Carolina’s Kryptonite Exposed as Brees, Saints Shred Panther Secondary


Well it was bound to happen sooner or later.

For all the defensive prowess Ron Rivera has built into or signed for this unit, the secondary simply couldn’t keep up with the Saints’ array of athletic targets Drew Brees has at his command.

For sure, I figured the Saints and Panthers would win their home games in the series this year, and with the Superdome being such a hard place for visiting teams to win in, the fact that New Orleans won last night didn’t really surprise me.

The final score, however, did.

The Panthers lost this game 31-13 and in fact the early warning signs were there from the beginning. Carolina owned the first quarter of play, scoring field goals on sustained drives offense, but that was the sign.

You cannot kick field goals against this team, especially at their house, and expect to win the game, period.

The New Orleans offense proved that these days, it is offense that wins games. Defense just lets you hang around, but offense is what scores the points.

With today’s uber-liberal passing rules, the Saints offense is designed specifically to take advantage of quick throws and timing. The Panthers corners were not engaging the receivers to disrupt their timing, allowing Drew Brees to take his drops and fire his darts. He went 30/42 for 313 yards and 4 TD passes with no picks.

The Panthers made some nice defense break-ups early on some passes, but Brees persevered, their offense began to “catch” early in the second quarter, and they never looked back. Big WR Marques Colston was targeted quite a bit both down the field and on their explosive WR screens.

Dec 8, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Marques Colston (12) catches a pass in front of Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (41) in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. New Orleans defeated the Panthers 31-13. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

For Carolina’s part, the pass blocking was atrocious as their line was exposed. Rushing only 4 defenders pretty much all night, the Saints defenders were finding their way to Newton. He escaped once or twice, as a guy of his talent will, but he was sacked or dropped for little gain more often than not. Rob Ryan’s improved defense allowed only 160 yards on 34 attempts for Cam. That’s less than five yards per attempt and it was clear that New Orleans had the superior offense overall.

With that group, it’s pick your poison. Cover TE Jimmy Graham up, and RB Darren Sproles or WR Marques Colston smacks you. Cover one of them, and Graham opens up. The ONLY possible answer to stopping or slowing the Brees-led offense is to put pressure on him early, often, and immediately. Carolina couldn’t do that.

It was just “one of those games” where few things went right. Punts hit and bounced back to make them shorter. Receivers dropped perfectly-thrown passes. Cam would fail to step up into the pocket and get sacked by an edge-rusher. He’d turn to scramble, and a diving lineman would grab his ankle and be just strong enough to trip him up. Holes weren’t opening consistently in the running game.

You name it, the bad happened.

Ultimately, the lack of size, the youth and inexperience of the “back-four” showed in this game. Carolina’s strength is in their front-seven but when they don’t get the job done, NO secondary can cover for four to five seconds. The rules are set up so that it would take Superman himself – the REAL (comic book) one – to cover the field.

Carolina’s secondary and indeed most NFL ones lack the size to cover big receivers like TE Jimmy Graham and WR Marques Colston. The Panthers gave up only about 70 rushing yards, but the run is an afterthought in Sean Payton’s offense. It was the 313 passing yards and 4 TDs that hurt, and that’s going to happen when the “vaunted” front-seven gets a total of zero sacks on Brees. It took a blitz and a Quintin Mikell to get to him, and that only happened once.

Newton, on the other hand, was sacked five times. Three came from OLB Junior Galette and the other two from DE Cameron Jordan. It just wan’t meant to be.

The loss makes the road to MetLife Stadium much, much more difficult for the Panthers. With the Seattle Seahawks defeating New Orleans last week and the same Saints team destroying Carolina tonight, the Panthers only have a tiebreaker edge over San Francisco, and any path on the road to MetLife Stadium now looks cemented through Seattle.

Nov 24, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Carolina Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart (28) is up ended by the Miami Dolphins in the second quarter of a game at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

If it’s possible, Seattle has an even more distinct home field advantage than the Saints do, and the Seahawks have a cupcake remaining schedule. They’re on the road next weekend actually AT MetLife Stadium taking on the Giants, then finish up with home games against the Cardinals and Rams.

The Panthers still have a shot at the division crown, however, falling to 9-4 as the Saints climb to 10-3. The two teams have a game remaining against each other in two weeks in Charlotte as the Saints snapped Carolina’s NFL-best eight-game winning streak.

Ironic that the Road to MetLife Stadium, at least this week, is a direct flight for the Seattle Seahawks. It might just be a harbinger of things to come in February.

A win at home against the Saints in two weeks would put the Panthers in a virtual tie for first in the NFC South, assuming the records match and not accounting for tiebreakers. Carolina hosts the New York Jets next weekend as the Saints travel to St. Louis.

Oh – to top things off? It looks like Jonathan Stewart suffered a “serious knee injury” according to the Charlotte Observer.

As for the contest for the two tickets to the Jets game, since none of the responses were close – Carolina lost – the winner is determined by a random drawing of all eligible entries received.

And the winner is…..

Charlie Hairston of Greenville, NC. I retweeted the winning entry and Charlie, you can expect two tickets to the Jets @ Panthers game coming up this weekend! Congratulations!

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

In the spirit of full-disclosure, MetLife as part of the Road to MetLife Stadium Preferred Blogger Program has provided me access to MetLife Stadium-related events and reader giveaways prizes. However, no payment was given or expected for posting about the program, and as always, all opinions given here are fully my own.