SCOUTING REPORT: After what we saw in Charlotte back in October, the Saints certainly should be able to handle Carolina again
If all goes to plan, the second one should go just like the first.
The Panthers did a good job taking away the deep pass when the Saints traveled to Carolina to post a 28-10 win in October, but Drew Brees managed to move the chains and had one of his sharper games of the season after some early troubles. Though he did not attempt a pass over 30 yards, he was 9-of-12 on his attempts that traveled 10 or more yards through the air, finishing 24-of-34 for 297 yards.
The Panthers likely will take a similar approach to defending New Orleans this week.
The other thing Carolina did well in that game was limit the impact of running back Mark Ingram. Against a box stacked with eight or more men on 15 of his 30 carries, Ingram gained 100 yards and finished with 3.3 yards per carry. Such an approach can leave a team vulnerable to the pass, and if the Panthers use it again, it would not be surprising to see New Orleans turn to play action more often to open things up. Brees attempted only five such passes in the previous game.
For the Saints to be successful, they will have to do a better job protecting Brees. He faced only 13 total pressures in the last meeting, but four of those turned into sacks. It should be noted that fullback Erik Lorig and Ingram were responsible for two of those.
Defensively, the previous meeting was one of the better performances New Orleans has had this season. On the line, ends Cam Jordan and Junior Galette spent the day making life uncomfortable for Cam Netwon, recording a combined nine hurries and three sacks. The push from tackles Akiem Hicks and Brodrick Bunkley (now on injured reserve) also was encouraging.
The defensive backs also had no issues with Carolina’s receivers, as cornerbacks Keenan Lewis, Corey White and Patrick Robinson had some of their best performances of the season.
Added together, there’s no reason New Orleans should not be able to pick up another victory.
Know your opponent: Carolina QB Cam Newton
When Cam Newton’s career comes to a close and he’s being honored for his accomplishments in the NFL, this season will not be mentioned by anyone in attendance.
Some might even call this season a train wreck. It has been that bad.
After piecing together a strong season in 2013 that saw him complete 61.7 percent of his passes with 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, Newton is in the midst of the worst season of his career. His completion percentage has dropped to 57.9, and he has 13 touchdowns to go with 11 interceptions.
That’s the opposite of efficient, though some of it is not of his doing. Newton has received little protection from his offensive line, which has allowed him to be sacked 36 times, and Carolina’s rushing offense is averaging only 103 yards per game.
There’s also the fact that Newton had ankle surgery during the offseason and is throwing to a cast of receivers he had little experience with entering the season.
Still, Newton is a physically gifted passer who also can beat you with his legs. New Orleans will have to respect him, even if his numbers are down.
PROBABLE: RB Khiry Robinson (forearm), LB Kyle Knox (hand), RB Travaris Cadet (hamstring), RB Mark Ingram (ankle/toe)
-- Robinson seems poised to return to the lineup after missing each of the Saints’ games since Oct. 19 with his injury. Backup Knox is in a similar situation after being sidelined the past two games. Furthermore, with no one questionable or ruled out because of injuries, this is the healthiest the Saints have been heading into a game in a while.
OUT: G Amini Silatolu (knee), RB DeAngelo Williams (hand)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Greg Olsen (knee)
PROBABLE: DE Mario Addison (foot), DT Star Lotulelei (ankle), DE Kony Ealy (illness), C Ryan Kalil (illness)
Three and out
1. CARRYING ON: This should be the week Khiry Robinson returns from forearm surgery, putting the Saints at full strength in the backfield. Does Sean Payton stick with Mark Ingram, or is back to the committee?
2. P-ROB RISING: Don’t tell anyone, but Patrick Robinson is starting to emerge as a passable starter at the No. 2 cornerback spot. New Orleans needs him to keep this up if it hopes to do anything in the playoffs.
3. CAM BACK: Did Cam Jordan, who played up to his high standard against Pittsburgh last week, break out, or did he do just enough to tease the masses? He’s another guy the Saints need to excel.
Ramon Antonio Vargas: Saints 28, Panthers 17
All the Saints do these days is lose games no one thinks they will and win games no one thinks they should. Regardless, it’s simple: The Saints win this one if they play the way they did when they took a 21-6 lead in the 35-32 win in Pittsburgh or when they beat Carolina 28-10 on the road Oct. 30. I’m going with that.
Nick Underhill: Saints 31, Panthers 21
I said last week that I would not pick the Saints again until they proved they could win a game. They did just that, going on the road to a tough environment last week against the Steelers. Perhaps I’m being suckered in, but the performance has me back on board, thinking something like 8-8 or even (gasp!) 9-7 is possible.
Scott Rabalais: Saints 30, Panthers 15
Picked the Saints to sweep their three-game homestand. Picked them to lose to the Steelers. Wrong every time. I think I’ve got this one. Winning at Carolina in October was a challenge. Beating the Panthers at home should be — emphasis on should — simply a matter of the Saints playing with the same execution they did in Charlotte and Pittsburgh.