How Cam Newton, Panthers Offense Can Survive Hungry Saints D in Superdome

Chris TrapassoAnalyst IDecember 5, 2013

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 30:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers reacts after throwing a touchdown pass against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 30, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The streaking Carolina Panthers have their sights set on an NFC South divisional title, but to earn it, they'll have to match the offensive fireworks the New Orleans Saints typically ignite inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.  

That won't be easy.

ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted the following about Brees at home on the prime-time stage:

Definition of prime-time player: in the last 4 years, Drew Brees is 10-0 in home prime-time games with 33 TD passes and 4 interceptions.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 5, 2013

The Panthers defense will play a huge role in Carolina's upset bid, but let's focus on what Cam Newton's offense can do to stick with the Saints in New Orleans. 


Read-Option Game  

Cam Newton's rushed for at least 700 yards in each of his first two NFL seasons and averages 5.7 yards per carry in his career. 

While he's on pace for only 109 rushing attempts in 2013—he had 126 in 2011 and 127 in 2012—there's no doubt Newton's a dangerous offensive weapon when he tucks it away to run. 

The Seattle Seahawks defense stymied Drew Brees' attack on Monday Night Football in Week 13, but Russell Wilson's offense averaged 6.2 yards per play and scored three touchdowns.  

Amidst the beatdown, the Seahawks ran two rather successful read-option quarterback keepers. 

Because of the score, Seattle didn't feel the need to get Wilson out of the pocket on designed runs in the second half, but the Panthers should use the read-option often, with the bigger but equally as athletic Newton.

Here's a look at both read-option runs by Wilson, plays that aren't overly complex in any way, but plays that put the Saints' edge defenders, Junior Galette and Cameron Jordan, on an island.  

The first, which went for 10 yards occurred in the opening stanza:

Nov 24, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) is tackled by Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake (91) during the second half at Sun Life Stadium. The Panthers won 20-16. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The second went for five yards and came with under 2:00 minutes to go before halftime:  

Courtesy of NFL Game Rewind

Many of the read-option plays will result in Newton handing off to one of his three running backs, but he has to show a willingness to keep the football on occasion to place Galette and Jordan in tentative situations.  

The Saints have allowed 4.6 yards per carry this season, so Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Shula will likely do whatever's possible to slow down the pace of the game and keep Brees on the sideline.  

A dedication to the traditional running game is in order, but a variety of read-option plays should yield positive yardage most of the time.

An important facet of Carolina utilizing the read-option is that right tackle Byron Bell, arguably the Panthers' weakest lineman, can simply crash inside and won't have to deal with the Saints defensive ends.


Throwback pass

On Wilson's second touchdown pass against the Saints, the Seahawks ran wideout Doug Baldwin across the New Orleans defense from right to left. Wilson didn't fully "boot" to the strong side but "sprinted"—basically a half bootleg—toward the right tackle. 

Tight end Zach Miller and running back Marshawn Lynch stayed behind the line of scrimmage to pass-block. 

Courtesy of NFL Game Rewind

Golden Tate and Jermaine Kearse, who began bunched on the left side of the formation, ran across the the field from left to right. 

Tate ran a slant and Kearse dug to the inside after running straight into the cornerback after the snap. 

Courtesy of NFL Game Rewind

That left Baldwin, who crossed Tate, in the portion of the end zone furthest away from Wilson. 

Courtesy of NFL Game Rewind

But due to the quarterback's sprint toward the right tackle's edge of the pocket and with two receivers running in that direction, the Saints lost track of Baldwin on the backside. 

It was one of the easier touchdown pitch-and-catches of Wilson's career.

Courtesy of NFL Game Rewind

Although designed as more of a classic screen, the Panthers used a conceptually similar play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a week ago that featured one of Newton's favorite targets, tight end Greg Olsen. 

At the snap, the entire Panthers offensive slid to the right which corresponded with with Newton's "sprint" right. 

Courtesy of NFL Game Rewind

Brandon LaFell, who came in motion from the left side of the formation to the right side, ran a quick out-and-up and Steve Smith, located on the right perimeter at the snap, ran a "go" route down the sideline. 

Across the field, Ted Ginn ran a "go" route of his own, and Mike Tolbert, who initially lined up next to Newton in the shotgun, carried linebacker Mason Foster down the field on a vertical route. 

Courtesy of NFL Game Rewind

While Olsen didn't cross from right-to-left, he was aligned next to the left tackle pre-snap and blocked down with the offensive line before doubling back to catch the screen away from the flow of the play. 

Courtesy of NFL Game Rewind

He caught the ball with no one around him and the "throwback" resulted in a 30-yard gain. 

Courtesy of NFL Game Rewind

There's nothing timid about the scheme of Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, and he'll undoubtedly respect Newton's mobility. Therefore, a handful of throwback plays could work very well against New Orleans this week. 

Newton's coverage-reading acumen will be tested against Ryan's blitz-heavy defense, as will the Panthers offensive line. 

Carolina's wide receivers must win against man coverage down the field, and the offense will benefit if Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Tolbert run efficiently.

But utilizing the read-option often and playing to the Saints' defensive-aggressiveness with misdirection runs and throwback passes will help the Panthers offense stay on the field and score points—two things they'll have to do in spades to beat the Saints in New Orleans.