ReFo: Saints @ Panthers, Week 16
The Panthers beat the Saints to take control of the NFC South in monsoon conditions. Mike Renner breaks down the game and some outstanding play from Carolina's linebackers.
ReFo: Saints @ Panthers, Week 16
With playoff berths and the NFC south title hanging in the balance, the Panthers overcame a monsoon to sneak away with a 17-13 victory. It was a defensive struggle that was seemingly dominated by the Saints. New Orleans ran 81 plays compared to just 44 for Carolina and the Saints had the ball for 17:36 longer than the Panthers. Stats like those almost always lead to a Saints victory, but sacks, turnovers, and big plays killed the Saints’ chances of clinching the division on Sunday.
The loss drops New Orleans to 10-5. All they have to do to make the playoffs is win, but they could also get in with two losses from the 49ers or a loss next week from the Cardinals. They could still win the division with a win and a Panthers loss. The Saints travel back home to face the Bucs next week and I don’t think they’ll want to leave their fate up to the NFC West.
Carolina’s victory improves their record to 11-4 and clinches at least a playoff berth. If Carolina can beat the Falcons in Atlanta next week they’ll lock up the division and a first round bye. The Panthers have surpassed almost all expectations this season, even ours, and have to be regarded as a serious threat in the playoffs with their defense.
New Orleans – Three Performances of Note
Trouble at Tackle
It may not have been wise to throw a rookie from a small school into his first NFL game against one of the most complete defensive ends in the league. Sean Payton did just that with Terron Armstead(-4.2), and the results were less than encouraging. The rookie out of Arkansas – Pine Bluff allowed two sacks, a hit, and two hurries while also false starting twice. Greg Hardy was our sixth rated 4-3 defensive end last season, not quite the guy I want to see lined up across from me. While Charles Brown may not be the long term answer on the left side, he only had one game as bad as Armstead’s and that was last week against Robert Quinn who has made a lot of left tackles look like revolving doors. It will be interesting to see who gets the call next week in a must win game.
Dud From Drew
I think it’s safe to say Drew Brees isn’t a fan of playing football in the rain. Or maybe he’s just not a fan of playing the Panthers defense. Either way Brees’ -4.2 grade was his worst since week 7 of the 2010 season and the third worst we’ve ever given him in PFF’s six years of grading. The Saints quarterback was just off in every sense of the word. He missed throws, made bad reads, and showed uncharacteristically poor pocket presence at times. On Brees’ 19 pressured dropbacks he went 5-13 for 28 yards with an interception and took six sacks. The one play that summed up his day perfectly was the interception to Luke Kuechly with 4:34 left in the third quarter. In the pouring rain, Brees stepped up in the pocket to avoid Mario Addison who was coming deep. Inexplicably though, Brees continued flowing up in the pocket right into Kawann Short who got enough of the Saints quarterback’s left shoulder to cause an errant throw.
No Slowing Down
Cameron Jordan just keeps doing it. The man plays almost every snap of every game and doesn’t ever slow down. For the season he has played 853 of a possible 919 snaps. He’s played four full games without missing a snap (including Sunday). Jordan led the Saints with a ridiculous +4.1 grade in 45 snaps and five pressures in 27 pass rushes, including a sack and two hits. He plays all over the defensive line and spent 13 snaps at left end in four man front and 16 snaps at right end in a three man front. His game is very similar to that of Panthers’ end Greg Hardy. Both make a living with their hands and power, gaining superior positioning and then just driving through to the quarterback. Jordan’s now our fourth ranked 3-4 defensive end with a grade of +33.0 for the season.
Carolina – Three Performances of Note
Linebackers Lead the Way
If you watched this game it almost seemed as if two guys were a part of every play. In reality Thomas Davis(+3.4) and Luke Kuechly(+5.5) were targeted or made a tackling attempt on a ridiculous 42 out of the Saints 81 offensive plays. While Davis was outstanding himself, and his interception was the highlight reel play of the day, Kuechly was on another level Sunday. Whether it was sniffing out screens or filling the point of attack play after play, the Panthers middle linebacker had one of the best games of his career. The second year player recorded 17 tackles, five assists, and eight stops to go along with an interception. His performance would have easily made our Page of Fame for inside linebackers if he wouldn’t have missed two tackles right at the line of scrimmage in the second half. It’s rare for two linebackers to really be the difference in a game, but that is exactly what the Panthers duo was on Sunday.
Cam Comes Through
Probably the craziest stat to come out of this game came courtesy of Cam Newton(+4.0), who on passes targeted over 10 yards down the field, was a perfect eight for eight in terms of accuracy. That type of downfield accuracy is extremely rare, and the throws he was making weren’t of the ‘wide open’ variety.
Even with his superb downfield accuracy, the Panthers were really only able to move the ball well on their final drive of the game. The reason why the Panthers struggled moving the ball was because of the four sacks and three drops, but also because Newton missed on four of 12 passes within 10 yards. His touch on short passes Sunday was obviously lacking. The interception wasn’t thrown in a horrible location, it was just unnecessarily rifled high and hard to Ted Ginn two yards past the line of scrimmage. The third year quarterback still hasn’t had a complete game yet this season where he puts it all together through the air, but he’s done just enough to win and that’s what he did again Sunday.
Making it Happen Captain
What more can you say about the season that Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn(+3.3) is having. This offseason, I broke down why Munnerlyn was the Panthers Secret Superstar and his performance this season has made me look smarter than I actually am. On Sunday he allowed just two of four targeted passes for 15 yards and had a pass defensed. The Captain also had two sacks on just three pass rushes, but was shamefully robbed of one in the official NFL stats. His sack on third down with 4:08 left in the fourth quarter was erroneously given to Mike Mitchell, who may or may not have touched Drew Brees. Munnerlyn is now our eighth highest ranked cornerback with an overall grade of +11.3 on the season and has become one of the premier slot defenders in the game.
– Luke Kuechly had more assists (five) than the entire Saints defense (four).
– Pierre Thomas allowed three pressures on 13 pass blocking snaps.
– Khiry Robinson broke three tackles on just six attempts while Panthers’ running backs didn’t force a missed tackle all day.
PFF Game Ball
Luke Kuechly combined with Thomas Davis to shut down the Saints quick passing game. Throughout the game though, it was Kuechly who made more plays and so the middle linebackers gets this game ball.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @PFF_MikeRenner