Squaring off this weekend is the best versus the worse NFL defense.
Preparing for a Week 3 divisional battle is the Carolina Panthers (2-0) as they host New Orleans Saints (0-2). Panthers are ranked the best defense in the NFL and have allowed only six points in two games while Saints are ranked the worse defense in the NFL. But when it comes to a rivalry match in the NFC South all numbers are thrown out.
While Panthers have leaned on the defense to win last game the offense will need to improve, says quarterback Cam Newton.
“We just need to score touchdowns,” Newton said in Wednesday’s, September 20, press conference. “Everything else will be good.”
Going against future Hall of Famers in quarterback Drew Brees and halfback Adrian Peterson are good reasons to want to score more points. Through two games this season Peterson has been limited to 14 carries for 44 rushing yards. While trailing in games led to a lack of carries, if Panthers allow the Saints to hang around he could see more action.
While there’s been speculation that Peterson is frustrated about a lack of carries, there’s another statistic Peterson is more worried about he told reporters Wednesday.
“I understand what we are as a team, getting the pieces together,” Peterson said. “Guys are busting their butt, a lot of people making sacrifices. At the end of the day its all about winning games…anyway that we can win…if we get a ‘w’ I’m coming home and celebrating, I’m in good spirits.”
One of the challenges ahead will be the first level defenders, Brees told reporters Wednesday.
“They got a great front seven,” Brees said. And Julius Peppers, “he’s still getting after the quarterback in the pass rush. He’s a big powerful guy.”
Peppers has piled up 2.5 sacks so far this year. He’s done so playing with whom he feels is one of the best units he’s been a part of. Even more so its a unit that can do a lot better, Peppers said after Sunday’s win over the Bills.
“This is the best [defense] I’ve ever played on,” Peppers said. “Right now I have all the confidence, trust [and] belief in these guys. We all play for one another…so I feel like sky’s the limit.”
Further explaining what’s made this a special defensive unit, on top of the veterans on the defensive unit, Newton explained what’s been key to the defense’s success.
“The thing that makes this group different is communication,” Newton said. “I’ve never seen so many guys flying around and being at one, in unison. That speaks volume, of leadership, and the guys that understand their role.”
So far this season the defense has yet to surrender a touchdown. Going against the Saints Brees says one of their struggles is not scoring when they have the opportunity. But Panthers keeping up their defensive won’t be a breeze.
“Its hard, it’s really hard [not allowing touchdowns] but these guys make it look easy,” Peppers said. “We feel like we’re built to win on defense.”
For the offense that’s been plagued with injuries, even Newton coming off an injury where he undergone shoulder surgery this past offseason, coming into week 3 they’ll be missing some key players. Offensive lineman Ryan Kalil missed week 2 and did not participate in Wednesday’s practice nor did wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin who may miss the Saints game due to a knee injury.
A player who definitely won’t play is Newton’s security blanket, tight end Greg Olsen who has been placed on injured reserve.
“Are we going to miss Mr. 3K? Absolutely, but life goes on,” Newton said. “We’re going to make sure when he comes back, and he’s going to comeback with a vengeance, is that our record is as flawless as we can make it.”
With Olsen out his preparation habits is still “in” as a few players have filled in Olsen’s role using the methods they’ve learned from Olsen, Newton said.
Coming into this game Panthers not only have an opportunity to reach 3-0 Newton has a shot to be the winningest quarterback in franchise history. With his record at 53-40, he’s one win away from surpassing Jake Delhomme. Most importantly, Newton is more impressed that he’s been with the squad that saw the culture change from the year he was drafted first overall in the 2011 NFL draft until now.
When he first arrived attendance lacked and there wasn’t many people tailgating. As the years went on, especially now, tailgates are crowded and fans are pumped to see the Panthers play.
“When you walk into the stadium that energy you feel is contagious and players feed off that,” Newton said. “Over my time here, that feel has been getting stronger…it’s just a blessing for me to just to kind of be one of the intricate pieces of a team that has been a part of the whole process.”
This energy has translated to helping Panthers convert on third down situations and helped the defense shutdown the opposing offense on their turn, says Newton.
Last Sunday, Newton evaded two defenders behind the line of scrimmage on a third and seven and after passing the line evaded one more to pick up 15 yards on the conversation.
That crowd energy has helped Panthers in those situations, key moments that can swing a game. We will need more of that this Sunday, Newton said.
Panthers coming out victorious will solidify Newton’s legacy as the winningest quarterback in team history leading them in what could be the best era yet for this franchise.
By Gino Terrell