Ironically, both teams threw the ball too much. We know the Saints are a passing team, but they are most dangerous when they show that they can be balanced; when they verify that their rushing offense is indeed a viable threat. The Panthers are a running team, and when they make a defense worry about their ability to run they open up many explosive plays. You may be surprised to know that for much of last season Carolina led the NFL in explosive plays (plays resulting in 20+ yard gains). Both the Panthers and the Saints finished the season in the top 6 in both rushing yardage and explosive plays - there's a correlation there.
Simply put, when you have an able quarterback with an accurate arm, along with a healthy rushing attack, you force a defense to pick its poison and hedge its bets. However, when you press too much or play too tight, you don't let the game come to you; you miss on plays because you are trying too hard and you wind up one-dimensional. You don't force a defense to play honestly, and you don't force them to defend the entire field- long and short, sideline to sideline. This was why both the Saints and the Panthers lost last week.
Starting the season with two losses would be a major blow for either team (though not insurmountable - remember the 2007 Giants). Drew was around 50% completion rate, and looked like a quarterback trying to make up for Sean Payton's absence. Or a quarterback who, maybe, shouldn't have missed the off-season with his wide receivers. The Saints looked shell shocked; who was this kid who didn't get the memo that he was supposed to be intimidated? The Panthers looked surprised as well, at the smart play from the Schiano coached Bucs.
I can't offer you any comfort; the best I can do is give you a quote from interim head coach of the Saints, Aaron Kromer:
"We had a chance to tie with the ball in our hands at the end of the game. For us to play so poorly and execute so poorly, that says something about the talent and the resolve of this team. There are a lot of teams that would have not finished the game the way we did. Us and our players decided, and that's where you see the character of our guys, even though they weren't playing and executing well, that they were going to finish the game and we were going to put ourselves in position to have a chance to tie it at the end and it didn't quite work out that way. But that shows you the resolve of this team.
One thing I talked to the team about this morning already, as a coaching staff we looked at it and we said there is too much, yesterday, doing someone else's job and not doing their own job. I am trying to make up for this because Sean (Payton) is not here. I am trying to make up for this because (Jonathan) Vilma is not here. Will Smith wasn't in practice this week, should I try to... That is not what we do. What we do is do our job, do it the best we can, know that we are prepared, and go into the next game knowing that calmly that we have prepared the right way. (Knowing) that we are all in, because we are, every one of us are in. Every player, every coach, we are all in. We are coming tighter together, we are pulling tighter together. We are going to do our job and not try to make up for someone else. Someone gets knocked of the game and is injured, you are not going to try to do more than you do, more than you should have done, you are going to do your job. "
If you ask me, it seems like our team has their pulse on the problem. It's good to see they saw what we saw and are on their way to fixing last week's problems. Hopefully, in the process they learn to fix the problem they'll be facing this week.
If a division game and the prospect of starting 0-2 wasn't motivation enough, head coach Ron Rivera decided to add fuel to the fire by portraying last year's season-ending loss to the Saints as an unnecessary running up of the score and padding the stats by New Orleans. It looks to me like his team needed something extra to get up for the Saints game.
Getting their face rubbed in the dirt by the physical Bucs did very little to prepare Carolina for New Orleans. Carolina thought they were that team that was going to make the next step and become that playoff contender. They didn't play loose with abandon like a team who knew they had nothing to lose. That was the beauty of last year for the Panthers; they knew they weren't going to the post-season so they had fun and played without that pressure. They played against Tampa as if they were trying to win the Super Bowl in one week-they shot for the moon and never left the ground.
I think our Saints got a big wake-up call last Sunday. I also believe the problems Robert Griffin posed last week were the perfect preparation for what they'll face in Carolina. If Washington provided a blueprint for Carolina to beat the Saints, they also gave the Saints a sneak peak of how this year's squad will fare against Newton and Co., allowing them to focus on what needs to be changed and prepared for on Sunday.
Look for New Orleans to get the ground game going. Darren Sproles isn't a match up problem If you don't use him. Mark Ingram is a RB who gets better with more carries as the game goes along. Pierre is a guy who gives you everything he's got every play, and Chris Ivory will run over a guy or two. Give them the ball. Don't start the game with three consecutive incomplete passes.
Want to know why New England and Baltimore are so hot? Look at how many times they ran the ball on first down, specifically out of no huddle when they had the opposing defense set to defend the pass. The Saints have the same ability and versatility with the backs on their roster. I don't need to tell you how good their offense can be or that they need to utilize it better. I don't think we need to tell them either, Washington already did.
Teams with Spagnuolo as a defensive coordinator have historically had a bad defense for much of the first month. If the offense needs to carry the team for a few more weeks, lets hope we get better play from the new group of linebackers we have at the very least. Getting Greer back at CB should provide a major boost to the secondary and their goal of stopping Carolina's best weapon in the passing game, Steve Smith. Smith's biggest plays last year weren't by design, but came when a play broke down and Newton moved out of the pocket and started to scramble.
We'd all like to see more pressure from the front four - Spagnuolo's forte - and perhaps we will. Newton tries to be a pocket quarterback before he is forced to run, so you know where he'll be the majority of the time. The key is getting him down, because like Big Ben, Cam isn't a small guy. At least the Saints have a season's worth of tape on Newton and have played him a few times already. They know what and who they're in for.
I think the Saints special teams will continue to be special. I look to see good returns because the first month of the season is usually shaky for teams in terms of coverage. The bottom of the roster (guys who play on special teams) has a high turnover each year and it takes a little time for the special teams units to get everyone on the same page and gel with each other. I like the Saints special teams better than Carolina's in all facets.
Last week the Saints showed that when they're down, they're not out. Maybe this week we'll see them give a mortal blow to Carolina's psyche, because the Panthers are a young team with high expectations who maybe don't know how to handle success or failure with the added pressure of post-season contention on their shoulders. I think the Saints offense will find their groove in this game. My only question is how does Carolina respond if things don't go well. Do they fight to the whistle, or do they fold?
Saints 34, Panthers 30.