CHARLOTTE – The Panthers have been doing some pretty remarkable things immediately after halftime - and just before halftime - on both sides of the ball this season. Here's a look at how on-the-fly adjustments have helped from the coordinators' perspective and how important adjustments will be this week at New Orleans.
OFFENSE: The Panthers were in a tight game last Sunday against Tampa Bay before scoring a touchdown to close the first half and open the second half.
"We didn't start off quite as fast as we wanted to, but we got better as the game went on," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. "I think the biggest things for us offensively were the scores right there at the end of the half and at the start of the third quarter. That really helped us."
That's nothing new.
The Panthers have scored 8-of-12 times on their opening drive of the second half this season, including six touchdowns. And if you don't count kneel-downs in the final seconds as possessions, they've scored on 9-of-12 drives to close out the first half, including seven touchdowns.
How good is that? On 24 drives on either side of halftime, Carolina has totaled 103 points, or 4.3 points per possession. On their other 95 drives (not counting the three first-half kneel-downs or six victory-formation drives), the Panthers have totaled 182 points, or 1.9 points per possession.
The Saints are renowned for their two-minute offense, and the Superdome crowd noise will make it that much more difficult for the Panthers to execute in two-minute situations. They'll have to adjust at times by using visual rather than verbal signals and will prepare in part by piping artificial crowd noise into practice this week.
"Doing that in practice helps you get used to it so that the first time you hear the crowd noise isn't Sunday," Shula said. "It's going to be loud. It's something we've got to prepare for."
DEFENSE: The offense's success coming out of halftime has been more than matched by the defense. Opponents haven't scored a single point in the second half in four of the Panthers' last five games.
Credit in part goes to halftime adjustments made by defensive coordinator Sean McDermott and his staff.
"We just really access the game at that point, nothing really magical," McDermott said. "We access what our plan is and what their plan seems to be at that point in the game, and we make the appropriate adjustments.
"The coaches do a great job of getting me timely information, and then the players are very coachable and have their ears wide-open at halftime and are able to make those adjustments."
Any changes have to be made in a tight window. Halftime lasts just 12 minutes, and McDermott has to make his way down from the press box to the locker room (and back up).
"We talk as a staff first and then go to the players, so maybe five minutes total between the staff and the players. Then the two-minute warning comes in, and I'm back racing up to the press box," McDermott said. "If it's not working, you better do something different. Fortunately for us, we've just had to make some tweaks along the way."
Indeed, the defense hasn't merely been good out of halftime. The Panthers lead the NFL in scoring defense, yielding 13.1 points per game, and rank second in total defense with 289.8 yards allowed.