The New Orleans Saints may have started the year 0-2, but with Drew Brees at quarterback, Carolina’s secondary will still likely have its hands full.
“With Drew, you have to be very sound defensively or he’s going to pick you apart,” Panthers safety Kurt Coleman said this week.
Brees has thrown for 647 yards and three touchdowns in two games this season, with no interceptions. As familiar as the Panthers’ defense is to this point with Brees, they’ll have to face two receivers who will pose a challenge.
With receiver Willie Snead out as he serves a three-game suspension, Brees relied heavily on second-year receiver Michael Thomas last week.
Thomas, a 6-foot-3, 212-pound Ohio State product, is a natural fit for outside routes but is able to line up in the slot as well. He had five catches on 10 targets for 89 yards in Week 2 after being targeted eight times in the first week of the season (with five catches for 45 yards).
“I know he’s a .... Buckeye!” Ohio State product Coleman joked before giving a more serious scouting report of Thomas.
“He has size, quickness, he has great hands,” he said. “He does a great job of being adjust to the ball in the air, you know, for the back-shoulder fades and the deep ball, quick slants. Drew makes it a point of emphasis to get him the ball because I think he is the No. 1 receiver.”
Coleman said the secondary wants to limit the explosive plays from Thomas.
“I think we can live with a slant here, a slant there, a 10-yard catch,” Coleman said. “But it’s the deep ball plays they love to thrive on that they look for.”
One of those deep threats is one of the fastest receivers in the league – and a former Panther.
Ted Ginn Jr. signed with New Orleans in free agency and is settling into his role as the Saints’ burner threat. He hasn’t scored a touchdown yet, but the Saints probably saw on film the things San Francisco speedster Marquise Goodwin did to cornerback James Bradberry on deep routes in Week 1. While Bradberry fared pretty well against Goodwin (and really limited the explosive plays), the amount of sprinting to cover those long “go” routes in the heat caused both Bradberry and Daryl Worley to cramp up.
But defensive end Wes Horton would prefer the ball not reach the secondary at all.
“(Brees) can’t get the ball downfield if he’s getting hit,” Horton said this week.
Move to watch: Brees’ pump-fake.
Several defensive players, including linebacker Luke Kuechly and Bradberry, mentioned Brees’ pump-fake when discussing the talents of the quarterback.
Brees uses the move to get defenders to bite in either a separate direction from the throw, or to commit to a play too early.
Head coach Ron Rivera said this, among other tricks and facets of Brees’ game, was something the defense has studied all week.