Thomas Davis’ Versatility Showed in NFC Championship vs the Cardinals

One of the biggest reasons for the Carolina Panthers’ success this season was due to the play of 32 year old linebacker Thomas Davis. It was his well rounded skill set in run defense, pass coverage, and even rushing the passer in Sean McDermott‘s defense that was showcased in the Panthers’ victory over the Arizona Cardinals. In this breakdown, we’ll take a look at his performance in the first half before he broke his forearm halfway through the second quarter.

Before I begin, if you haven’t read my other two breakdowns from this game check them out:

The first aspect of his game we will look at his run stopping ability. In the NFC Championship game, Davis totaled 6 tackles with two for a loss.

Run Defense

Play 1 – This first play we will look at happened in the second quarter with 11:47 remaining. The Cardinals run crack toss power to the right pulling the center and the right tackle around the wide receivers. “Crack” refers to the crack-blocking of wide receivers’ Larry Fitzgerald and Jaron Brown, “toss” is self-explanatory, while “power” involves the pulling of two offensive lineman* around the edge to lead block for David Johnson.

*Note: Power running plays are run from different formations involving two offensive lineman, one lineman and one fullback, or even one offensive lineman like in the Patriots’ One-Back Power.


Immediately after the snap, Thomas Davis is already moving forward reading the flow of the blocks while recognizing the play. He stutters behind the pulling of the center and the right tackle before accelerating his way into the backfield for the tackle for loss.

Why was he so unblocked here? His timing of the snap and burst through the hole combined with Larry Fitzgerald’s hesitation to block him led to Johnson getting blown up in the backfield.


Play 2 – Here is his other tackle for loss. In this play, left guard Mike Iupati blows his assignment allowing Davis a free lane into the backfield.


Play 3 – The last run defense example I’m going to leave you with is a much more routine and less sexy play. It is important that he can capitalize on mistakes like in Play 2, but it is even more important that he can play in the confines of this defensive scheme.

Pre-snap Davis is responsible for the strongside A-gap, but he flows to his left (offensive right) after the snap reading the play. He attacks the line of scrimmage to take down Johnson for a minimal gain. Pay close attention to #99 Kawann Short manhandle two of the Cardinals’ blockers. Excellent trench control to hold his ground.


The Wildcat? Come on…

Pass Coverage

When Davis isn’t stuffing the run, alongside fellow linebacker Luke Kuechly, he mainly drops into zone defense over the middle of the field in a hook/curl pattern. Outside of that, he is trusted to cover some tight ends in man-to-man coverage.

Play 4 – This first play happened 12:52 remaining in the first quarter. #58 Davis is lining up directly over TE#85 Darren Fells and blankets him in man-to-man coverage. Watch the endzone view closely as Davis sits at Fells’ hip in perfect trail technique taking him out of the play.

A large portion of credit definitely goes to nose tackle #98 Star Lotulelei who gets inside the pocket through the strongside B-gap with an excellent rip move. This forces Palmer to move up inside the pocket allowing the other defensive lineman to strip-sack him.


Play 5 – The Panthers are in Cover 4 with Davis responsible for the sideline zone at the bottom of your screen. He is late to the ball since he chips Fitzgerald on his route, but is still able to limit running back #31 Davis Johnson to a short gain at the sideline on his quick-out route.


Play 6 – In this last play, Davis starts in between the hash marks and instantly flows towards the sideline after the fake handoff sniffing out the screen. He is able to dive at the feet of Larry Fitzgerald holding him for a minimum gain as #20 Kurt Coleman finishs the tackle. Excellent display of speed coming for a 32 year old veteran with three torn ACLs.


Pass Rush

While many weakside and inside linebackers are not used in blitz packages or are only used to attack the A-gap, defensive coordinator Sean McDermott trusts Davis to rush from the edge as well. This was the biggest surprise to me while doing this breakdown.

Play 7 – The Panthers drop into a Cover 4 fire-zone blitz where Thomas Davis and Cortland Finnegan rush off of their respective edges, while #59 Luke Kuechly and #97 Mario Addison drop into zones. The pressure was too much for Palmer who throws it behind Michael Floyd on his out-route.

Watch as Davis is able to avoid the cut-block of the running back to get in Palmer’s face. This is also what keeps him in the pocket so he can’t buy time scrambling to his right to throw a better pass.


Play 8 – The second example I’m going to use is on a fake end-around WR pass by Fitgerald in an attempt to catch the Panthers off guard. It must be noted that this play happened exactly one play after the Cardinals broke out the Wildcat in Play 3… So obviously this play was destined to succeed.

Although Davis actually misses the tackle on Fitzgerald, he did an excellent job of knifing his way into the backfield to apply pressure.


It’s his versatility that makes Davis a valuable and underrated asset in this defense. While he will never be considered “elite”, he’s certainly one of the most well rounded linebackers currently in the game. Out of all the players I will be watching in the Super Bowl this coming Sunday, Thomas Davis and Kawann Short will get most of my attention.

According to ESPN he is still planning on playing in the Super Bowl, while wearing a protective sleeve to protect his forearm. Hopefully for the Panthers’ defense, he will still have the impact he showcased against the Cardinals in the Panthers’ biggest test of the season versus the Denver Broncos.

Follow Samuel Gold on Twitter: @SamuelRGold.

Samuel Gold

Sam founded NFL Breakdowns after working his way through the journalist farm system and is enjoying life in the big league. Growing up outside of Washington, D.C., Sam didn’t choose the Redskins, the Redskins chose him. Out of a love for the game and an insatiable curiosity to determine why his beloved team was underperforming, Sam turned to studying film in NFL Breakdowns.