Game Preview: Saints at Panthers

Carolina Panthers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WSPA) – The Saints vs. Panthers game is previewed ahead of the NFC South showdown Sunday afternoon in Charlotte.

This is part of a season-long preview series where we’ll break down both teams ahead of the matchup and finish with some ‘keys of the game’ for the Panthers.

New Orleans Saints

It was only one game, but Jameis Winston and the Saints offense sure looked good against the Green Bay Packers. Winston tore through the Packers defense to the tune of five touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 130.8 passer rating. Now, he did this all with fewer than 150 yards passing, and only 14 completions, so this pace is certainly not sustainable. But nonetheless it was an efficient performance from the recent acquisition, confirming the team’s decision to choose him over Taysom Hill to be the starter.

Alvin Kamara is Alvin Kamara. There’s not much to say about the running back that hasn’t already been discussed over the past several seasons. He’s a game-changer, and can beat teams in a variety of ways. He tallied 82 yards on the ground in week one, and scored a receiving touchdown. The Panthers are going to need to account for him on every single play.

If it weren’t for the numbers Winston put up, the Saints defense would have likely been the primary headline following the team’s drubbing of Green Bay. As a unit they shut down Aaron Rodgers as the future hall of famer had his worst every performance. Rodgers was 15-28 for 133 yards and two interceptions before being benched in the fourth quarter. They recorded seven hits on the QB, and sacked him twice. At the end of it all, an interesting fact is that Rodgers would have had a better passer rating if he threw the football in the dirt every attempt. But that’s neither here nor there. I think it’s safe to say both performances were somewhat outliers and things should regress to the mean as the season continues. But the Saints defensive backfield was stout, and Marshon Lattimore did well when shadowing star Davante Adams. Lattimore’s status, however, is in question as of this writing as he recovers from thumb surgery. If he’s not available, that’s a huge blow to the defense, but a big help to the Panthers. They’ve had some other notable players miss practice through Thursday, including defensive end Marcus Davenport, linebacker Kwon Alexander, and cornerbacks P.J. Williams and C.J. Gardner-Johnson.

Carolina Panthers

Overall, it was a fairly slow start for Carolina against a young, inexperienced Jets team. But a win’s a win. And Sam Darnold seemed to become more comfortable as the game wore on. How much will Darnold continue to grow within this offense? That’s going to be the big question mark as they navigate this season. And they’ll need him to continue progressing if they want to contend for the division and even a playoff berth. Darnold finished with a passer rating of 102.0, tossing one touchdown, running for another, while completing 24 of 35 passes for 279 yards. The touchdown to his former Jets teammate Robby Anderson was a highly anticipated connection, and the duo showed that chemistry has carried over. And Darnold’s athleticism was utilized in the red zone on a designed QB run that he took into the end zone.

Of course, Christian McCaffrey looked great in his return from last season’s injuries. He was expectedly as much of a threat on the ground as he was through the air, tallying 98 yards rushing and 89 yards receiving, hauling in all nine of his targets. He was used heavily, recording a total of 30 touches on the game. His presence is noticeable, and the Panthers will continue to rely on his talents. But if Darnold and company are able to sustain drives and threaten with big plays, McCaffrey may be able to actually rest every now and then and stay fresh. That will be vital down the stretch.

As for the receiving corps, Anderson grabbed just the one catch from Darnold on a 57-yard touchdown. He saw just three targets. But this is an offense with several weapons, and the issue Anderson’s minimal touches is a good problem to have when taking that into context. D.J. Moore hauled in all eight of his targets for 80 yards, and produced consistently on key downs. He’s likely going to be right there with McCaffrey at season’s end when it comes to targets. Rookie Terrace Marshall Jr. got in on the action as well. He had three catches on six targets for 26 yards. Given his frame and overall talent, it’s only a matter of time before he cashes in on some splash plays. And the offensive line held up well for the most part, as the Jets were able to bring down Darnold just once.

The defense was tenacious, and took advantage of the matchup with a rookie quarterback. They sacked Zach Wilson six times, one of them coming from second-year defensive tackle Derrick Brown who took a big step forward in the opener. Jeremy Chinn continued to show how multiple he is, and was a sound tackler in the open field. He’s already on a good pace coming off of a fantastic rookie campaign. Jaycee Horn performed well in his Panthers debut, though some of that could be credited to the rookie QB not making the right reads at times. Horn did give up a touchdown in the fourth quarter and was just late breaking on the ball. But he also likely would’ve had an interception if Shaq Thompson hadn’t undercut the route and picked off Wilson. All in all not a bad day for the rookie. Hassan Reddick was phenomenal along that defensive front as was Brian Burns. This defense has a considerable amount of upside, and will be more heavily tested this Sunday against a smart offensive coach in Sean Payton.

Keys to the game

  • Bend, don’t break: Winston and company were incredibly efficient in the opener, hitting on several big-play touchdowns. If the Panthers can limit the deep passing game, and keep things in front of them they’ll have a good chance at coming away with the win and possibly baiting Winston into some bad throws.
  • Feed CMC: This typically goes without saying, and should be the method in pretty much every matchup, but the Panthers got to get McCaffrey involved early and often. He’s one of the few players in this league that is matchup-proof, and has the potential to go yard on any given play.
  • Protect the football: Winning the turnover battle often leads to victory, that’s evident. But it’s even more important when the opposing team is opportunistic. One could probably get away with a couple turnovers against a low-scoring offense. But we know the weapons New Orleans has, and helping them out with a shorter field won’t bode well. They scored 14 points off of an interception and turnover on downs against the Packers.

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