6. Cam Newton may have averaged 8.2 yards per attempt, but he didn’t look himself out there either. I hated how Newton held onto the ball too long (Brees did the same when he wasn’t getting sacked by a well-timed blitz or by Greg Hardy), and he made a number of poor reads out there. But on the final drive, Newton was money. He made two great throws to keep the drive moving, and he was rewarded by an amazing TD catch from Hixon. The rain clearly hurt both quarterbacks, and Newton was also playing hurt out there. And oh yeah, no Steve Smith. Newton’s ability to fight through adversity was impressive, and a key trait in a quarterback is their ability to clamp down in key moments, even if they have been struggling during the game. Brees did the same.
7. Left tackle has been the weak link for the Saints ever since the Saints wisely chose not to give Jermon Bushrod elite tackle money (he’s decent, not elite), and they tossed Charles Brown for rookie Terron Armstead following Robert Quinn‘s beating of Brown in last week’s upset win for the St. Louis Rams. It looks like they need to go back to Brown and continue to develop Armstead, because the raw, small-school rookie was horrible yesterday. He committed two false starts and was thoroughly beaten by Greg Hardy, who is one of the game’s best defensive ends. Armstead honestly looked lost out there, and he lost both physically and mentally. Hardy was just too strong for Armstead, and he finished with three sacks and an additional hit of Brees. Both QBs were hit and sacked often, but Brees was sacked two more times. Coming into the game, I said that the team that did a better job of protecting their QB would win, and the Panthers clearly did a better job of that.
8. While Armstead and most offensive linemen struggled in this game, one OL on the Carolina Panthers really impressed me with his run blocking. Veteran guard Travelle Wharton has been excellent ever since re-uniting with the team, and he’s re-found his form this year. Wharton pulled some key blocks in the running game yesterday, and there are two that I would like to focus on. The first block was on the first play of the game, as Wharton executed his pull block perfectly to give DeAngelo Williams ample space for a solid gain on the left side. His block on Williams’s 43-yard touchdown run (vintage explosiveness from him right there) was the most memorable of the night, as he came into the second level and pancaked an overly-aggressive Saints LB with ease (bad gap discipline on that play doomed the Saints, too) to free up Williams for the big run.
9. Now for the injuries. I immediately knew that something was up with Smith when he didn’t come down with a reception on the play in which he was injured. He did an amazing job of getting in between the two defenders covering him (Smith is an excellent route-runner), and the throw from Newton was great. However, Smith wasn’t able to come down to it, and then we saw him limping. The uber-tough receiver tried to get back on the field and continue playing, but there was simply no chance of him being health enough to play. Panthers fans are holding their breaths regarding his status, because he is such an important player to this team. The Panthers biggest play came as a result of an excellent, 44-yard hook-up between Smith and Newton, and Smitty will be missed greatly if he’s out for an extended period of time.
Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro was carted off the field with a knee injury, and this would be a big blow for them. Vaccaro has been very good as a rookie, and he can make plays against the run and pass. He’s not great in coverage since he’s more of a playmaking safety, but he sets an edge on defense and gives Rob Ryan plenty of options due to Vaccaro’s all-around ability. Hopefully he isn’t out for an extended period of time.
It was good to see Mark Ingram get back on the field, and you have to wonder if the former first-round pick is the on the way to resurrecting his career. He was excellent against a bad Dallas Cowboys defense earlier this year, running with authority, bouncing off of tackles, exploding through the hole, cutting well, and showing great vision. He did all of those things against a top-notch Panthers defense yesterday, and Ingram was the most effective offensive player in this one. He finished with 83 yards on 13 carries, including an excellent 34-yard scamper. I’m rooting for him to keep it up, and it looks like the Saints were wise to not trade Ingram and hold out hope for a breakout.
10. The officiating in this game was excellent overall, and there are only two calls that I have qualms with. Early in the game, the refs may have costed the Saints a chance at a touchdown by not calling pass interference on Luke Kuechly, who had his arms draped all over Jimmy Graham on a pass attempt to the Saints TE. Graham is a huge target so it seems like you almost have to be incredibly physical with him, especially when he gets going like he did on the Saints TD drive. But I thought Kuechly should have been penalized, since the Panthers were a bit too physical with Graham early in the game.
That non-call wasn’t a major qualm by any means, and I should have initially termed it as more of an “observation” on my part. I was very upset at the call against the Panthers for illegal formation, which really hurt the Panthers. In a critical moment of a critical game, you cannot make a cookie-cutter call like the ones the refs did, and neither the announcers nor Mike Pereira agreed with the call. The Panthers were penalized five yards on fourth-and-short for lining up over the center, but the Panthers player was barely lined up over the center. I mean, it was barely discernible that he was on the cusp of the outside shoulder, and that call can flatly be termed as a bogus, ticky-tack call from the refs. The rules are rules, but my belief is that you should only call that penalty if it’s blatant; it definitely wasn’t blatant in that case, and it was an unnecessary call that unfairly swung the balance of the game.
Topics: Brad Nortman, Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers, DeAngelo Williams, Domenik Hixon, Drew Brees, Greg Hardy, Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills, Kenny Vaccaro, Lance Moore, Luke Kuechly, Malcolm Jenkins, Mark Ingram, Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints, Notes And Analysis, Pierre Thomas, Roman Humber, Sean Payton, Shayne Graham, Steve Smith, Ted Ginn Jr., Terron Armstead, Thomas Davis, Thomas Morstead, Travelle Wharton