It shouldn’t be that way. The Saints lost their first game last season and went on the finish the year on a 13-2 run. Over the past three seasons, New Orleans has a 37-11 record, hasn’t dipped below 11 wins in any of those years and made the playoffs each time.
On paper—and with recent history as proof—New Orleans is a powerhouse in the NFL.
But the offseason hasn’t been a kind one in the Big Easy. Bountygate ripped the Saints' head coach, Sean Payton, away for the season, general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games and linebackers coach Joe Vitt for six.
Although Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma have been temporarily reinstated, they could still face suspensions.
Turmoil is a good word to describe what’s gone on in New Orleans in the offseason, and now the Saints dropped their first game of the year to a rookie quarterback and the Washington Redskins.
If New Orleans travel to Charlotte and can't beat the Panthers, they’ll start the season 0-2 for the first time since 2007. Worse yet, with Kansas City and Green Bay the next opponents, another loss looms on the horizon.
How devastating would it be for the Saints to be a 1-3 team headed into Week 5?
Let’s talk about what the Saints need to do to avoid a loss in Carolina.
Stop the Run
Last week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did a phenomenal job of stopping Carolina’s vaunted rushing attack. The Panthers gained just 10 yards on 13 carries.
But last year, DeAngelo Williams torched the Saints for 115 yards on nine carries in Week 5 and then averaged 7.6 yards per carry in Week 17. Williams only notched 53 yards in the second game of the season, but Jonathan Stewart added 79 and averaged 8.8 yards per carry.
The Panthers figured out how to pound the rock through the Saints defense last year and will be looking to make a statement after looking pedestrian in Week 1.
New Orleans must stop the great Panthers rushing attack.
Attack Cam Newton
This is the case with most NFL quarterbacks, but if you give Cam Newton a lot of time in the pocket, he will crush you. Newton set the new gold standard for how rookie quarterbacks should play the game, and continued in Week 1 last Sunday with 303 yards passing.
But Newton does have a few weaknesses.
Only five quarterbacks threw more interceptions last year than Newton’s 17. And he continued the trend last week with two picks against Tampa Bay.
Many of Newton’s miscues occur when he’s pressured and he throws from his back foot, as in his second interception against the Buccaneers.
Feeling pressure from Eric Wright, you can see Newton had his weight back and tosses a floater toward the left sideline. The result wasn’t good for anyone except Ahmad Black, who picked off his first pass of the season.
One way to attack Newton is through rookie left guard Amini Silatolu, who was penalized twice against the Buccaneers and gave up two sacks.
Here you see Gerald McCoy easily swimming around Silatolu to get to Newton.
Newton didn’t immediately go down and attempted to squirm away and toss the ball towards a receiver. But the officials ruled Newton down eventually, after the Bucs challenged.
A More Equitable Run-Pass Balance
It’s typically a good thing when Drew Brees throws the ball a lot, but against the Redskins he completed just 46.2 percent of his passes.
Brees had 52 passing attempts Sunday, and the Saints ran the ball just 10 times. This allowed—especially late in the game—the Redskins to use six defenders in coverage and have a linebacker floating around in the middle while Washington rushed just four.
The Redskins knew what was coming and stopped Brees from ending the game on his terms.
Last season, in the Saints' two victories over Carolina, New Orleans rushed the ball 28 and 35 times respectively and gained 101 yards on the ground in their Week 5 win and 208 yards rushing in Week 17.
One of the keys for the Saints' crushing passing attack is for them to be able to establish the run to keep defenses guessing.