Bulletin board fodder not enough vs. Saints

December, 18, 2013
12/18/13
8:00
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Not to call out the Carolina Panthers' secondary -- that is how New York Jets wide receiver Santonio Holmes prefaced his comment last week -- but they will need more than bulletin board fodder to stop New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees on Sunday.

And I don't need to preface this: Jets' quarterback Geno Smith is by far the weaker quarterback when comparing him to Brees.

The Carolina secondary was pretty fired up over Holmes calling it the "weakest link" of the league's second-ranked defense. They turned it into motivation, although it was a bit artificial since the secondary has been the weakest link of the defense since the season began.

That's not a negative comment. That's just reality when your front seven is among the strongest in the entire NFL.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
Foto AP/Bill HaberDrew Brees passed for 313 yards and four touchdowns two weeks ago against the Panthers.
But the Panthers took it personal, declaring if you insult one you insult us all. They took it out on Smith, the league's lowest-ranked quarterback, which they should have done without the supposed insult.

Which brings us to the rematch against the Saints, who defeated Carolina 31-13 two weeks ago in New Orleans. Brees decimated the defense for 313 yards passing and four touchdowns. Much of the blame goes to the secondary, although the defensive front wasn't able to put much pressure on Brees, either.

Not that pressure is always a good thing. Brees is among the league's top passers under pressure, completing 65.8 percent of his passes. Denver's Peyton Manning leads the NFL at 71.6.

And the game came down to more than Brees dinking and dunking against the secondary as cornerback Captain Munnerlyn -- the hero of Sunday's 30-20 victory over the Jets with two sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown -- recalled.

“I’m not quite sure if he saw what I saw,” coach Ron Rivera said. “There were some mistakes in that game, and it really wasn’t a matter of dinking and dunking.”

The best thing the Carolina defense has going for it is Brees is on the road. The Saints are averaging 18.4 points away from the Superdome compared to 32.8 at home.

The defense struggles more on the road as well, giving up 23.1 points a game as opposed to 15.4 at home.

But it's the New Orleans offense that is Carolina's primary concern.

"We have to do some things differently,'' Rivera said. "When you look at them the last few weeks they have had some struggles [on the road] themselves. We have to take a look at [the Rams and Seahawks] and see what things mesh well with our game plan and try to incorporate things as well.''

St. Louis disrupted Brees with pressure from its base 4-3 defense in Sundays 27-16 victory. They finished with four sacks.

And while Brees has been effective under pressure for the most part, blitz pressure from a Carolina defense that typically relies on pressure from its front four did slow him down in the second half.

The Saints scored only 10 points in the third and fourth quarters after posting 21 in the second quarter.

“That seemed to help us, to get him moving his feet and get him to throw the ball a little bit quicker,” Rivera said. “If you give him time -- you give him an opportunity to sit back there and find his throwing lanes -- he’s very, very effective.”

But as defensive coordinator Sean McDermott noted, the Panthers have to be careful with their blitz packages against a quarterback of Brees' caliber.

“Most great quarterbacks are better when you blitz them because they want to see it,'' he 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 real slippery slope.”

In other words, it will take more than bulletin board fodder to change things.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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