Panthers safety Kurt Coleman
The New Orleans Saints offense didn’t score a touchdown in last week’s 24-6 loss to the Houston Texans and has produced only 20 points in the past two games, but still ranks in the top three in total offense in the league.
So just because they’ve been in a scoring rut lately doesn’t mean the Saints (4-7) are lacking offensively, and the Carolina Panthers won’t be taking them lightly.
In their second game against the Saints this season, the Panthers know the offense but can never feel too comfortable against quarterback Drew Brees and coach Sean Payton.
Several Panthers defenders said this week that they have to be on guard for the little wrinkles Payton may throw in that the Saints have yet to show on tape 13 weeks into the season.
“Sean is going to be a great play caller as always,” said Panthers safety Roman Harper, who played in New Orleans for eight years. “They’re going to mix up looks and give us things that we haven’t seen or prepared for. We have to adjust and go back to our rules and fundamentals and be able to play. Once we see what they’re starting to do to us, we have to be able to adjust on the sideline and continue to push forward. They’re going to have some success. Not everything’s going to go our way.”
Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly said he’s “sure they’ve got some stuff up their sleeve” in the second meeting after Carolina won 27-22 in Week 3. He means that the Saints will probably show a play similar to one they ran in Week 3 but throw in a wrinkle that could open up a big play.
They’re going to mix up looks and give us things that we haven’t seen or prepared for. We have to adjust.
Panthers safety Roman Harper
Payton has been doing that for years, and his teaming with Brees has helped Brees become a future Hall of Fame quarterback and one of the most prolific passers in NFL history.
The Saints will send a tight end out wide to see if the defense puts a safety or linebacker on him. They’ll put a receiver, such as speedy Brandin Cooks, in motion or in the backfield to see how the defense reacts.
These are the types of schemes Payton has used against Rivera going back to Payton’s time as the Giants offensive coordinator, when Rivera was the linebackers coach at NFC East rival Philadelphia in the early 2000s.
“You can’t practice against everything,” Rivera said. “As a playcaller, the thing Sean McDermott’s going to have to do is look at the flow of the game, look at the personnel matchups and then try to anticipate based on that.”
But the Saints had a historic struggle just a week ago. They failed to score a touchdown for the first time since 2005 and Brees didn’t throw for a touchdown for the first time in 45 games, the fifth-longest streak in NFL history.
What hurt the Saints was getting behind the chains on second and third downs. New Orleans went 7-for-23 on third downs in the past two games.
“Those numbers have put us behind the chains and then all of a sudden,” Payton said, “if you’re looking down at your call-sheet and you’re spending most of your day at third and a 10-plus you’re probably not doing well and you’re probably going to lose.”
Still, five of the past nine games between the teams have been decided by eight points or fewer. These teams know each other, and everyone expects a ball game.
“Who cares what the records are?” Brees said. “There’s just that rivalry, there’s that just kind of understanding that both teams know each other pretty well. There’s that level of familiarity and yet it’s just an extremely competitive game, you know it’s going to be a four-quarter game and that’s just the way these have gone.”