It’s hard to say if the performance the Carolina Panthers defense put forth in Week 1 was more a product of a young talented group coming together or of a Jets offense that has like two good players. Either way, the Panthers defense played really well, and it was fun to watch.
The Panthers sacked rookie quarterback Zach Wilson and picked him off once—a beautiful snag by Shaq Thompson that was somehow his first interception in five years. Wilson was hit 10 times total and never really got a chance to get comfortable. At the same time, the Panthers front line stymied the Jets run game, limiting them to just 2.6 yards per carry.
The Saints will probably offer a tougher test, though on paper, their offense doesn’t look as scary as its past iterations. Jameis Winston is probably not as good as prime Drew Brees. Their top two wide receivers are Marquez Callaway and Deonte Harris, who combined to catch three passes on Sunday, giving them a combined 50 for their careers.
Despite the lack of names, the Saints offense pieced together a somewhat efficient day against the Packers, though not as efficient as the 38 points they scored would suggest. They averaged a mediocre 5.4 yards per play and two of their five touchdown drives started in the red zone.
If the Panthers are going to have more success than the Packers, they’re going to have to do a few things the Packers didn’t. Those things are:
- Revive the Buccaneers version of Jameis Winston. Winston has been very good in his limited time with the Saints, and he is yet to turn the ball over in his 31 dropbacks for the team. Still, the turnover machine must live inside him somewhere, and the Panthers best bet at winning this game depends on whether or not they can get that version of Jameis to manifest itself. Winston has turned the ball over 20 times in 10 career games against the Panthers. The Panthers need to keep that train rolling.
- Limit the contributions of the backs and tight ends in the passing game. The Saints have like no wide receivers, like I alluded to above. That played into the fact that Winston targeted wide receivers on just five of his 20 pass attempts. The rest were split between backs (six targets) and tight ends (nine targets). The Panthers safeties and single-digited-linebackers need to take care of the middle of the field, which is also prime Jameis interception territory. If they take away those safe passes, they can put themselves in a position to force mistakes and capitalize against the weakest component of the Saints offense.
- Limit Alvin Kamara specifically. For as bad as Jameis Winston has been against the Panthers, Kamara has been equally as good. He’s totaled 578 yards and six touchdowns in 10 games while averaging a healthy 5.9 yards per carry. He was somewhat quiet against the Saints, averaging just 4.3 yards per carry, but he did catch a touchdown. The Panthers have never been able to tackle the elusive Kamara, and if that holds true on Sunday, they’re going to have a hard time winning.
The Saints scoring output against the Packers looks intimidating, but the offense doesn’t look intimidating on paper. This game will likely end up a defensive battle, and forcing mistakes and setting the offense up with good field position will be paramount to a successful Sunday afternoon for the Panthers.