By Andrew Kahn
The Saints took control of the NFC South with a 28-10 victory over the Panthers last night, their first win in Carolina since 2011. New Orleans enters a three-game home stretch with a 4-4 record, while Carolina (3-5-1), which only has one win in its last seven games, travels to Philadelphia in 10 days.
On the Mark
Entering the game, the Saints’ running game against Carolina’s run defense looked like a favorable match-up for New Orleans, and the Saints were eager to exploit it. Mark Ingram had just one 100-yard game in his first 40 NFL games, but he posted his second in five days on Thursday. For the first time in his pro career, Ingram is getting the big bulk of the carries, and he’s making the most of it. Last night, he routinely seemed to be surrounded by defenders near the line of scrimmage but would turn it into a big gain with a subtle cut. The New Orleans offensive line deserves a lot of credit, too. Any back in the league should have been able to score on Ingram’s two touchdown runs. The Saints have typically had a very pass-heavy attack, but give Drew Brees a strong running game and this offense could reach new heights.
Saints’ shaky start
The Saints moved the ball well on their first possession of the game, getting into the red zone and facing a third and six. That’s when Brees’ strong throw ricocheted off a diving Kenny Stills, floated nearly 10 yards, and was snatched by a Carolina defender for an interception. On the Saints’ next possession, they had just moved across midfield when Brees was strip-sacked. Carolina did not take advantage of either first-quarter turnover, and it was New Orleans that went into the locker room with a 14-0 lead.
Cam Newton finished just 10 of 28 for 151 yards, an interception and a lost fumble, as the Carolina offense mustered only 231 yards. He posted career lows in completions, completion percentage, and passer rating. His pocket awareness was poor on the play where he fumbled, as he backpedaled into a defender. That set up the Saints at the Carolina three, and they punched it in for the game’s first score. His season passer rating of 86 puts him 22nd among qualifying players, behind Austin Davis, Brian Hoyer, and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
…but it’s not all on him
Let’s look at the two turnovers: Newton’s interception was a good pass that went through the hands of rookie Brenton Bersin. While Newton could have protected the ball and himself better on the fumble, pressure had come from both sides as he looked for a receiver, a theme of the night. And Newton’s third-quarter touchdown run will likely stand as one of the best quarterback runs of the season—and it came after a drop in the end zone. Carolina has had to do a lot of shuffling on the offensive line and the incohesiveness showed on Thursday.
Carolina’s defense had been very disappointing this season, especially against the run. While Ingram’s fine performance is noted above, the Panthers did allow just 2.8 yards per carry. Combine that with the two forced turnovers and that’s not a bad game against the high-scoring Saints. Despite the 28 points and loss, this was a step in the right direction for the Carolina defense.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about the NFL and other sports at http://andrewjkahn.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn
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