How do you get to know your opponent? Sometimes you just have to ask. That’s exactly what I did with Editor Ken Dye who runs the Carolina Panthers site Cat Crave for FanSided Network. We discussed today’s match-up between the New Orleans Saints and Panthers.
Well, it’s more media hype at this point due to changes in the lineup from last year. Greg Hardy and Ron Rivera were asked about it and didn’t care for it but Rivera chalked it up to different philosophies – Rivera’s one who says decide the issue at hand – the game’s outcome, win or loss – then be safe for the next game. The Saints were playoff-bound and needed to make sure they were peaking. At the end of the day, they’re all professionals and know that the only thing that matters is going out on the field on Sunday and making their reads and executing their assignments.
That’s a little of both, really. Anytime you start with a loss to a divisional opponent and follow up with a home opener against another divisional opponent, things get “real” real fast. Players and fans know about the tiebreaking and playoff implications of divisional games and that they’re doubly important. With both teams losing their first game, I expect a very physical smash-mouth ball game this week. I think above it all, however, is the knowledge that starting 0-2 in this division with two divisional losses would make the road to the playoffs that much steeper and don’t want to start out in that big of a hole.
Tampa’s a much-improved team…people don’t realize yet that Greg Schiano has his young team playing disciplined, focused football and they’re for real. Panthers’ OC Rob Chudzinski had Cam throwing right at 2 out of every 3 plays. With the running backs we have – even without Jonathan Stewart there’s still Tolbert and DeAngelo Williams – there’s no excuse to put that much on Cam’s shoulders to carry. The defense only gave up 16 points so the Panthers were never so far behind as to need to abandon the running game the way they did. The entire offense played poorly. One screen pass had 4 blockers vs 1 defender and the defender made the tackle for a big loss. What’s up with THAT? So what I saw was a lot of really bad line play…which caused the subsequent issues you saw. It was enough to rattle anyone.
I know that’s exactly what I’d do if I were OC Rob Chudzinski. We drafted a hulking LT, Amini Silatolu, at the top of the second round to use as a mauling run-blocking guard and he’s starting on the left side. As I said, we’ve added Mike Tolbert at 260 pounds that can move as a lead blocker and has soft hands as a receiver – and tackling 260 pounds is never a defender’s idea of a party, either. RG3 had his success partially because of the running game, setting up the play-action, etc. Both teams know the Panthers will try and run more for the same reasons and the Panthers’ backfield…well, we all know of the talent there. The issue is in execution. The Panthers don’t want a shootout against a guy like Drew Brees, so there’s every reason to run the ball more. Shorten the game and keep Drew on the sidelines as much as possible.
In the NFL if you panic, you’ve already lost. The vets know that and the biggest thing in case of an 0-2 start is for the younger guys to see some calm in the storm to build on. If the Falcons lose to Denver and Tampa Bay loses to the Giants, no team in the conference will be over .500 but if you start looking at the standings in week 2, you’ve already hit the panic button. Either the Saints or Panthers WILL be 0-2 after today and do some serious soul-searching as a result. Having said that, if the Panthers lose, Cam won’t let them slide. It’s well-known by now that he despises losing so he’s the guy you want leading a struggling team. In that case, they’ll just focus on the bigger picture, take care of what they control, and let the chips fall where they may.