Predator vs. Prey is a weekly column that will feature a preview of the Panthers’ opponent for that given week. We will breakdown the X’s and O’s, match-ups on both sides of the ball, and predict the outcome for the game. Whether it’s Sunday, Monday or Thursday night, CatCrave.com has you covered for everything you need to know leading up to the big game.
Predator: Carolina Panthers
Prey: New Orleans Saints
Environment: SuperDome - New Orleans, LA Time of Kill: 1PM
The Carolina Panthers head into one of the toughest home environments in the NFL on Sunday, as they battle it out with the New Orleans Saints. Carolina has been a horrible predator this year, only tallying three kills over 12 games.
The Panthers’ season looks like one that can’t end quickly enough, and the Saints are fighting for their playoff lives.
Drew Brees has been a solid quarterback this year, though he has not been the explosive juggernaut seen in previous seasons. Saints’ receiver Brandin Cooks is sidelined, so Kenny Stills and Jimmy Graham are the two receiving weapons that the predator needs to seek out today.
The running game has looked brilliant at times this year, with Mark Ingram enjoying a great season. Both he, Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson are listed as probable today, so look for the prey to try to beat the predator through the air.
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The Saints’ defense is currently ranked 31st-overall in the NFL, so the predator will have opportunities to strike early and often. Defensively, the Saints feature a hard-hitting safety named Kenny Vaccaro, and veteran cornerback, Keenan Lewis blanketed Kelvin Benjamin last game.
Carolina will be indoors and on carpet, so Cam Newton and his weapons will need to take advantage of the prime conditions. However, the sound is always a factor in New Orleans, so look for Rob Ryan’s defense to shift looks pre-snap to keep the offensive line on their heels.
Lastly, the predator’s special teams will be under a microscope today to see if they bounced back from their horrendous performance last week. This unit needs to help the offense and defense out in the field position game.
Predator on Offense:
When the predator has the ball, they will need to avoid the aforementioned Vaccaro and Lewis.
The ground game looked great last week in Minnesota, so look for Mike Shula to dial-up a lot of what worked last week, this week. Jonathan Stewart should be the starter for the remainder of the season, and Fozzy Whitaker needs to get a healthy amount of carries as well. These two balance each other out nicely, and Stewart is the kind of back that can pound an opposing team into submission.
Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Cam Newton will need to limit turnovers and get rid of the ball quickly today.
The crowd noise is deafening at The SuperDome, so Newton will have to monitor his internal clock to avoid mishaps. The Saint’s defense can be suffocating at times, so the offensive line will have its’ hands full today. It’s nearly impossible to hear with their heads down in the trenches, so communication is key to survival.
Cam Jordan and Junior Galette will be harassing the Panthers backfield all day, so look for the predator to play smart, and leave a back or tight end in to help block for Newton.
The predator will need to be keen in finding ways to get Kelvin Benjamin the ball. He is their top target, but was completely frustrated and shut down by Keenan Lewis last time these two met. Though Vaccaro is a lethal safety that has emerged as one of the top safeties in the league, his running mate is nowhere near the player he is. The Panthers will need to exploit this area today.
Jonathan Stewart and Cam Newton stand to have great days on the ground, and will fuel the predator’s chances of leaving The Big Easy with a win.
Predator on Defense:
The predator’s defense will feature a new wrinkle in the starting secondary.
Rookie Bene Benwikere will start on the outside, opposite Josh Norman. Fear not Panther Nation, Benwikere primarily played the boundary corner spot at San Jose State, and was kicked inside here out of necessity.
Benwikere is more than capable of handling the outside, and will probably see a lot of Kenny Stills today. Norman is a few inches taller, and the more experienced corner, so he will probably draw the veteran, Marques Colston. Colin Jones is the new starting nickel, and his speed (4.3) and size (205-pounds) will make more sense helping cover Jimmy Graham.
The Panthers have tried to work rookie Tre Boston in the lineup more, which allows Roman Harper a little more rest during games. Harper returns to his former team for the first time as a Panther. Hopefully, he has a little insight to help his teammates extinguish the potential Drew Brees explosion that can happen at any time.
The Saint’s running game is banged up, so the predator should be able to contain this dimension of the New Orleans’ offense.
Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
As always, slowing down Drew Brees and containing Jimmy Graham, is the name of the game in beating the Saints.
Charles Johnson looks like the only defensive lineman that cares about getting after the quarterback, though Mario Addison has shown flashes. These two will need to get after Brees, and maybe we see a Kony Ealy sighting today.
Carolina needs to infuse players like Ealy, Boston and James Dockery into this lineup and see if the youngsters can add a little energy to a deflated defense.
The Panthers have not won a game since October 5th. Yes, as is in, 63 days ago October fifth. They will need to get the ball in the endzone, not through the uprights if they stand a chance against this surging Saints team.
FINAL VERDICT: NEW ORLEANS - 30 CAROLINA - 20