A sense of urgency could be felt this week at the New Orleans Saints training facility as players and coaches spoke of disappointment and the need to prepare for an expected battle.
Washington’s 40-32 win left a bit of a hangover effect this past week as questions as to what happened in the season opener were part of the daily media sessions.
Offensively the Saints never were in a rhythm, committed false start penalties at home, and uncharacteristically struggled in pass protections. “It wasn’t up to what we consider our standards,” Saints offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael said on Friday when asked about what went wrong almost a week ago. “We just had to get back to the basics this week in practice and focus on some of the things that hurt us a little bit, some penalties. We ended up struggling on third downs. We had a couple of turnovers.”
The Saints were flagged 12 times for 107 yards, on third down were just 2 for 11 and Saints quarterback Drew Brees was picked off twice and receiver Marques Colston fumbled once. Not exactly the type of numbers we are used to talking about when referring to the Saints offense.
Throw in the 302 yards of passing to go along with a pair of touchdowns that rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III threw against the Saints defense and you can see how it wasn’t a pleasant week.
“We all to a man on defense feel like we let the football team down,” Saints defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo told reporters Friday. “You score 32 points you should win the football game, so we all feel that. I personally feel like I let Mr. Benson down, Sean (Payton), Joe (Vitt), the whole team here.”
As the team was looking to find the answers and make the necessary corrections, attention had to be turned Carolina, the only team in the NFC South division that the Saints do not hold a winning record against.
“This is a divisional game. Carolina is the only team we don’t have a winning record against in the south. They’ve always played us tough,” says Saints linebacker Jonathan Casillas. “It’s always going to be a tough out no matter what record it is, no matter what time of the year it is, no matter how many injuries each team has, it’s going to be a tough game. We’re all preparing for a four quarter or more battle.”
Last season in Charlotte the game came down to a 6:16, 89-yard game winning drive that ended in Brees hitting running back Pierre Thomas for a 6 yard touchdown. The Saints began the drive with 7:06 to play, leaving the Panthers with just 50 seconds to try and tie the game. Saints won 30-27.
“It took sixty minutes to pull that one out in the end,” recalled Brees of last year’s battle in Charlotte. “I think we know what this team is all about. They’re healthy. They’re probably about as hungry as we are right now after their week 1 loss. So we know what to expect.”
A healthy Carolina defense indeed is something to take note of, especially the fact that middle linebacker Jon Beason is back in action. “He’s a stud. He’s one of the best middle linebackers in this league,” Brees said quickly after being asked about Beason’s possible impact in the game. Beason miss both games against the Saints due to a torn Achilles tendon injury last season. “I know they missed him last year you can tell. He’s a great presence on the field. You can tell he is the leader. He’s one of their captains obviously. He’s Very productive, very instinctive. He really has no weaknesses.” Beason last week against Tampa Bay recorded a team high 10 tackles.
“They’re looking good upfront. They’re stout up front” says left tackle Jermon Bushrod. “They got good defensive ends from what I’ve seen. So there isn’t going to be a letdown. It’s going to be another tough division game.”
Carolina is looking to take another step towards become a division contender but putting up just seven points against the Buccaneers was not how team envisioned kicking off the new season.
“Disappointing. We had over 300 yards of total offense. Our quarterback threw for over 300 yards. We just couldn’t get our balance back on the offensive side,” said Panthers head coach Ron Rivera of last week’s offensive performance.” Probably the biggest thing is that we didn’t score when we had opportunities. We got down to the red zone twice and we ended up having to punt. We missed a chance to throw a touchdown pass. We missed a chance to run one in. That’s the frustration more than anything else.”
“I think as an offense we have to come back and start faster. We came out and played lethargic,” Carolina quarterback Cam Newton told New Orleans media this week. “It was different players at different times including myself that were making mistakes. That can’t happen, especially in this league.”
Saints defenders this week expressed the understanding that they expect a hungry Carolina offense. “We know they didn’t play like they wanted to last week versus Tampa,” says Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins. “They’re an explosive offense. We know we have to contain the big play and really make him (Cam Netwon) stay in the pocket and not really buy time.”
“They’re a good team with him (Cam Newton) leading that offense,” Saints defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis says of the Panthers offense. “You definitely have to have all of your assignments down because if one guy is wrong on your defense, Cam will exploit it. We definitely have to be ready for everything that they have including the zone read scheme that we saw last week.”
It’s all about points this week. The Saints offense cannot come out of the gate sluggish. If they have a stretch like last week where they had three of four offensive possessions go three and out, it will be a very long Sunday.
Carolina managed just 7 points but still got 303 yards in the air from Newton and Jonathan Stewart is returning to the backfield this week after missing the Bucs game, giving the Panthers a two-headed rushing attack.
The Saints offense managed just 7 points themselves in the first half against Washington. Something has to give as I do not expect both offenses to struggle against this week.
That said, Carolina’s defense has visions of the 617 offensive yards laid on them in the regular season finale by the Saints a year ago. The Panthers played without six starters in that game and don’t have injury concerns this week. No question after mentioning it to Charlotte media several times this week that side of the ball will go out looking to prove something.
Spagnuolo’s defense has also taken the 40 point performance personally so one would expect the Saints defense to step it up a notch.
Starting to get the feeling this game could become a tug of war? I have gone back and forth all week on this game. Saints, Panthers, Saints, no wait Panthers. 24-23 Carolina unfortunately is what keeps popping in my head. New Orleans is motivated by their performance last week. Carolina has stewed all offseason for some reason on that regular season finale and know an 0-2 start in the division would be a huge hit to any playoff hopes they have.