This week I am trying an experiment as once again I’m struggling to find the two hours it takes me to go through the coaching tape of an entire game, so I am going to try pick out a few points of interest as I break down the game.
The things that I set out to watch before the season for these teams were the play of Drew Brees and Marques Colston for the Saints, whilst for the Panthers I wanted to take a look at Luke Kuechly and the rebuilt offensive line and receiver corp.
The game actually started very tightly thanks to a Drew Brees interception after a pass on third and six at the Carolina thirteen yard line bounced up from Kenny Stills’ hands and into the waiting arms of defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, creating both a turnover and loss of points for the Saints. On the very next Saints possession, Drew Brees was sacked by Charles Johnson, fumbling the ball as fullback Erik Lorig was driven into him, this resulted in a second turnover for the Saints in the first quarter. However, these would be the Saints only turnover in the game and after this difficult first quarter where they were held scoreless, the Saints would pull away from the Panthers for the rest of the game.
One of the major things to strike me in this game was about the Panthers’ offence, but it was not to do with the offensive line or receivers as I had written before the season. There are issues with the Panthers o-line, but what really struck me was the play of Cam Newton. There were good things, he repeatedly was able to escape the pocket and run to pick up first downs in late downs. However, the concerning thing for me was the way that he was throwing the ball. The stat line does look bad, ten of twenty-eight for 151 yards and an interception, but it was the way he threw for them was what troubled me. There is no doubting his physical talent, but there is more playing the quarterback that having a strong arm and this game highlights this. There seemed to be one setting for Newton in this game, throw the ball as hard as you can, and it simply was not getting the job done. We have seen the benefits of have a strong arm in that you can fit the ball into windows that other quarterbacks can’t, but this can lead to problems if you throw into coverage and there were a lot of balls batted down in this game. But on top of that, there were several deep balls that were thrown without touch, that were a yard or worse overthrown. The Saints were playing good defence, looking more like the team we expected them to be, but Cam Newton did play into the traps the Saints were setting and he needs to work on his delivery of the ball if this game is anything to go by.
On the other side of the ball, I was impressed with the physicality of the Panthers front seven who followed up week eight’s outhitting of the Seahawks defence with another strong showing. However, it will surprise few that their secondary struggled, and frequently the Saints receivers were able to find space to operate. Drew Brees was able to throw for nearly three hundred yards despite getting sacked four times and a game plan that had them committed to the run from the first quarter. The Saints’ Mark Ingram may have got his hundred yard game from thirty carries at a pedestrian three an a third yards per carry, but it was clearly part of the Saints game plan to challenge the Panthers defence in this way.
When I first watched this game I was impressed with the way that Luke Kuechly was always around the ball at the end of the game. It can be hard to judge raw pace at times when watching NFL games unless players are in flat out foot race, but it looks to me that Kuechly plays fast, a phrase you often hear around draft time. He also looks to have a knack of shedding blocks or not getting engaged so he can be in on the play. The tackle stat can be tricky as it is not an official one and seems to be counted in different ways across the various press boxes, but he’s always around the ball and is clearly a quality player.
The trouble I have with my plan to look at the Saints players that I chose is that it is not always easy to pick out particular receivers in a play. Often it requires several viewings so you can identify them and then watch on the all twenty-two to see what happened on the play. This is a particular problem for my plan to look at Marques Colston as I’m interested in him due to a quote I heard in the offseason, where Brady Quinn described how he would run routes like a quarterback would. However, without knowing the calls it is hard to evaluate this, and the Saints line up their receivers all over the field so it is not like trying to find AJ Green in a Bengals formation. He had three catches for thirty-six yards in this game, the best of which was his first one in the opening corner where he caught a back shoulder throw for twenty-two yards. The impressive thing for me on this play was the timing of the throw from Brees, as Colston was lined up inside another Saints receiver that I cannot identify from the tape, he runs a fade out type pattern that goes beyond the outside receiver’s stop route and gets very close to the outside corner, he’s only open because of the throw to the back shoulder. I’m always impressed with the body control of NFL receivers and the ability to turn your body, whilst watching a football into your hands in a helmet that limits your peripheral vision, is not one that should be taken lightly.
Nor is the ability to play quarterback at six feet tall, and Drew Brees looked much more like the player we would expect in this game. His pocket movement is excellent, and whist you won’t see him scrambling for huge yardage gains, it’s clear that he knows how to move round the pocket to get the ball to where he needs to go. He had one passing touchdown that was a simple play to Jimmy Graham one on one, and another rushing touchdown on fourth and goal from the one yard line where he jumps up over the o-line and extends the ball out to cross the plane of the goal line for a touchdown. More importantly though, is that despite the troubles of the first quarter, he completed twenty-four of thirty-four attempts against a defence who were playing well despite their secondary issues.
I will be interested to see how the Saints play over the next few weeks and if they can keep this momentum as they look more like the team that we expected in preseason. As for the Panthers, I know their offence has played better in previous weeks, and the problem for them seems to be that they can’t get good performances out of their offence and defence at the same time. They are playing better that I would have expected in preseason, but it will be interesting how they continue the rebuilding for next season as the o-line and secondary are clearly still issues.