Carolina Panthers vs New Orleans Saints – Three Key Matchups

The Carolina Panthers may have started 2-0, but that doesn’t mean the games were pretty. After all, one look at week 2’s score (9-3) shows just how anemic this Panthers offense is so far.

Against the Bills, the Panthers were unable to get much going on the ground. Their red-zone efficiency was terrible, not even notching a single touchdown. To add insult to injury, Shula continued on with his predictable play-calling, exposing an obvious trend in the run game.

Granted, not everything was on Shula. With Matt Kalil doing his best Byron Bell impression alongside Daryl Williams’ looking like Remmers, Cam Newton found himself smothered on the ground six times.

It’s hard for an offense to function when its pieces can’t execute.

Even so, the Panthers offense has a lot of work to do if they want to evolve. Predictable play-calling and poor execution is not going to cut it if the Panthers want to sniff the playoffs.

Luckily, the Panthers get to face the NFL’s worst defense in the New Orleans Saints. The Saints gave up a whopping 1025 total yards on defense – 512.5 per game – while ranking in the bottom 15 in every other statistical category. Football Outsiders ranks the Saints 31st in defensive DVOA through week 2; only ahead of the Patriots.

To make matters worse, the Saints will be without starting corners Lattimore (their only bright spot) and Sterline Moore. The Saints have to go with even worse corners than the ones contributing to the worst pass defense in the NFL.

Not ideal for the worst defense in the NFL already. Very ideal for a Panthers offense in need of a spark.

So, on that note, here’s the match-ups to watch this Sunday.

Panthers Defensive Ends VS Saints Offensive Tackles

Changing gears to a new topic, the Panthers defense has been playing lights out. Already breaking historical records, the Panthers have yet to allow an opponent to score above three points or even a touchdown. In fact, Football Outsiders currently ranks the Panthers 2nd in DVOA already, only behind Baltimore.

When it comes to yards per game, the Panthers have allowed the least by a large margin. They’ve only allowed 196.5 yards per game; the closest team being Buffalo at 234.5. Furthermore, the Panthers defense only allowed six third down conversions out of twenty-four and one fourth down conversion of six attempts.

Panthers Huddler KB_fan provides a nice chart to give clarity on Carolina’s dominance:

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An extremely impressive performance by Steve Wilks’ defense so far.

One particular player sticking out happens to be first ballot HoF DE Julius Peppers. After attaining 2.0 sacks against the Bills stout offensive line, Peppers is proving age is just a number. Re-learning the ropes on playing 4-3 DE, Peppers has been dominant and catching on fast.

DE Julius Peppers comes with a tight angle against the BUF tackle for a sack. DL Coach Washington praises Peppers for correcting his technique as he re-learns how to play 4-3 Defensive End.

For the Saints, they’re without their two starting tackles coming in against Carolina. With Julius Peppers emerging as a huge threat alongside Addison, this doesn’t spell well for the Saints.

So, expect the Panthers defense to continue its dominance heading into Sunday. After all, it may be one of our best defenses ever.

Advantage: Panthers

Panthers Offensive Line VS Saints Defensive Line

One thing the Panthers cannot underestimate is the Saints defensive line – more specifically their run defense. While New Orlean’s defense is terrible against the pass, their run defense isn’t too bad. Had it not been for a few fluke plays from Minnesota, they might be in the top 15 against the run.

Against the Patriots, the Saints played the run well, often stuffing their runningbacks for little to no gain. As a result, the Patriots focused more on the pass than the run game due to such.

The biggest weakness so far for the Panthers offensive line is run-blocking. To give more detail, Stewart and McCaffrey both have faced contact before the line of scrimmage more times than not. Sure, predictable play-calling isn’t helping either, but execution seems to be the main catalyst for this issue.

To make matters worse, the Panthers will be without All-Pro Center Ryan Kalil again this Sunday. While backup C Tyler Larsen isn’t half bad and did get himself some first team reps during practice this week, his ability to call out certain adjustments pales in comparison to Kalil.

So, don’t expect the Panthers offensive line to turn around just yet. OTs Matt Kalil and Daryl Williams are both reason enough to worry, and the Saints run defense is no pushover. Expect that to be the only defensive match-up the Saints may win.

Advantage: Saints

Panthers Receivers VS Saints Secondary

Ooh wee mayne. The Saints secondary is a mess.

To reiterate, the Saints have allowed 1025 total yards against offenses two weeks into the season. In terms of pass defense, they’ve let 388.5 passing yards per game fly by when healthy; 32nd in the NFL.

That’s just plain bad football.

Furthermore, the Saints are without starting corners Lattimore and Moore. In Lattimore’s case, he’s been the only bright spot of the Saints defense, allowing less than 30 yards total on his side of the field. For Moore, he’s the other guy who happens to be better than everyone else they have.

In short: the worst pass defense in the NFL got even worse.

To give credit, the Saints do have potential and talent. They’ve got pass rushers like Cameron Jordan alongside a promising corner in Lattimore. Nevertheless, their execution and discipline on the field has killed them, leading to bone-headed plays.

Saints lack of good coaching and fundamentals on full display. With safety help to the inside, Saints corner should be playing outside leverage. Instead, corner plays inside and lets loose a big play.

The Panthers wide receivers are coming off a very nice game of their own. WR Kelvin Benjamin had six receptions for 77 yards, while Devin Funchess had six receptions for 88 yards. After Greg Olsen went out, they filled in nicely from where the All-Pro TE normally produces.

Going against the Saints bottom-tier corners should only serve to increase their production, especially with that being their biggest weakness. The Panthers would be wise to run less and attack through the air.

So, once again, expect the Panthers wide receiver corps to come alive against a very poor Saints defense that just got worse.

Advantage: Panthers

Score Prediction

While the Panthers may not get much of a run game going, their passing game should be off the charts. With the Saint’s linebackers’ lack of athleticism rivaling couch potatoes alongside a broken down secondary, there’s no reason not to expect guys like Christian McCaffrey, Russell Shepard, Curtis Samuel, Devin Funchess, and Kelvin Benjamin to have good days from the slot and outside.

The Panthers defense should continue to dominate, especially against an offense known for doing worse on real turf. Expect Bradberry and Worley to play the Saints WRs well while the pass rush harasses Drew Brees. Also, expect the Panthers run defense to continually stuff each and every Saint runningback for poor runs.

Above all, expect a convincing win from the Panthers.

Panthers – 31

Saints – 3

Agree? Disagree? You can sound off right here with thousands of Carolina Panthers fans.

Writer for the CarolinaHuddle. In-depth analysis, breakdowns, and articles all related to the Carolina Panthers.