Saints Passing Offense vs. Panthers Pass Defense
Jameis Winston had a spectacular debut as the New Orleans starting quarterback. Will Winston follow that up with another strong performance against division rival Carolina?
When New Orleans Saints legend Drew Brees announced his retirement after the 2020 season, there were a large number of people who felt that the team's passing attack would struggle in 2021. While only one game, Jameis Winston showed that coach Sean Payton's offense could be just as explosive with him at the helm.
Winston passed for just 148 yards, but tossed five touchdown passes and ran the offense efficiently in a 38-3 opening week runaway over the Green Bay Packers. A dominant offensive line and bruising running game were big keys to the victory, but Winston's performance temporarily silenced most critics.
The 1-0 Saints travel to face the 1-0 Carolina Panthers in the first NFC South battle of the young season. Six New Orleans offensive assistant coaches also came back with positive Covid tests early in the week, presenting another challenge to game planning.
Carolina has rebuilt their defense through the draft over the last two offseason, putting athletic but young defenders in several key positions. They ranked 18th in total defense and points allowed in 2020, but got their 2021 off to a strong start.
Only two teams, one of them New Orleans, gave up fewer yards in week 1 than Carolina did in their 19-14 win over the New York Jets. The Panthers stifled New York's rushing attack and also showed consistent disruption from their pass defense.
The Saints will again need an effective running game in this divisional matchup. They will need another mistake-free performance from the passing attack also, something Winston has struggled with throughout his career.
SAINTS PASSING ATTACK VS. PANTHERS PASS DEFENSE
New Orleans Passing Game
In his first start with New Orleans, Winston showed great decisiveness, moved well in the pocket, and delivered strikes all over the field. He attempted just 20 passes, completing 14 for 148 yards. He may need to air it out more against the Panthers, but Winston has as much arm talent as anyone in the NFL.
The issue for Winston has never been talent, it’s been ball security and decision-making throughout his first five years in the league. He has a quarterback friendly system in coach Sean Payton's offense, a scheme that will construct their game plan to what he does best.
Second-year WR Marquez Callaway had a quiet outing against Green Bay catching just one pass. Callaway, who was shadowed by Packers Pro Bowl CB Jaire Alexander much of the time, had a terrific training camp.
With his precise route precision and reliable hands, Callaway should be a bigger part of this week's game plan.
Converted wideout Juwan Johnson had the biggest receiving impact for New Orleans last week. He had 3 critical receptions, a team-high, for 21 yards and two touchdowns from his tight end position. Johnson has developed a strong chemistry with Winston from offseason workouts and should be a key weapon all year.
Starting TE Adam Trautman had two easy drops last week, but has the ability to be big contributor to the offense. WR Chris Hogan hauled in a touchdown pass, but most of the receiving corps had a pedestrian afternoon statistically.
Wideout Deonte Harris was the exception. Harris had two catches fir a game-high 72 yards, including a 55-yard scoring strike thst clinched the win.
Remember that the Saints are without All-Pro WR Michael Thomas, who is recovering from ankle surgery. Tre'Quan Smith is also on injured reserve.
The team added WR Kenny Stills to the practice squad this week. With his explosiveness, Stills could be elevated over Hogan or possession receiver Lil'Jordan Humphrey against the Panthers.
Running back Alvin Kamara was the team's leading receiver last season with a career-high 83 receptions for 756 yards. He wasn't used as much in the passing game against the Packers, catching three balls for 8 yards.
That should change this week. In six career games against the Panthers, Kamara has 34 receptions for 238 yards.
The Saints gave exemplary protection to their quarterback against Green Bay. Winston has underrated mobility, but was rarely pressured or hurried last week, even after C Erik McCoy was injured on the first series.
Tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead are the best duo in the game. They’ll look to shut down a disruptive Carolina edge rush to allow Winston the time to go through his progressions.
Cesar Ruiz, LG Andrus Peat, and either Calvin Throckmorton or new acquisition Austin Reiter must also give their quarterback a clean interior pocket.
Carolina Pass Defense
The Panthers allowed 258 yards through the air against the Jets, but most of that was in a comeback effort. New York QB Zach Wilson completed only 20 of 37 attempts, was intercepted once, and was under constant pressure. The Panthers had 6 sacks and 9 hits against the Jets after just 29 sacks all of last year.
Third-year DE Brian Burns leads a deeper Carolina front that added more pieces this offseason. Burns led the Panthers with 9 sacks and 37 pressures a year ago. End Yetur Gross-Matos, a 2020 second-round pick, had 2.5 sacks as a rookie and should be a more disruptive player in his second season.
Carolina added DE Morgan Fox and LB to it’s edge rush this offseason. Fox was always a solid complementary pass rusher with the Rams. Reddick, who had 1.5 sacks and 4 pressures against the Jets, is coming off a career-high 12.5 sacks and 34 pressures with the Cardinals in 2020.
The Panthers took DT Derrick Brown with the Number 7 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Brown had an up-and-down rookie year, but flashed potential with 2 sacks and 19 pressures. A powerful inside force at 6’5” and 326-Lbs., he had a sack and provided interior pressure last week. He is ine of four big-bodied defensive tackles that the Panthers expect disruption from this season.
Carolina has a thin, but athletic, linebacking corps that will try to contain Kamara. Reddick is used best as a pass rusher, but has the speed to be effective in coverage if he improves his technique. LB Shaq Thompson had a monstrous game against the Jets.
Thompson, the second leading tackler on the team last year, had 10 tackles, a sack, intercepted a pass and broke up 3 others last week. Reddick and Thompson flank speedy MLB Jermaine Carter, who has improved over each of his three seasons.
Carolina used the number 8 overall selection in this springs draft on CB Jaycee Horn, son of former Saints WR Joe Horn.
The elite athletic ability of Horn is added to four-year CB Donte Jackson, an inconsistent defender with shutdown abilities. Jackson has 10 career interceptions and is coming off his best season, when he allowed less than 57% completion percentage when targeted.
Horn and Jackson give the Panthers a pair of potentially elite shutdown corners, but they have little coverage depth until CB A.J. Bouye returns from suspension.
Second-year S Jeremy Chinn is a Pro Bowl talent, but his athleticism and range are better suited for off-ball duties than man-to-man slot coverage. Juston Burris complements Chinn at safety.
What to Watch
Callaway is a promising receiver and Harris is an explosive weapon, but the New Orleans receiving corps must produce more to be a consistently productive offense.
Only five of Winston's 14 completions last week went to his wideouts. Harris and Callaway face key one-on-one matchups against Horn and Jackson, but another threat must emerge.
The Saints will try to get Kamara in isolation matchups against Shaq Thompson and the Carolina linebackers, while Juwan Johnson and Trautman should give Winston a good look through the intermediate zones.
In 10 career games against the Panthers while with Tampa Bay, Winston averaged 246 yards per game with 9 touchdowns and 14 interceptions while being sacked 32 times. As he showed last week; this is a much better quarterback for a much better team.
New Orleans will again try to control the ball on the ground and have Winston run an efficient passing attack. The offensive line will need to keep their quarterback upright and get push for their running game.
If the Panthers can limit the Saints rushing attack, Winston will need to make plays with his arm and avoid the mistakes that have plagued his earlier career for New Orleans to start 2-0.
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