Panthers-Saints preview

This is usually one of my most anticipated games of the year because the Saints are a team that the Panthers always to manage play well against no matter how their season is going. It’s not looking like that’s going to be the case in their Week 4 matchup since the Panthers are playing some bad football this year and the Saints still look like a good team. Getting a victory here is highly unlikely and most people are already marking us at 0-4 to start the year. While I sort of agree with them, I don’t think the Panthers pulling an upset here is terribly out of the question. We are going to need to see a completely different team than the one that’s showed up for the first three weeks, though.

The Panthers and Saints are almost polar opposites this year. Saints have a very potent offense while Carolina has the 2nd worst in the league. The Panthers offense is built on running the ball while the Saints are primarily a passing offense. The Saints are coming off a Super Bowl season while Carolina is in the middle of a painful rebuilding period. All signs point to a Saints victory but the two teams are usually competitive when they play each other so I’m hoping things don’t turn into a blowout in favor of New Orleans.

Matchups:

Panthers passing game vs. Saints pass defense

Might as well be straighforward, the passing game has looked awful. There were some signs of improvement in the second half of the Bengals game but we are still struggling to turn big plays into points in the passing game. Jimmy Clausen has done a decent job at getting first downs on short passes to guys like David Gettis and Mike Goodson but there haven’t been a lot of big plays. Steve Smith has been vocal in expressing his frustration with the struggles in the passing game. There’s no doubt that Clausen will try to get the ball to him more but defenses are swarming him now and it’s hard to get him the ball when he’s double covered. The Saints will be no different and Smith will likely be covered by Tracy Porter with Malcolm Jenkins assisting him.  That doesn’t bode well for his chances unless he can find new ways to get open like he has before. That said, the Saints passing defense has shown a lot of holes these first three weeks and they’ve been giving up a lot of yards to tight ends in particular.

Outside linebacker Scott Shanele has been getting burned by tight ends all season and was destroyed by Tony Gonzalez last week. That leaves a door open for Dante Rosario to have the breakout game I’ve been hoping to see. The problem is that Rosario isn’t nearly as good as Tony Gonzalez…or Vernon Davis for that matter but the Saints have shown a weakness in their D for covering tight ends. If Clausen can get the ball to him enough, I think we could see a big game from him. That’s a big if, though. Rosario’s been targeted a lot of times int he past and didn’t make the most of his opportunities.

Panthers offensive line vs. Saints defensive line

What’s funny is that I had no worries about this line going into the season and now it’s my biggest concern. I didn’t see Jeff Otah being out for this long or Mackenzie Bernedeau playing this bad in his place. To make matters worse, Travelle Wharton might be out for this game which isn’t good. We did sign Chris Morris this week to help out but he’s only decent at best from what I’ve read. They are going to have their hands full again as they go up against a stout Saints defensive line. Bernedeau might be matched up with Sedrick Ellis, who already has 2 sacks this season so there is going to be a lot of pressure on him. Hopefully Ryan Kalil can help out a bit and double team him if he’s too much of a problem. Other players to watch out for are defensive end Will Smith and tackle Anthony Hargrove who will be tough to deal since they are the Saints best pass rushers. I have a lot of faith in Jordan Gross to hold him off but if Wharton misses this game then there’s going to be a lot of problems.

Panthers running game vs. Saints run defense

So..the Panthers running game hasn’t lived up to the hype this year. I blame the playcalling but I’m accepting the fact that Jonathan Stewart’s injury is still lingering and he’s not at 100%. DeAngelo Williams has still looked great when the ball is given to him and he only had 10 carries last week. Jeff Davidson and John Fox need to mix up the playcalling a little more if we want to have any success with the run game. Constantly running up the middle isn’t going to work against this Saints D. Remi Ayodele’s job is to stop the run and Turner had no luck getting anything going against him last week. Notice that Turners biggest runs came to the outside.

The Saints defense is the third worst in the league in terms of rushing yards per game so it could be a chance for Williams and Stewart to finally break free but that’s what I said in the Bucs game and it didn’t happen.  The offensive line needs to be better, obviously but I think we should try more counter plays and sweeps with Williams. It’s worth a shot. My worry with that is the Saints have a speedy linebacking corps that plays very physical against the run but Michael Turner still got 100+ yards on them. If Double Trouble can do the same then I will be very pleased.

Saints passing offense vs. Panthers pass defense

If the Panthers want to have any shot in this game, they will need to find a way to slow down this Saints passing attack. When I say “slow it down” I mean try to get in Drew Brees’ face or force him to throw a pick or two. That’s easier said than done since he is one of the most accurate QB’s in the league. He’s had a few blunders this season but he is capable of having a 400+ yard game against this Panthers secondary. That huge game Lance Moore had last week could be a fluke but I’ve seen him do that plenty of times in the past so the Panthers need to be weary of him. They are also going to have their hands full with Devery Henderson, Marcus Colston and Robert Meacham. If the coverage is anything like it was against the Giants then we’re in trouble, if it’s like it was against the Bengals then there’s a chance. We will be depending a lot on our linebackers and safeties to help us out in these situations.

Safeties Charles Godfrey and Sherrod Martin need to be at their absolute best this week. Godfrey played very well last week so if he can take advantage of any mistake he sees Brees make, then things might go in our favor. Martin has shown good speed and power so I think he might be able to at least keep the receivers in check. How our corners will play worries me. I trust Chris Gamble to at least make it difficult for Colston to get any room but Richard Marshall and Captain Munnerlyn both have struggled so far and Brees can eat them alive with the weapons he has. That’s where the safeties and linebackers need to come in. If the two of them keep struggling then we could see Jon Beason and James Anderson drop into coverage to help a bit. I’m not sure how many corners we’ll have active or what kind of coverage we’ll have (I think we’ll stick with the cover 2 but it could change) but I just hope it works. The defense has kept us in all three games this year and needs to continue to do so.

Saints offensive line vs. Panthers defensive line

I always felt the Saints have a fairly underrated offensive line and it’s played pretty decent so far. The Panthers front four still hasn’t been able to establish a decent pass rush so it might be a fairly easy game for them. The one weak link I see in New Orelans’ line is the left side. Jermon Bushrod and Carl Hicks have both struggled this season. It’s what the Falcons did and they got to Brees a couple of times. We need to do the same thing but I think Bushrod might have an easier time with Everette Brown than John Abraham. I’ve seen a few good things from Brown this year but I want to see him get in the backfield more, a sack or two would be nice as well. Brees is playing on a bad knee so the Panthers will definitely target that but I have to think the Saints O-line are going to be at their best to protect Brees at any cost.

Saints rushing game vs. Panthers run defense

I don’t know how much of a factor this will play because the Saints don’t run the ball a lot. They’re going to run even less with Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush hurt, that and Chris Ivory’s debut wasn’t a good one. I think the Panthers have done a good job at stopping the run for the most part. Beason and Dan Connor always do a good job at sniffing out running backs before they can get any momentum. I think the Saints might got to Ladell Betts a little more this time if Thomas doesn’t play. Regardless, the Saints running backs have done their damage in the passing game through screen passes, so our linebackers will need to detect those quickly and bring them down before they can get any ground.

What I Want To See:

– More big plays from Brandon LaFell. He’s had a couple of these this season but if we can get him to be more consistent then that would be amazing. He’s got the talent to be a #2 receiver but he’s still only a rookie.

– No turnovers. We already have 12 this year, that leads the league by a ridiculous margin. I especially want to get rid of the fumbling.

– A TD pass from Jimmy Clausen. He’s long overdue.

– Use the running game to eat up the clock. That’s one reason why the Bengals beat us, they ate up the clock with Cedric Benson and kept drives going with short 3rd down conversions. The running game obviously needs to get going for this to happen but you have to control the TOP game if you want to beat the Saints. Keep the ball out of Brees’ hands.

I’m going to be honest/unprofessional for a second, I hate the Saints. A lot. Just seeing the words “Who Dat” make me cringe. Getting a win against them in New Orleans would make me a very happy man on Sunday but I would also be very please if I see a better effort from this Panthers team, as well. Truth be told, if we score more than 21 points, then I’m going to consider it a victory and be happy even if we win or lose.

Prediction: Panthers 21 Saints 17..In my dreams

Saints 31, Panthers 24

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