Panthers Vs. Saints: Analysis Of New Orleans Houdini Act To Escape Carolina

Paul Augustin, Jr.Senior Analyst IOctober 3, 2010

NEW ORLEANS - OCTOBER 03:  Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints talks with Jimmy Clausen #2 of the Carolina Panthers at the Louisiana Superdome on October 3, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Saints defeated the Panthers 16-14.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

For the New Orleans Saints, winning with ease was so last year.

They survived another nail-biter, though, and now sit at 3-1.

None of the Saints' four games have been decided by more than five points. Last year, the Saints won each of their first four games by at least two touchdowns.

There are a lot of positives to take from this game despite playing such a close game against a winless team.

The week's biggest story, John Carney's return to New Orleans, paid dividends at least for one week as Carney nailed all three of his field goal attempts.

Garrett Hartley could only watch from the sidelines as he was inactive.

Sean Payton called it an excellent game.

I had criticized him the past few weeks for not sticking with the running game, but he kept the Panthers off-balanced with 15 running plays in the first half despite missing Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas.

The Saints ran the ball effectively and frequently on the first drive, piling up 52 yards on nine carries.

The fact that New Orleans did not score on the opening drive is not indicative of the game plan, but on Lance Moore's inability to hold on to the ball.

The Saints controlled the clock from the beginning and throughout the game, owning nearly a 2 to 1 advantage.

Had New Orleans not been so successful keeping its offense on the field, the defense likely would have seen a lot more of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.

The duo did enough damage, as it was, scoring the Panthers' only two touchdowns.

Drew Brees bounced back from an uneven week to lead four scoring drives (would have been six if not for two critical fumbles).

Brees uncharacteristically forced passes against the Falcons in Week 3 and was picked off twice.

This week he was calm and took what the defense gave him, throwing short and intermediate passes.

The Panthers were so concerned about the deep ball that they allowed Brees to carve them up for 33 completions. That number would have been higher if not for at least six dropped passes, something that has plagued the Saints so far this season.

It is obvious, though, that the offense is not right without Thomas and Bush.

New Orleans relies heavily on the screen game to get its offense moving and Thomas and Bush thrive in this part of the passing game.

Against the Panthers, the Saints completed very few, if any, screen passes to the running backs.

On the defensive side of the ball, two players really stood out in a good way.

Sedrick Ellis been criticized for his lack of production during his first two years in the league. The former seventh overall pick has had trouble staying on the field because of injuries.

In Week 4, he batted down two passes and had two tackles for a loss, including his third sack of the season.

Usama Young, whom I have ripped numerous times, made the play of the game when he dropped DeAngelo Williams for a four-yard loss to knock the Panthers out of field goal range with a little over a minute left in the game.

Carolina was running the same play with which they had scored with earlier, but Young kept containment and punished Williams when he made his cut. Had Young not made the tackle, Williams would have easily gotten the first down and Carolina likely would have kicked a game-winning field goal.

Overall, Gregg Williams' game plan was solid. His defense harassed rookie Jimmy Clausen all day, sacking him three times and holding him to barely over a 50 percent completion rate.

Carolina converted just four out of 12 third downs and punted six times.

The two touchdowns were a bit of a disappointment, though.

The busted coverage on the first touchdown was frustrating to see because the Panthers had so much trouble moving the ball up to that point.

On the second touchdown, the Saints had multiple defenders ready for the cut-back but could not bring down Williams.

New Orleans now travels to Arizona to face the Cardinals and the defense may have a chance to face another rookie quarterback.

Against the Chargers, the Cardinals pulled veteran Derek Anderson in favor of Max Hall after the veteran threw two first-half interceptions.

Perhaps this will be the game that finally gets the Saints looking like the team of a year ago.