New Orleans Saints vs Carolina Panthers — Gus Kattengell’s Preview
The Saints enter week 3 coming off of a home opening 26-19 loss to the Buccaneers. A loss that had salt added to the wound as QB Drew Brees suffered a bruise rotator cuff to his right shoulder. Sunday is the second straight game against an NFC South opponent. New Orleans won at Carolina last season 28-10 on a Thursday night but the Panthers exacted revenge in the Superdome with a dominating 41-10 win.
The game is a big one for the Saints if there are to still entertain post-season hopes. Only 2 percent of all NFL teams since 1990 have started 0-3 have made the playoffs.
HOW THE SOUTH IS WON
Atlanta 2-0 Falcons @ Cowboys Even
Carolina 2-0 Texans @ Panthers -3.0
Tampa Bay 1-1 @ Texans -7.0
New Orleans 0-2 @ Carolina -3.0
Two main storylines strike me as ones that really will be telling about this game and both are about the same position. One is Quarterback.
Drew Brees hasn’t missed a game due to injury since he’s signed with the Saints in 2006, a remarkable stretch. That will end on Sunday.
Cam Newton accounted for four touchdowns in the Panthers 41-10 win in New Orleans. Newton however in the loss at home was just 10 of 28 for a career-worst 35.7 percent completion rate, conversely in the win he completed 63.6 percent of his passes.
So I guess what I’m saying is that these teams go as their quarterbacks go.
McCown is a veteran and knows the playbook and is a more than capable backup. He just isn’t Drew Brees and while that seems obvious point is he’s been a career backup for a reason. McCown can manage the game and needs things to go his way especially with such inexperience at receiver.
The second storyline is about what can be and usually is a quarterback’s best friend, a run game. RB Jonathan Stewart had his second best game as a pro in the Panthers win rushing for 155 yards including going for a 69-yard TD scamper. This season though he has just 118 yards combined that’s just seven more than Cam Newton.
Saints running back Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson have not hit the 80-yard mark individually and as a team the Saints are just averaging 79 yards on the ground. The Panthers are averaging 138 yards on the ground through two games.
Carolina is looking for their best start in 12 years coming off of a 24-17 win over the Texans in Charlotte last week. The Panthers are banged up as well as it seems many teams around the league are having to deal with the walking wounded. Wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was lost to a season ending knee injury in training camp and one of the best middle linebackers in the game Luke Keuchly is still trying to recover from a concussion suffered back in the season opener. Carolina’s defense hasn’t really missed a beat as they’ve allowed just 17 points over six quarters.
Carolina started last season 2-0 but then followed that by going 1-8-1 but then finished winning their last four and their second straight NFC South Title.
PLAYER THAT NEEDS TO HAVE A GOOD GAME ON OFFENSE
I normally name a player here but the whole group gets it this week and it’s the offensive line. Right tackle Zach Strief apologized to Brees for his play and allowing his guy to lay the hit that hurt the quarterback. RG Jhari Evans missed the first two days of practice this week with an ailing knee and is now out for the game. Center Max Unger appears to be trying to help out an aging right guard and not a very good one in left guard Tim Lelito. Left tackle Terron Armstead has the added pressure of protecting that blind side.
PLAYER THAT NEEDS TO HAVE A GOOD GAME ON DEFENSE
DE Akiem Hicks. Hicks on Monday said he was benched in the game against Tampa. Payton said if he wants to call it a benching so be it but that he was simply rotating players on the line of scrimmage. Look there is something there. Hicks is in a contract year. Payton is looking for his defensive line to provide some pressure. A message was sent. The Panthers run game must be stopped so as to force Newton to throw the ball something I think the Saints can take advantage of. A big game by Hicks would really help the Saints chances.
It’s a pair of factors for me this week. Penalties and the Defense.
In week one, the Saints were flagged 7 times for 73 yards and last week it was 10 penalties for 115 yards. Historically these two teams play close games and if they do get out of hand it happens thanks to a key penalty to swing the game one way or the other. Holding penalties will be a key to me. The Saints offensive line has struggled the first two weeks and as a result Brees is hurt. McCown doesn’t change my mentality either. You cand expect Carolina to perhaps dial up the pressure to a quarterback that hasn’t played in a regular season game in quite some time.
Carolina is averaging 323 yards, the Saints 384 yards to give you a comparison and all we’ve done is harp on where is the Saints offense. Panthers are averaging 22.0 points per game and the Saints 19.0. The difference is the defense where the Saints are allowing 386 yards to the Panthers 292 yards per game and the Saints have allowed 28.5 points per game while the Panthers have yielded just 13.
The Saints defense has to keep this a close game. Cam Newton is not terribly accurate and if pressured can throw a pick or two. Newton however can and had extended plays for big pass plays down the field and more excruciatingly picked up key first downs on third downs. The Saints defense has to keep those times very few if at all.
HOW I SEE IT
I know the Saints in the locker room are a confident bunch for not having won a game and I commend them for that. A ton of focus this week has been spent on Drew Brees and his ailing right shoulder and I get it. That said, the Saints are not a good football team right now and that is my feeling with a healthy Brees. The offensive line has struggled to pass protect and open up lanes for the running game. It’s been a passing game that has lacked punch, mainly because of the pressure Brees has been under, but it’s a group that’s inexperienced and is still learning on the job.
Carolina is what it is. They are not pretty offensively, score just enough and rely on their defense to provide short fields and punish opposing teams. They know who they are and absolutely don’t fear the Saints as they feel they are the more physical team. I feel that can be enough for this first meeting. Panthers keep the Saints winless 23-13.
***Listen to Sunday's game on Acadiana's Saints Station, 97.3 The Dawg. Pregame starts at 10am with kickoff at noon.***