Panthers look to silence Brees, Saints in rematch
Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott faces a quandary this Sunday against the New Orleans Saints in a pivotal game between two 10-4 teams.
Does he blitz Drew Brees or not?
Brees torched the Panthers for 313 yards and four touchdowns two weeks ago in the Saints' 31-13 win at the Superdome. Three of those touchdowns came in the second quarter when Carolina's front four failed to get pressure on Brees. The Panthers had better success after adding blitzes in the second half, but by that point it was too late.
McDermott said blitzing Brees too much can be a "slippery slope" the Panthers don't want to go down.
"Most great quarterbacks are better when you blitz them because they want to see it," McDermott said. "They want to get the ball out and into the receivers' hands. Drew's no different. We'll have to be smart. We'll have to cover well if and when we do blitz. But as we all know, to let a great quarterback sit back there and pick you apart, that's not the way to go, either."
It's a game that will likely determine the NFC South champion and a first-round bye in the NFC. And playing at home is of particular interest to these two teams during the postseason.
The Saints are 7-0 at the Superdome; the Panthers are 6-1 at home, with their only loss coming in a close defeat to the Seahawks in the season opener. Seattle merely has the league's best record.
The Panthers haven't been to the playoffs since 2008, and quarterback Cam Newton is among several players eager for a trip to the postseason.
"We're looking at it as, 'Why not us?'" Newton said. "... If we do what we have to do. If we win this game, we have our confirmation of being in the playoffs."
There is the added motivation of beating the Saints, who handed Carolina its only loss in the past 10 games.
"We really got embarrassed a couple of weeks ago," Newton said. "This is our opportunity to prove to ourselves that we are who we think we are."
Five things to know about the Saints-Panthers matchup:
PLAYOFF SCENARIOS: The Saints clinch the division and a first-round bye with a win. They can still lose and earn a postseason berth if Arizona loses to Seattle.
The Panthers clinch a playoff berth with a win in either of their games, but can't secure the division title this week. If Carolina loses, it still can clinch a spot in the postseason if Arizona and San Francisco both lose.
BREES' BLIND SIDE: The Saints have benched left tackle Charles Brown and handed the starting job to Terron Armstead, a rookie from Arkansas-Pine Bluff who has never taken an NFL snap on offense.
When the right-handed Brees drops back to pass, as he has done on about two-thirds of Saints offensive plays this season, Armstead has his blind side. Armstead's main job will entail blocking defensive end Greg Hardy, who has eight sacks this season. "Just like anybody, there's gonna be things that happen to Terron because he's young," Saints right tackle Zach Strief said. "But at the end of the day I think we have more than enough confidence that Terron will be a good player."
CHANGE O'FOOT: The Saints made a significant late-season change in the kicking game, releasing Garrett Hartley and bringing in 36-year-old Shayne Graham. Graham has been on the rosters of nine other NFL teams during a 13-year career, but has not kicked in a game since Jan. 13, when he was with Houston. He made field goals of 27 and 55 yards in a playoff loss at New England.
HARD ROAD: While the Saints have looked unbeatable in the Superdome, going 7-0 with five double-digit victories, they are 3-4 on the road, with a pair of double-digit losses in each of their last two games away from the Big Easy. "Obviously we're not very satisfied or happy with our performance on the road as of late," Brees said. "We played well on the road early in the season. We just haven't been able to put it together the last few times."
RIDING DEANGELO: The Panthers will again be without Jonathan Stewart, out with a torn MCL. That means DeAngelo Williams will carry the load. The 30-year-old Williams had 168 total yards from scrimmage last week against the New York Jets, including a 72-yard touchdown reception.