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Panthers at Saints offensive preview: Can other players step up?

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The Panthers will need to rely on more than Christian McCaffrey to beat the Saints.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers had arguably their worst offensive production of the season in their Week 11 loss to the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday. A must-win game by the Panthers to keep their playoff hopes alive turned into an embarrassing 29-3 loss at home. Things turned ugly fast for Carolina when pressure from Takk McKinley would force Kyle Allen to throw away the ball, only to be picked off. Allen would follow that miscue with an eerily similar interception in the end zone that mirrored that of the one he threw against the Green Bay Packers the week prior. Poor protection by the Panthers’ offensive line would allow for more pressure than what Allen could handle. With what was still a record setting day for Christian McCaffrey, missed throws and poor execution by the offensive line would keep Carolina out of the end zone.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints’ defense had a big outing against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week. In their 34-17 win at Raymond James Stadium, New Orleans came up big with quarterback pressure and run stuffing. An interception by linebacker Demarius Davis would set the Saints up for their first touchdown of the game. As the story of the game went, the Saints’ final touchdown came from a 55-yard pick-six by Marcus Williams which virtually sealed New Orleans victory.

Mathematically, Panthers have a chance to make the playoffs if they win out. However, that would have to include a win at the Superdome against the NFC South front-runners on Sunday. The Saints fell unexpectedly to the Falcons in Week 10, so it’s not impossible. But a lot of factors have to key in for Carolina to come away with a big win against division rivals.

Protect, protect, protect

The Panthers’ offensive line had a terrible performance against the Falcons. Taylor Moton failed to protect Allen in the first quarter, resulting in an interception, quarterback pressure and forced punts. A substitution in the second quarter by Daryl Williams wasn’t much better. With plenty of hits coming from the right tackle, the left side didn’t have much improvement. Greg Little returned for his first game since clearing concussion protocol and he looked extremely rusty. He struggled throughout the game on the blind side and the entire line looked bad as a unit. Altogether, the offensive line gave up five sacks and 10 quarterback hits.

New Orleans front seven won’t be much easier to go against. Against the Bucs, the Saints; defense was constantly in the pocket applying pressure on Jameis Winston. Winston was sacked twice, intercepted four times, and was harassed the entire game. Panthers need to fill in the cracks on the offensive line fast against a stout New Orleans defense that will rattle Allen if given the chance.

Eliminate game-changing mistakes

Although responsibility can go to the offensive line for failing to protect Allen, the second-year signal caller is not without blame. Too many missed throws resulted in a lack of production from both McCaffrey and DJ Moore. Early interceptions and turnovers on scoring opportunities nailed the coffin in the Panthers’ Week 11 loss. Against an Atlanta defense that only totaled two interceptions for the season, Allen managed to have four (including three in the first half). Allen has a tendency to cave under pressure, and the Saints won’t be kind to Allen so it’s important that he doesn’t force plays. He should depend on his ultimate playmakers, like McCaffrey, when it comes to sticky situations. If bad decisions and turnovers continue to plague Allen, Ron Rivera should consider giving rookie quarterback Will Grier a shot.

Rely on your other playmakers

It’s a given that CMC is the best running back in the NFL right now. He’s continuously breaking records and has impacted the game tremendously. That type of success also makes the play-calling predictable. McCaffrey shouldn’t be the only work horse on the team. Otherwise, it leads to an eventual demise. The Saints have one of the best run defenses in the league; they’re tied fifth in total defense and third against the run. Against the Buccaneers, the Saints thoroughly stuffed the run and held them to just 36 yards on the ground. Tampa Bay had no choice other than to try to attack the defense through the air. The coaching stuff has to find a way to stop relying on McCaffrey so much. With potential playmakers such as Greg Olsen, Moore, and Curtis Samuel on the team, there should be more play-calling that involves them. Whether that’s shorter passes to Olsen or connecting with Moore and Samuel for big plays, there has to be more creativity to Carolina’s offense if they want to have a chance to leave New Orleans with a win.