ReFo: Panthers @ Saints, Week 14
Just when you thought the NFC South was threatening to be sorted, we’re sucked back into the entire division tripping over itself on its way to an inevitable losing-record champion. The Saints entered this week with things looking good for them, with a home game against the Panthers and the Falcons having to travel to Green Bay, arguably the hottest team in football. But they conspired not just to look that gift horse in the mouth, but to slap it silly.
They were 17 points down before they knew what happened thanks to a couple of early turnovers and things only got worse as the game went on. A late score in garbage time made it look a little less tragic, but this was as one-sided a game as you are going to see from a divisional rivalry and puts the lead of the South at just five wins.
Carolina Panthers – Performances of Note
Cam Newton, QB: +4.4
Breakdown: Newton has had a strange year. Over the first month of the season he was in the MVP conversation before his performances tumbled away as his protection and weaponry failed him. He was excellent in this game thanks in large part because both held up their end of the bargain.
Signature Play: Q1, 6:46. This play was the perfect summation of Newton’s game. He scored a touchdown on a rushing play with a fantastic extension to reach the ball over the plane, but was then very lucky not to be flagged for taunting Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, which sparked a huge brawl in which one player was ejected.
Roman Harper, S: +3.9
Breakdown: At this stage in his career when Roman Harper plays this well you have to look at the opposition, who could barely stop shooting themselves in the foot long enough for somebody else to make a play. Harper made a few big plays, separating Saints receivers from the ball on multiple occasions.
Signature Stat: This was Harper’s best grade since Week 9 of the 2010 season, and only the fifth green-graded game of the last three seasons.
Greg Olsen, TE: +1.2
Breakdown: I have to be honest; I’m including Olsen largely because I want an excuse to post this catch. This is the kind of play that really benefits Newton, whose accuracy is never likely to be truly elite. Olsen was on his way to an excellent game but for some struggles run blocking and a penalty, but as a receiver he was huge.
Signature Stat: Caught 10 of the 11 passes thrown his way for 72 yards and a touchdown.
New Orleans Saints – Performances of Note
Jimmy Graham, TE: -4.0
Breakdown: Much was made of Jimmy Graham’s lack of stats in two of the last three weeks of play, but in this game much of that blame falls squarely on his own shoulders. He was as guilty as anybody on the Saints of checking out mentally from this game and it resulted in three dropped passes, matching the number he caught in the game.
Signature Stat: Graham was targeted 10 times, matching his third-highest figure of the season.
Cameron Jordan, DE: -3.3
Breakdown: The Saints’ D was at its best when Jordan was a consistent source of pressure. Junior Gallette can’t do it all by himself, but at the moment that is what he is being asked to do. Jordan made a few plays in the run game but was shut down as a pass-rush threat.
Signature Stat: In 34 pass-rushing snaps Jordan failed to register a single pressure.
Jahri Evans, RG: +3.1
Breakdown: There aren’t many New Orleans players to come out of this game with their heads held high, but Evans has the right to be one of them. He surrendered a single hurry from his pass protection and made several big blocks in the run game.
Signature Stat: The Saints averaged 8.75 yards per carry running either side of Evans in this game.
PFF Game Ball
There were several good candidates for the game ball, almost all from the Carolina side, but perhaps none more deserving than CB Bené Benwikere, whose +4.0 grade came from playing some impressive bend-but-don’t-break defense.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam