The Carolina Panthers have had their fair of struggles against Drew Brees, Sean Payton, and the rest of the New Orleans Saints offense. Outside of an aberration year in 2018, the Panthers have struggled to stop the Saints from putting up big scores. In the last nine meetings between these two teams, the Saints have scored 38, 41, 20, 34, 31, 12, 14, 34, and 42 points. The only Panthers win in any of the last six meetings was a meaningless Week 17 victory over a depleted Saints team that was resting up for the playoffs in that 2018 season.
But all of that happened under a different Panthers regime. Those defenses tended to play conservatively and dared you to beat them with consistent, short passes. That’s exactly what Sean Payton and Drew Brees like to do anyway, so they tended to have few problems moving the ball.
The new look Panthers are more adaptable and more mysterious. They’ve changed up their front to account for player absences and opponent match-ups. They have a queen chess piece in Jeremy Chinn that is asked to do a little bit of everything. Matt Rhule has a close relationship with Sean Payton and has surely talked to him about football stuff from time to time. Needless to say, this version of Panthers versus Saints will look different, even if the results aren’t.
So what do the Panthers need to do to keep the Saints and check and win this game? Let’s discuss.
- Limit the yards after the catch. This is front and center of most Saints previews. Drew Brees is more than willing to throw the ball short of the sticks, especially at this point in his career. His average pass attempt lands 2.5 yards short of the first down marker on average, which is the fifth most conservative mark in the league (one spot ahead of our very own Teddy Bridgewater). The biggest beneficiary of those short targets is running back Alvin Kamara, who leads the team in targets (48), receptions (35), and receiving yards (395). He’s in top form and is doing the thing where he is unfazed by NFL players trying to tackle him. The Panthers need to flood to the ball and wrap up, especially when it’s in Kamara’s hands.
- Give extra attention to Michael Thomas, if he plays. Thomas had been out since Week 1 with a high ankle sprain before missing last week’s Monday night affair with the Chargers due to disciplinary reasons. Now he has a tweaked hamstring and is very questionable for Sunday’s game. If he plays, he’ll surely receive a lot of Brees’ attention. Thomas was only targeted five times before his Week 1 injury, and his stats don’t look great right now. Expect Thomas to be fed early and often (again, if he plays).
- Get off the field on third downs. The Saints offense is kind of mediocre all over the board, but they are very good at one thing—converting third downs. They rank fourth in the league by picking up 48.5% of their third down conversions. On the other side of the ball, the Panthers defense is allowing opponents to convert 50.7% of third down attempts, which is fourth worst in the league. That’s not a match-up you like to see, and it’s something the Panthers need to figure out if they’re going to give themselves a chance to steal a win in New Orleans.