After quarterback Drew Brees retired, many critics thought the New Orleans Saints would fall off.
The franchise was now handing the keys to Jameis Winston, the 2015 No. 1 pick who eventually lost his starting job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Though it’s only one game, Winston and the Saints showed that they haven’t missed a beat. They dominated the Packers 38-3 last Sunday and face the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.
The Panthers are also finding their way with new quarterback Sam Darnold. And so far so good.
The Panthers are also 1-0 after a 19-14 win over the New York Jets.
Let’s break down this matchup:
When the Panthers pass ...
For the most part, Darnold was impressive against the Jets. He completed 24-of-35 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown. But he did falter in the red zone.
The Panthers were 1 of 4 in red-zone touchdown opportunities against the Jets, and all three of their failures were primarily on Darnold. He overthrew a wide-open Ian Thomas in the end zone, overthrew Terrace Marshall in the end zone, and fumbled a hand off exchange on fourth down in the red zone.
There were a lot of missed opportunities to score against the Jets, and that can’t happen against the Saints. The Saints have one of the best defenses in the NFL. They were top five in both passing defense and rushing defense in 2020. And Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers couldn’t get anything going against them last week. He was pressured 10 times and sacked once, threw two interceptions and no touchdowns.
The Panthers offensive line — particularly both offensive guards — struggled against the Jets. If the Saints can have the same success, it could be a long day for the Panthers.
When the Panthers run ...
Chrisitian McCaffrey is back, and he’ll be the biggest key for the Panthers, as they try to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
McCaffrey had 30 touches against the Jets, including 21 carries for 98 yards rushing. McCaffrey is shifty and it’s difficult to bring him down.
The Packers didn’t do much running last week against the Saints because they were down by many points, which may have skewed the stats. But make no mistake, the Saints are good at stopping the run. Their defensive line is one of the best in the NFL, led by Cameron Jordan.
The Packers managed only 43 yards on 15 rushing attempts against the Saints.
But McCaffrey is one of the top three running backs in the NFL.
The Panthers will likely try and run it often against the Saints, unless they find themselves down a few scores.
Advantage: Panthers (slight)
When the Saints pass ...
There’s no doubt that Winston can throw and has a great arm. He threw five touchdown passes against the Packers last week.
But he also has a tendency to throw a ton of interceptions, which is why the Buccaneers lost faith in him. In 2019, he led the league in interceptions (30) and turnovers (35).
The Panthers can make Winston make bad decisions by getting pressure on him, similar to how they did against Zach Wilson last week when they sacked him six times. Wilson fumbled once and threw one interception.
The Panthers defensive line has become their strength this year with the addition of Haason Reddick and the emergence of Marquis Haynes to go along with Brian Burns.
But that’s easier said than done. The Saints have one of the best offensive lines. Panthers coach Matt Rhule complimented it all week. They didn’t allow a single sack against the Packers and allowed eight pressures.
When the Saints run ...
The Saints have Alvin Kamara and really that’s enough said.
Rhule said earlier this week, that Kamara has “Hall of Fame-type contact balance,” meaning that even when he gets hit, he finds a way to stay on his feet.
Kamara had 83 yards rushing on 20 carries last week. Rookie running back Tony Jones added 50 yards rushing on 11 carries.
In the past, stopping the run has been the Panthers’ weakness. But last week they were good, only allowing the Jets to rush for 45 yards on 17 carries.
Kamara is a superstar and the Panthers could have a tough time slowing him down.
While the Panthers can certainly and probably will make things a little difficult for Winston, the Saints defense is just too good and will ultimately disrupt a Panthers team still trying to figure it out. Saints 24, Panthers 10
SAINTS: LB Kwon Alexander (elbow) OUT, DE Marcus Davenport (shoulder) OUT, DE Tanoh Kpassagnon (calf) QUESTIONABLE, Marshon Lattimore (hand) QUESTIONABLE, C/G Erik McCoy (calf) OUT, LB Pete Werner (hamstring) OUT, CB P.J. Williams (back) QUESTIONABLE, DB C.J. Gardner-Johnson (knee) QUESTIONABLE, LB Chase Hansen (groin) OUT.