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Saints vs Panthers: Week 15 quick observations

The Saints were able to get one step closer to playing at home for the playoffs, even if they were one step away from letting this one slip away

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints offense continues to look questionable as for the third week in a row they failed to get into the end zone in the first half. Much like the previous two games, it was all on the defense to keep this game close. They limited Cam Newton and the rest of the Panthers’ offense to only 9 points at home, where they normally average over 30 points. Here are some quick observations.

The Drop Chronicles

I expected Tre’quan Smith to start filling the role Ted Ginn Jr. played in this offense, but not including Ginn’s knack for dropping passes early in his career. This is now the third week in a row that Smith dropped a crucial catch. It would have converted a third down in the third quarter.

Starting a dropped-pass streak of his own, Dan Arnold dropped a dime from Brees that bounced off a defender’s helmet into the waiting arms of another defender. This is the second week in a row he had a drop that could have been a big gain.

Smith at least showed good effort after the interception to chase down the ball carrier from the other side of the field.

These drops can’t continue if the Saints expect to beat the tough defenses they’ll have to face to get to the Super Bowl. Teams like Chicago, Seattle, and Dallas all boast aggressive defenses and opportunistic offenses that can really give this team issues rather they’re playing at home or not.

Hopefully Ginn will be able to return and help alleviate some of these issues. Or possibly the answer lies with newly acquired Simme Cobbs Jr. Whoever it is, someone needs to step up and help Thomas and Kamara in the passing game.

The failed 2-pt conversion

The Panthers were able to steal the momentum right back form the Saints after they scored their first touchdown of the game. Brees throws an ill advised pass on a mesh concept that the Saints have gone to before.

The mesh concept has two receivers lined up opposite ends of the formation that both run shallow drag routes towards each other, leaving little to no space between them as they cross each other. This is to create a natural rub and get one of the “crossers” open. In the play above, Watson and Thomas are the “crossers”, but the cornerback covering Thomas avoids the rub from Watson and sticks to the receiver. Donte Jackson is covering Kamara on his wheel route, who breaks off the stem near the goal line and presents himself to Brees. This allows Jackson to sit and watch Brees’s eyes. Jackson sees Brees’s pass coming and is able to jump in front of the pass for the pick.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Shouldering the load

Cam Newton has his issues with mechanics and accuracy, but on Monday night he looked even more off his game than normal. His shoulder is clearly still bothering him as he missed plenty of easy throws. The defense as a whole played very well, but were bailed out a couple times by Newton’s errant passes. As much disdain as the Saints fan base has for Newton, its hard to watch a player push his limits and possibly prolong the healing process. With the Panthers practically eliminated from the playoffs, we may not see him again in two weeks.

Apple turnovers and peanut punches

The defense has had no problem forcing turnovers the past few weeks, and added two more Monday night.

The first turnover came via Eli Apple who prevented a scoring opportunity late in the first half. He nearly came down with an interception on a similar play last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when he was covering Chris Godwin.

Using a trail technique, Apple will get a quick jab on Funchess’s inside shoulder that helps push the receiver towards the boundary. Next, he does a good job at turning and getting underneath the receiver’s hip as he runs stride for stride with him. Apple then will then turn his head to look for the ball and picks off the under-thrown pass from Newton.

Vonn Bell played lights out this game, and forced a turnover of his own.

The Panthers run a reverse with rookie wide receiver D.J. Moore, who is able to navigate behind his blockers for nearly a 25 yard gain. Bell penetrates into the backfield, but the play is ran away from him and he is forced to chase Moore down from behind, where he times his own version of a “peanut-punch” perfectly and knocks the ball out. A.J. Klein recovers the fumble and gets the ball back for the offense.

While the game was sloppier than the fans would want to see, the team still squeaked out the win and are now one step closer to sealing home-field advantage in the playoffs.