If most teams in the NFL lost their head coach due to a suspension it would be safe to write them off. Oftentimes when you lose a coach you lose an identity, and when that occurs the team lack precision and looks scatter shot. In talking about the 2012 New Orleans Saints I didn't get this same feeling. Drew Brees is one of the few players who is a true extension of his coach on the field, and for that reason alone the offense was going to be left in good hands.
It's important to not try and derive too much information from preseason, especially when looking at box scores, but you can examine how a team plays, not just what they did. 17-10 is hardly a dominant victory, but the Saints showed last night that despite their off-season woes they're still the Saints, and while a 14-2 season may be difficult to attain with a Payton-less team, they're still going to be very dangerous this season.
There are three key things that lept out, and things the Panthers will need to be wary of.
New Orleans' system is as effective as ever
It's really hard to pinpoint the crux of the Saints offense. It's pass-heavy, like a West Coast System, but utilizes a lot of deep passes. They have a power running game, and a reliable tight end-- but they don't work their pass off the run. What we're left with is a multi-faceted offense that has been built to allow for a variety of analogous pieces to be plugged in as needed. It's hard to imagine the Giants would look the same without Eli, but the Saints and Packers are both able to continue their offenses effectively with Chase Daniel and Matt Flynn (now with Seattle) respectively. Even though Brees only attempted five passes last night, and the Saints still managed to amass 375 yards of offense. They'll be good again, even without their coach.
More after the jump
Death by screen
If the New Orleans Saints managed to find a second Darren Sproles I will literally pull my hair out. The addition of Luke Kuechly has the added benefit of giving the Panthers' defense great lateral speed, but if the Saints found a second pass-catching RB to use on screen plays then Carolina could be in trouble. Local product Travaris Cadet, an undrafted free agent out of Appalachian State had been turning heads in practice, and last night we saw why. Cadet made no impact in the running game, but as a multi-faceted pass catcher and returner he finished with 8 receptions for 80 yards, and a TD- adding a 28 yard kick return, and 21 yard punt return to his repertoire. Last season Jordan Senn helped stifle Sproles with his closing speed, but if the Saints decide to play both Sproles and Cadet at the same time, it's an offensive look the Panthers don't have an answer for.
The run game needn't be feared... yet
Mark Ingram was supposed to be the final piece to the Saints' offensive puzzle, but last year was lackluster. Coming out of Alabama there were concerns that the North-South back had the speed necessary to hit the gap, and he embodied that concern last year. Ingram looks like a solid goal-line back, but again last night he struggled at moving the chains, as three of his four carries totaled just 4 yards. As a team the Saints averaged just 2.6 yards per attempt on the ground, further solidifying their place as a passing team.
Self-belief is a powerful motivator, and something New Orelans have in spades. Regardless of how you feel about them utilizing an 'us against the world' mentality to portray their organization as put-upon, it seems to be working for them. Cockiness and bravado can pay huge dividends provided discipline is kept in check, and so far the Saints look to be good as usual. If you were pencilling in the week two match-up as a 'W' based on the lack of Payton and co., you should probably slow down for a second. There will be no easy victories this year, even against a team with shattered leadership like New Orleans. Can the Panthers do it? Absolutely, but we'll need the defense to be on point to do it, and we wont know for sure how the Panthers' starters will fair until we see them play later this week.