Saints vs. Panthers: 5 Keys to a New Orleans Week 2 Win

Will OsgoodAnalyst ISeptember 14, 2012

Saints vs. Panthers: 5 Keys to a New Orleans Week 2 Win

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    If we can know or predict anything about the week two tilt between NFC South division rivals, the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers, it's this: The game will be a battle to the end.

    The two teams have displayed animosity toward one another before. 

    With talk that the Saints had a bounty out on Cam Newton a year ago, that animosity figures to only increase in the week two matchup. 

    And with the way the Panthers have played the Saints over the years, Saints fans should be very weary about the possibility of the team starting 0-2 for the first time since 2007. The Panthers are not a team to be taken lightly. 

    Last week's ugly home loss to the Redskins ought to be enough reason for concern. Add to that the way the Panthers regularly compete and battle the Saints, and this game is a dangerous one for New Orleans. 

    Here are five ways the Saints can overcome the Panthers in this crucial week two game. 

Beware the Vertical Passing Game

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    The Panthers love to throw the ball deep.

    Cam Newton shines when he has time to throw the ball down the field, especially to veteran Pro Bowler Steve Smith. The best defense against the Panthers starts with blanketing Smith and not allowing him any freedom. 

    Even the most underrated corner in the league, Jabari Greer, has struggled against Smith man-to-man in the past.

    Nonetheless, his presence in the lineup this week would be huge. With Smith in the lineup, the Saints could actually match No. 2 corner Patrick Robinson on Smith, while providing major help over the top in the form of Malcolm Jenkins. 

    Then, Jabari Greer could shut down Brandon LaFell and the other wide receivers the Panthers throw at the Saints defense.

    Of course, getting a pass rush and/or hurrying Cam Newton into bad throws will help the pass coverage tremendously. 

    Still, the coverage on the backside of the defense has to improve if the Saints are going to escape Charlotte with their first win of the season and a key division win. 

Beware of Variety in the Running Game

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    Whether it be Cam Newton on a quarterback draw, QB counter or Option, Deangelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart on a zone read, inside zone, counter, counter trap or off tackle, the point is clear: The Panthers love variety in the running game. 

    More than any other NFL team, they are trying to confuse the defense in the running game.

    Most NFL teams opt for multiplicity in the passing game. The Panthers, in this way, are more like a college team that is trying to confuse the opposing defense by giving multiple looks in the running game. 

    To counteract this, the Saints have to be wise. There is no reason for the Saints defense to get overly aggressive in this contest.

    As much as it is the natural teaching progression of Steve Spagnuolo—doing your job—the Saints must simply play assignment football in the running game. 

    If any one player tries to do too much, the integrity of the defense gets put into jeopardy.

    Handling the running game actually is quite simple. It's really the motto of the entire season: Do Your Job!

Find the Hole in the Zone

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    It can be Marques Colston. It can be Jimmy Graham. Or it can be Lance Moore.

    It really does not matter. 

    What matters is that the Saints flood zone coverages early and often to give Drew Brees easy intermediate throws he can complete.

    The Panthers don't figure to create nearly the same amount of pressure that Washington did a week ago. 

    As a result, the Saints ought to be able to get open down the seam and on Dig routes and deep in routes, as they have done numerous times since Drew Brees has been the head of the Saints offense. 

    It is not a new formula at all. Doing it successfully Sunday will go a long way toward defeating a soft pass coverage in Carolina. 

Run the Football Early and Often

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    Two reasons this particular idea comes up.

    The obvious one is that the Saints were successful in the very limited amount of times they attempted to run Sunday against Washington. If the team had run the ball even five times more, who knows what may have happened. 

    The second is that Carolina (despite great talent at the linebacker position) is a pretty weak front seven. They can be had if the offensive line puts a hat on a hat and gets physical.

    Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram showed last week an ability to find the hole and get yards against a great front. 

    Imagine what they can do against an average unit. It will take a commitment to the running game from Pete Carmichael.

    After looking at the lack of attempts a week ago, there's almost no way Carmichael won't change the focus this weekend in Carolina. 

    If the Saints run the ball just 20 times in this game, they should score 30 points and dominate in the most key areas. 

Slow Down Pilares

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    Keolaha Pilares may not be a household name in the NFL yet.

    However, the second-year receiver from Hawaii is full of talent; the primary attribute he brings to every kickoff return is speed. 

    Though the Panthers are really no more successful in the return game than any other NFL team, they possess one of the few return guys in the league who can legitimately return a kick for a touchdown at any time. 

    For the Saints, Pilares' presence means the team must do everything in its power to stay in their lanes and to play assignment football.

    If Pilares gains even the slightest crevice of a crease he could be off to the races with his incredible burst. 

    With the game figuring to be a relatively close-fought battle, a return touchdown could make the difference.

    In other words, the special teams must pay close attention to the Hawaiian sensation.