CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WSPA) – The Panthers look to rebound from a loss that snapped a three-game win streak as they travel to New Orleans to take on the division rival Saints on Sunday.
Carolina gets ready for not only a division rivalry, but one in which they’re more than familiar. Teddy Bridgewater was with the team during the 2018-19 seasons, going 5-1 as a starter. Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady was with the Saints from 2017-18 before leading the national champion LSU Tigers in 2019. Both are more than acquainted with Sean Payton and the Saints organization, but even Head Coach Matt Rhule has a connection to Payton as outline below:
After a stretch that yielded three straight wins with limited turnovers, the Panthers reversed course last Sunday in a 23-16 loss to the Chicago Bears. The Panthers committed three turnovers which proved to be the biggest difference-maker in the contest. They had just one giveaway in the previous three games.
But against a stingy Bears defensive front, the Carolina rushing attack that had gained steam ahead of the contest, was halted. Mike Davis was held to just 52 yards on 18 carries, though he did reach the end zone once. He’ll have a chance this week to get back on track as it appears Christian McCaffrey won’t return until as early as week eight. Teddy Bridgewater actually found some room to run through the Bears defense as he tallied 48 yards, but they came sporadically and the Panthers were never really able to establish a rhythm. And because of that, Bridgewater had his worst performance of the season. He completed just 55% of his passes for 216 yards and no touchdowns to two interceptions. Additionally, he was sacked four times, the second-most this season. But Bridgewater has developed a good rapport with receiver Robby Anderson. The duo has connected on forty passes for 566 yards and a touchdown this season. They’ll hope to keep that going this weekend. Bridgewater talks about Anderson’s productivity below:
The defense actually played pretty well against the Bears. A unit that was one of the worst in the league against the run held Chicago to just 63 yards rushing. But the Bears benefitted from great field position off of turnovers. However, Carolina has still struggled to get to the quarterback and they failed to record a sack against the Bears. They have just five sacks all season, remaining at the very bottom of the league in that category. They’ll need to continue building on that run defense as they prepare to take on Alvin Kamara, but they’ll also need to find a pass rush against one of the most efficient quarterbacks of all time in Drew Brees.
New Orleans enters Sunday’s matchup riding a three game winning streak in which they scored at least thirty points per contest.
After a somewhat slow start to the season the Saints have put together a couple impressive outings the last couple of weeks, especially offensively. Alvin Kamara has been the star of the show in New Orleans and has been extremely effective as a rusher and receiver, but his work out of the backfield has been exceptional this season. He has 281 yards rushing and four touchdowns while adding 38 catches for 395 yards and three scores. Even with teams keying in on him, Kamara has been able to take over games single-handedly. And he works well with backup Latavius Murray, who serves a great complement to the elusive Kamara. Murray is a straight-line runner who has a nose for the end zone, but is deceptively adept at catching passes as well.
Quarterback Drew Brees is still playing good football. Although he’s not as prolific as he once was, Brees is still a catalyst for this top five scoring unit. He’s completing over 70% of his passes, and although he’s thrown an interception in each of the last two games he’s also been a vital component to their victories in each, especially last week when he led the team down the field for what became the game-winning field goal in overtime.
The Saints are unlikely to have receiver Michael Thomas returning given he missed Thursday’s practice and incurred a hamstring injury as he continues to nurse his ankle back to health. And late this week the Saints placed Emmanuel Sanders on their COVID-19 list, meaning he will miss Sunday’s game as well. That’s a relief for the Panthers as they have to account for two fewer threats in the passing game. Tre’Quan Smith and Deonte Harris serve as the primary targets with Thomas out. And tight end Jared Cook is one of the more difficult matchups in the NFL with a solid blend of size and speed. He’s a dangerous red zone threat as well.
On defense it starts with defensive end Cameron Jordan. Jordan had a slower start to the year as well, but has heated up the last two weeks registering at least a half=-sack in each game. And he’s been far more impactful against the run. The ten-year veteran has recorded double-digit sacks the last three years, so his low totals so far have been an anomaly. Teddy Bridgewater will have to focus on short, quick passes to tame that threat.
In the secondary Marshon Lattimore has consistently been one of the league’s best corners since being drafted in 2018. His numbers this year don’t adequately reflect his impact on games as he has yet to record an interception. But he’s simply not being thrown to very much. Lattimore has been targeted just 21 times all season, allowing thirteen catches. And when a receiver catches the ball they’re not likely to rack up the yardage afterwards. Receivers have gained just fifty yards after the catch against Lattimore this season.
New Orleans has some key players on defense, but overall they have allowed opposing offenses to convert nearly 49% of their third down conversions. And when offenses get in the red zone, the Saints have allowed a score 85% of the time, second-worst in the NFL.
The Panthers will likely have a tough time slowing down the Saints offense, even with the absence of Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Alvin Kamara is one of the best running backs in the league, and Carolina has struggled stopping the run. Not to mention the quick-hitting passing game of the Saints can hurt a Panthers unit that hasn’t been able to get to the quarterback much this year.
On the flip side, the Panthers have done a great job of running the football and controlling tempo for most of the season. Although the Saints have been quite successful against the run, Carolina has an opportunity to win the battle in the trenches and establish a rhythm out of the gate. That should open up some big play opportunities off of play action as well. And if they can stay out of the turnover column, they can maintain their hold on the time of possession which has been key to their wins this year.
This has the makings of a close, hard-fought game and the Panthers can take some of that anger from last week’s loss into an important divisional matchup. But they’ll need to find a way to slow down Brees and company to have a chance.