defense has been their Achilles heel. Carolina ranks #26 against the run despite playing the 5th easiest schedule of run offenses in the NFL.

The last two weeks, the Panthers played run offenses that ranked #26 and #28 in the Falcons and the Panthers. Now they must face the #12 ranked Saints.

The only reasonable run offense the Panthers run defense has played in the last 4 weeks was the Cardinals. Arizona recorded 5.6 YPC and a 57% success rate on the ground, although the bulk of that was done by Kyler Murray (78 yards on 6 carries). Kenyan Drake was held to just 2.7 YPC and a 46% success rate on 13 rushes.

Speaking of high leverage situations, one favors the Saints and that is third downs offensively, where the Saints rank 4th best and the Panthers rank 4th worst. The Panthers Defense has been fine on 3rd down passes (46% conversion rate allowed). But to 3rd down rushes, the Panthers are allowing a 77% conversion rate, which ranks 3rd worst in the NFL.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans

The Titans use some of the NFL’s highest rates of man coverage on early downs (46% vs NFL avg 32%).

This year, the Steelers Offense has dominated man coverage. Look at the Steeler’s offensive splits:

Vs man: 11.1 YPA, 52% success, +0.54 EPA
Vs zone: 4.9 YPA, 42% success, -0.14 EPA

The Steelers will be playing their first game of the season with a full complement of 3-WRs to use in 11 personnel.

They never let Chase Claypool to get full-run until Diontae Johnson was injured. Johnson is back after a two week absence, and WRs have scored 53% of the points allowed by the Titans.

Pittsburgh’s offense is extremely balanced (ranking league average in early-down pass rate ) and ranks 12th and 14th in rushing and passing efficiency respectively.

The Titans are the second worst defense the Steelers have played so far this year. And they’re terrible against the pass where the Steelers throw most.

Pittsburgh is throwing 60% of its passes 0-10 air yards. That’s 6th highest in the NFL. Lots of throws underneath.

The NFL average on these passes is 58% success, +0.18 EPA and 6.2 YPA.

The Titans Defense is allowing 72% success, +0.39 EPA and 7.3 YPA. This is the worst in the NFL.

On the other side of the ball, questions will abound as to how the Titans Offense without LT Taylor Lewan will produce against a stingy Steelers Defense.

The Titans are 5-1 SU, 4-2 ATS and 4-2 to the over when playing defenses that allow under 100 rushing yards per game with Ryan Tannehill at QB.

Steelers Defense has the NFL’s highest blitz rate. Ryan Tannehill averages 6.4 YPA when blitzed vs 8.5 YPA when not blitzed. So getting the ball out quickly will be vital.

Additionally, a coaching point: the Titans run the ball on 63% of first down plays, the 2nd highest rate in the NFL. Steelers are the #2 defense in the NFL vs first down runs, allowing just 2.8 YPC.

Tennessee must break tendency and pass more often on first down to open up the run. The cat-and-mouse coaching matchup will be tremendous, and we should expect a great and competitive game, unlike last week's marquee matchup, as this line has taken sharp money on both sides.