1. It’s amazing how quickly a season can turn around. Five days ago, the Saints were 2-4 and gearing up to face Green Bay, the hottest team in the NFL. After two quick wins, it’s like the Saints‘ slow start to 2014 never happened.
Drew Brees was razor sharp again, picking holes in the Panthers‘ zone defense with great accuracy. New Orleans’ pass rush has picked up, and the defense has turned competent by simplifying their scheme.
2. Why are the Saints in such good shape at 4-4? The rest of the division is lousy. Carolina, now 3-5-1, has won one game in the last seven weeks. The Panthers don’t do anything particularly well and their no-name secondary gets exposed when they can’t rush the passer. They’ve turned from one of the best two defenses in the league last year to a well-below average group. And this isn’t a roster built to be carried by its offense.
3. Cam Newton had his third straight poor game, with this performance being nothing short of a disaster. Every other pass he threw was high and off the mark, completing only 10-of-28 passes on the evening. He turned the ball over twice and often held on to the ball too long, taking four sacks. Two of the worst games of his career have come in the last three weeks.
Yes, Newton’s pass protection was poor. But was it that much worse than Brees’? Many of Newton’s worst throws were unforced errors. A poor deep pass to an open Kelvin Benjamin on the first drive of the game set the tone. Newton’s incredible speed is back, and he used it to pick up 43 yards and a score on the ground. But his accuracy has been terrible the last three weeks after what was the best stretch of his career early in the season. He’s still too streaky.
4. Benjamin dropped a potential touchdown, but we have to give credit to cornerback Keenan Lewis for his sticky coverage. Lewis is having an excellent year, and cornerback Patrick Robinson is starting to play well. Throw in better play from safety Kenny Vaccaro, and the Saints‘ secondary is starting to look good.
5. Saints running back Mark Ingram played through a shoulder injury to put up 100 yards on 30 carries. He’s topped 100 yards twice in a row after doing it only once in more than three seasons before last week. The Saints‘ offense just makes a lot more sense with a pounding running back that can keep long drives going and keep their defense off the field. The Saints played well in Detroit for 55 minutes, and have finished the job the last two weeks.
6. The Panthers aren’t done yet. They face the easiest remaining schedule in the league, according to opponent’s winning percentage. But they will probably have to win in the Superdome for a chance to win the NFC South. Good luck with that.