NFL Week 3 Preview: Saints at Panthers
Each week, the PFF analysis team will bring you break downs of the most important matchups for each game of the NFL season.
Coverage by: Andrew Fleischer
Matchup: New Orleans Saints offense vs. Carolina Panthers defense
- RB Mark Ingram vs. LB Luke Kuechly and LB Thomas Davis – Mark Ingram is skilled both as a running back and as a receiver out of the backfield. He graded out at 77.0 overall in 2016, and his 75.5 receiving grade was the 13th highest out of 58 running backs with at least 245 snaps. He faces difficult matchups against Panthers linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis in Week 3; Davis is currently the highest graded linebacker at 90.2 overall, while Kuechly is the 14th highest at 81.0. Davis has a run-stop percentage of 13.3, eighth highest among eligible linebackers, while Kuechly hasn’t missed a tackle on 30 run snaps. Kuechly’s 1.08 yards allowed per snap in coverage this season is fairly good, while Davis’ mark of 0.6 is the eighth best among eligible linebackers.
- WR Michael Thomas vs. CB James Bradberry – Michael Thomas had an exceptional rookie year in 2016, and his 89.0 overall grade was the fifth best among eligible wide receivers. This season, he’ll often command the attention of the opposition’s best cornerback with Brandin Cooks gone, and against the Panthers, that’s James Bradberry. Thomas lined up as the left outside wide receiver on 56% of his routes in 2016, while Bradberry lined up as the defense’s right cornerback 84% of the time. Bradberry’s earned an 80.0 overall grade through two games, allowing 0.88 yards per cover snap, 28th among 67 eligible cornerbacks.
- G Larry Warford vs. DT Kawann Short – Larry Warford, who played for the Lions last year, earned the highest overall grade in 2016 among current Saints offensive lineman at 81.0. Warford signed with the Saints in free agency this offseason, and he’ll be needed this week to help protect Drew Brees from the pass rush of Kawann Short. Short’s 90.1 overall grade in 2016 was the third best among defensive tackles, and his 49 total pressures were tied for the fifth most among defensive tackles. He’s gotten seven quarterback pressures on 61 passing snaps this season, and his pass-rushing productivity of 9.0 is the fifth best grade among eligible defensive tackles.
Coverage by: Mike Manning
Matchup: Carolina Panthers offense vs. New Orleans Saints defense
- QB Cam Newton vs. Saints Cornerbacks – After missing some time this preseason due to offseason shoulder surgery, Newton is off to a slow start in 2017. His 67.4 passing grade this season is a career low and one of the biggest declines have been in the deep passing game. Newton’s passer rating on passes 20-plus yards downfield has dropped each year since his MVP 2015 campaign, when he ranked second in the league. In 2017 his 33.3 passer rating on those passes is last in the NFL, but the Saints cornerbacks have allowed a 158.3 passer rating on deep passing routes (post routes, corner routes, go routes). Their four touchdowns on those routes is tied with the Broncos for the most in the NFL in 2017.
- TE Ed Dickson vs. S Kenny Vaccaro – After placing starting tight end Greg Olsen on IR following the star breaking his foot against the Bills in Week 2, Dickson will be thrust into a bigger role. Two weeks into the 2017 season, none of the Panthers tight ends have done well with a combined yards per route run of 0.71. Dickson’s 48.8 overall grade ranks 38 out of 58 qualifying tight ends this season but Vaccaro has had trouble in coverage with a coverage grade of 28.2, ranking 77 out of 78 safeties. Dickson will look to break out against Vaccaro, the Saints safety has allowed 1.82 yards per cover snap through two weeks this season.
- T Daryl Williams vs. EDGE Cam Jordan – The Panthers’ tackles have allowed all three of the team’s sacks in 2017 and will have a tough task again with Jordan in Week 3. Williams did not allow a single pressure in 43 pass blocking snaps this preseason as he earned the starting right tackle spot but his pass-blocking efficiency dropped from 100.0 to 95.0 in the regular season. Meanwhile Jordan is off to his second straight elite season, his 91.3 overall grade ranks second behind only Von Miller in 2017. Jordan’s six stops in the run game are tied for the most by an edge defender entering Week 3, showing off the pass-rushers’ all-around ability.