Saints’ defense struggling after first 2 weeks

As long as Drew Brees stays healthy, the New Orleans Saints’

offense is going to be just fine.

The defense? Now that’s a concern.

The Saints got pushed around for the second straight week,

allowing 463 total yards in a 35-27 loss to the Carolina Panthers

on Sunday. New Orleans fell to 0-2 for the first time since 2007

and finds itself alone in the NFC South cellar.

They’ve allowed 922 yards and 75 points in two games against

young quarterbacks Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III.

”We’re just not playing as good as we want to yet,” Saints

cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. ”We had high expectations and

we’ve worked hard and prepared hard. We’ve got to jell and continue

to do the things we need to do to get better. We just have to

continue to chip away at this thing.”

The Saints will welcome an opportunity to face a team that

doesn’t run the zone-read option quite as much next Sunday. They

face another 0-2 team when they meet Matt Cassel and the Kansas

City Chiefs.

”If you look at our defense, and you look at the two offenses

we’ve played, we’ve played the most unconventional offenses in the

National Football League,” interim coach Aaron Kromer said. ”So

do we have to do better against those styles of offenses? Yeah, we

do. One thing we need to get settled in on is on that style. But

we’ve played two good offenses, and we just need to keep working at

it and plugging away.”

Quarterback Drew Brees, who had 325 yards passing and two

interceptions, is confident the Saints can turn things around.

”Unfortunately, we’ve done some things in these past two games

that have set us back,” Brees said. ”The important thing is

recognizing what those things are. I feel like we have that. Now

it’s just a matter of getting the extra break, having things go

your way, and getting on a win streak. We’ve done a great job of

doing that here in the past.”

Running back Pierre Thomas doesn’t blame the slow start on the

bounty scandal the Saints endured this past offseason, which

resulted in the suspension of coach Sean Payton for the entire

season.

”What happened in the offseason, any issues we had, that has

nothing to do with this 0-2 start,” said Thomas, who had 110 yards

on nine carries.

The Saints’ defense had fits with Newton, who threw for 253

yards and ran for a career-high 71 yards.

”Times change,” wide receiver Steve Smith said of Carolina’s

first win over New Orleans since 2009.

The Panthers tied a club record last week with 10 yards rushing

in a loss to Tampa Bay. They had no such problems moving the ball

against the Saints. They got the running game going in the second

quarter and rolled up 219 yards on the ground and 463 overall.

Newton, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert all scored on short

touchdown runs and Steve Smith overcame a sore knee to finish with

104 yards receiving – the 39th 100-yard receiving game of his

career.

Jonathan Stewart hauled in a 17-yard touchdown catch for the

Panthers (1-1) and Brandon LaFell had six catches for 90 yards.

Newton kept the Saints off balance all day, running eight times

for 66 yards in the first half as coordinator Rob Chudzinski used a

variety of plays that allowed Carolina to take a 21-13 halftime

lead.

”You do read option, read option, read option and then get them

to play seven or eight in the box and you’ve got so many variations

of plays and passes you can run off that,” Newton said.

Added Tolbert: ”The zone read was one of the plays that we saw

on film that they was kind of vulnerable to. It was working, so we

stuck with it. They weren’t fitting the gaps right on that

play.”

When the Saints began to figure things out, Newton would find

open receivers who beat one-on-one matchups on the outside.

On one second-half play, there was not a defender within 20

yards of Smith when he hauled in a pass from Newton along the right

sideline and raced 66 yards before being dragged down.

”I was shocked just as much as anybody,” Newton said. ”Of all

of the people on this field to be wide open, you would think Smitty

would be the last person. But that is what type of pressure the

zone read gives us.”

Brees came in having won five straight starts against

Carolina.

The Panthers only sacked Brees once, but pressured him into

getting rid of the ball early several times. Brees was twice

flagged for intentional grounding.

Brees briefly appeared to be hurt in the third quarter when

defensive end Greg Hardy collapsed the pocket on came crashing down

on his leg from behind. Brees hobbled off the field but returned

for the next series, never missing a play.

”It’s fine,” Brees said. ”It just got rolled up on in an

awkward position.”

The last time the Saints started 0-2 was five years ago when

they finished 7-9 and failed to make the playoffs.

”The challenge now is keeping from that mentality of why it’s

happening, or pointing fingers and saying `this guy isn’t doing

what he’s supposed to,”’ Saints tackle Zach Strief said. ”That’s

dangerous. That’s poisonous to a locker room.”

NOTES: The Panthers are 6-1 over the last two seasons in games

in which Newton does not throw an interception. … Smith was

carted to the locker room at one point in the third quarter after

reinjuring his knee, but returned to the game. He said afterward

he’s fine. … Pierre Thomas had 110 yards rushing for the Saints,

and Darren Sproles had 13 catches for 128 yards receiving. …

Charlotte Bobcats owner and former NBA great Michael Jordan took in

the game from a luxury suite.

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