Last year the Carolina Panthers were an organization playing 'bend, but don't break' defense, that unfortunately broke most of the time. Without a solid defensive front to make up for their lack of healthy linebackers, we saw a unit who were outmatched week in, week out– especially by offensive minded teams like New Orleans.
If there's a saving grace for last week's loss it's that the red zone defense performed quite well. They managed to hold the Buccaneers to just 16 points, despite giving them every opportunity to turn the game into a blowout. Unfortunately for Carolina the Saints offense is essentially the Buccaneers' turned up to 11, as they are superior to Tampa Bay at almost every offensive position.
X-Factor: Darren Sproles
The Carolina Panthers drafted Thomas Davis in 2005, largely in part to be their 'anti-Vick'. The plan was to convert a fast safety into a speedy outside linebacker to spy, and contend with the most athletic QB in the NFL. One has to imagine that the decision to select Luke Kuechly with the 9th overall pick was partly due to their desire to have an insurance policy for Davis, but also to deal with players like Darren Sproles.
A dual-threat in the backfield as a runner and catcher, the Washington Redskins did an excellent job containing Sproles last week with their solid linebackers, but he still managed to finish the day with 35 receiving yards, and a touchdown. This is a bad day for Darren Sproles, and last year's games against Carolina should be burned in the heads of Panthers fans. This team is getting better on defense, but they're not ready to diffuse Sproles, not yet.
New Orleans Run Offense Vs. Carolina Run Defense
Like the Carolina Panthers, last week the Saints elected to completely abandon the run, which is a large reason they failed. If Mark Ingram is supposed to be a great running back I'm yet to see it, and last week affirmed what we saw last year– the guy is gifted at going nowhere, not-quickly. He averaged 2.5 yards per carry last week, and 3.8 on his career. Short yardage back or not, this experiment hasn't panned out.
With the exception of the aforementioned Sproles, I'm not really sure who the Panthers should fear. Pierre Thomas has flashes, but nothing good enough to be considered an every-down back. Look, I know the Panthers don't have a good run defense, but with their linebackers healthy and the Edwards's in the middle, it should be enough.
New Orleans Pass Offense Vs. Carolina Pass Defense
.... and the hammer drops.
The Carolina Panthers don't have a bad pass defense per se, but, well... they have a bad pass defense. The organization elected to sure up their run defense first, and hope that their cadre of DBs from last year, plus a few new additions would be enough to slow their opponents down just enough to allow their stellar offense to take over.
Last week Drew Brees was abysmal. He completed less than 50% of his passes, threw two interceptions, and you know what? Brees still managed to throw for 339 yards and three touchdowns. Last week Brees and Cam Newton were two sides of the same coin, one who had a terrible day, threw interceptions and still put points on the board– while the other completed more passes, but couldn't manage to get in the end zone.
Brees will not be bad two weeks in a row, the Panthers aren't going to get that lucky. It's here where Carolina are outmatched,