Saints: How to beat the Panthers

The Panthers host the Saints this Thursday on a short week. The Black and Gold took the first meeting. Who Dat Dish breaks down what the Saints need to do to pull off the sweep.

After a heartbreaking loss to the Denver Broncos, the Saints are looking to right this ship on a short week in Carolina. The short week means the scheming will be somewhat vanilla. And although the two teams did meet earlier in the year, the matchups will be different this time around.

So we’ve broken down some keys for the Saints this Thursday. Let us know what you think.

Oct 16, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) is pressured by New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) during the third quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Panthers 41-38. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Rushing the passer: Collapsing the pocket

The Saints did an excellent job of getting after the QB against Denver. Cameron Jordan led the way with an all-around dominant performance. But he had plenty of help from Nick Fairley, Sheldon Rankins, Dannell Ellerbe and Dennis Allen’s scheme blitzes.

If the Saints want to disrupt the Panthers offense, they need to get after Cam Newton. He’s the centerpiece of their system and if the D-Line can take him out of his rhythm, they could be in for a big day.

Sheldon Rankins notched his first career sack last week, and more importantly he looked much improved from a shaky outing against SF. And Ellerbe staying on the field is a huge boost for the defense. I’d be surprised if Ellerbe brings pressure as often against this dangerous rushing attack, but whether it’s off the edges or down the middle, the Saints need to find a way to collapse the pocket.

Oct 16, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) runs with the ball past New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) to score a touchdown during the fourth quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won 41-38. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Rushing the passer: Containing Cam Newton

Normally, collapsing the pocket is all you really need to do to disrupt the quarterback. Against Cam Newton and the Panthers, it’s just the first step.

Newton was banged up the last time these teams met and was unable to really make plays with his legs. Well, he’s healthier now. He’ll be the scrambling threat that we all know and hate. That means that, if the Saints can neutralize him as a passer, they’ll then need to contain him as a runner.

Much of that comes from gap technique and disciplined D-Line play. For all the good Nick Fairley’s been able to do, he often breaks technique and abandons his gap to get after the QB. And while Rankins is still shaking some rust off, he’s a much more disciplined rusher. Pair that with Cam Jordan and Paul Kruger, who doesn’t exactly flash but who sets the edge and plays with balance, and this is one of the more contain-capable D-Lines in recent Saints memory.

It’ll help, of course, to have Dannell Ellerbe back and healthy. If he can stay on the field, the Saints may well keep Newton in check.

Oct 16, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (13) catches the ball but is ruled out of bounds as New Orleans Saints cornerback Ken Crawley (46) defends on the play during the second quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Solid CB play vs. Kelvin Benjamin

It’s no secret that Delvin Breaux struggled against the Broncos. And it’s understandable, I mean, the man is returning from a broken leg. But it was an uncomfortable sight nonetheless for Saints fans.

It’s unclear if Breaux will be a go for Thursday. He did just play a lot of football and won’t have much time to recover. But I expect him to miss most practices this week, and suit up.

That means he’ll likely draw the Kelvin Benjamin assignment. Benjamin had a costly turnover to end the Panthers’ last game, and he’ll be playing with a chip on his shoulder. Benjamin is a dangerous, athletic player able to make difficult catches in traffic with ease. It’s absolutely imperative that Breaux keep him contained.

If, and this is a big IF, Dennis Allen feels comfortable leaving Breaux on an island with Benjamin, it’ll completely open up this defense. Breaux’s been back for two games now, but we haven’t seen him at 100% yet. So Allen has left him with safety help. If he can close off one side of the field, we may finally see the aggressive, playmaking defense that Allen and Payton invisioned.

Oct 16, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) throws against the Carolina Panthers during the fourth quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Panthers 41-38. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Keeping Brees upright

The Panthers may not have Von Miller, but their front seven is nothing to scoff at. The Saints have had remarkable success protecting Brees this year, and they’ll need to continue that if the offense wants to flourish.

This is so crucial because, if the last Saints-Panthers game was any indication, the Saints will not be running the ball very often. That means potential third-and-long situations, and that the Panthers’ D-Line will be able to pin their ears back early and often.

It would obviously be hugely helpful if Terron Armstead can suit up. But even when he plays, he hasn’t been his former self. The knee injury has really taken its toll on his agility and strength. Fortunately, Andrus Peat has been a wonderful stand-in at LT. The real hit to Armstead’s absence is that Kelemete replaces Peat at LG. And that’s assuming Kelemete can play after leaving the Broncos game for a stretch.

Whatever the Saints have done so far in pass protection scheming has worked. Let’s hope they keep it up.

Oct 16, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks (10) catches a touchdown over Carolina Panthers outside linebacker Shaq Green-Thompson (54) during the fourth quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Panthers 41-38. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Winning vs. the Panthers secondary

Plenty went wrong for the Saints the last time these teams met. The one thing that went wonderfully right: the Saints receivers absolutely dominated the Panthers secondary.

The Panthers are thin at CB, but they’ve got James Bradberry back after he missed their last meeting. It remains to be seen how much of a difference he’ll make.

Bradberry will likely draw the Cooks assignment. If he can hold Cooks to something less than the 173 yards he torched the Panthers for earlier in the year, it’ll obviously help out Carolina.

But the real mismatches are futher down the depth chart. Yes, Michael Thomas had a rough outing last week with two (essentially three) fumbles. But does anyone really expect him to regress from that?

When the Saints played the Seahawks, Brees had no problem looking Thomas’s way when Richard Sherman was covering him. Against the bottom half of this CB group, Thomas should dominate. The same goes for Willie Snead, who is coming off a two-TD game and had one against the Panthers last game. If those players can consistently win their battles, it’ll be a long night for Carolina.

Prediction: Yes, the Panthers are much improved from last time. But so are the Saints. And yes, the Panthers will come in with a chip on the shoulder. But so will the Black and Gold. Saints 28 – Panthers 17.

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