Week 1 Game Recap: New Orleans Saints 23, Carolina Panthers 20
What you need to know
Despite the adverse circumstances facing them in the aftermath of Katrina, the New Orleans Saints came out fired up and well prepared for their season opener. Although the final score would indicate that this was a close contest, the Saints seemed to be in control of this game most of the way. Their preparedness was evident on the game’s opening drive, when the Saints took nine minutes off the clock before Deuce McAllister punched it into the end zone on a four yard run.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Saints heavily utilized Deuce McAllister and the run game. Although McAllister gained just 64 total yards on 26 carries, he was the focus of the Saints’ offense, particularly in the red zone. He finished the day with two touchdowns on runs of four and two yards.
Although he did not complete a touchdown pass, Aaron Brooks played a solid game. He threw the ball with confidence and accuracy, and was particularly effective on the drive that led to the Saints’ game-winning field goal at the end of the game. His only obvious mistake of the day occurred on a red zone fumble on a play when the defense did not even touch him. Brooks finished the day with 18 completions in 24 attempts for a total of 192 passing yards.
The Saints threw to their wide receivers sparingly, with Joe Horn and Donte’ Stallworth managing just 66 and 47 yards, respectively. At the tight end position, Ernie Conwell emerged as a favorite target of Aaron Brooks. Conwell pulled in six catches for 71 yards before he left the game after taking a helmet to helmet shot in the second half.
Picked in the preseason by many to contend for the Super Bowl, the Carolina Panthers looked somewhat unpolished on both sides of the football. The Panthers’ defensive front four was dealt an early blow when Carolina defensive tackle Kris Jenkins left the game with a sprained right knee. Although he would return later in the game for brief period, the Panthers’ run defense was at times soft in the middle, with both of McAllister’s touchdowns going between the tackles. The Panthers registered no sacks or interceptions in the game.
Offensively, the Panthers moved the ball well at times, but poor execution and several poor decisions by Jake Delhomme resulted in costly turnovers. Both of Delhomme’s two interceptions came on under thrown passes on which the defensive back was able to jump the route. Delhomme showed strong chemistry with wide receiver Steve Smith, who was back in action after spending virtually all of the 2004 season on injured reserve. The duo connected for 138 yards and a touchdown.
In the running game, Stephen Davis got the start and rushed 13 times. He shared time with DeShaun Foster who saw nine carries and three receptions. A key difference was that Davis was in the game for most short yardage and obvious run situations, while Foster was in the game in virtually all passing situations. Overall, Davis had the more impressive day, finishing with 81 yards on the ground and a touchdown. His totals included a long run of 39 yards. Foster finished the day with 41 yards on the ground, and 15 receiving yards.
What you ought to know
|QB Aaron Brooks, Pass: 18 - 24 - 192 - 0 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 3 - 32 - 0|
Brooks had a solid overall game. He showed good pocket awareness, and proved adept at eluding pressure, opening up throwing lanes, and finding open receivers. Although he did not find the end zone, he made confident accurate throws when called upon, and led an effective two minute offense to get his team into position for a game winning field goal at the end of the game. Brooks also scrambled for 32 total yards, with 22 of them on a play to sustain a critical Saints’ fourth quarter drive. Brooks’ lone gaffe of the day was a costly one, occurring when he lost a fumble on a ball that simply squirted out of his hands even though he was untouched by the defense. He’s still the same easy going Aaron Brooks though as he was laughing on the sideline after an incomplete pass to Joe Horn forced the Saints the punt the ball away leading by just three points and 3:13 left on the clock.
The debut of Brees with New Orleans was a positive one, despite just a 68.8 passer rating and 5.7 yard average per passing attempt. Brees spread the ball around well, and appeared to be in sync with rookie running back Reggie Bush on checkdowns and passes out into the flat. His touchdown pass to Marques Colston was a crisply thrown slant, though he made a poor decision on his interception as the safety was sitting on the outside pass. It was noted at one point late in the game that the significant majority of his passes were being thrown to the right side of the field, traditionally where Colston lined up, and to where Bush came out of the backfield.
McAllister was the primary workhorse for the Saints’ offense, as he carried the ball 26 times on the day. McAllister was used heavily on the Saints’ first series, which culminated in a yard touchdown run between the tackles. McAllister’s second touchdown came on a two yard run between the tackles. McAllister was unable to break a big run against the Panthers, but he was effective at wearing down their defense nonetheless. He also saw plenty of action in the red zone. In addition to his two touchdowns, McAllister received five straight carries inside the Panthers’ ten yard line during one second half series.
Smith saw limited action in relief of Deuce McAllister. He had three carries for a total of two yards.
Stecker had just one carry for three yards in relief of Deuce McAllister.
Cadet started the game and was targeted on the Saints' first play from scrimmage. He released out of the backfield catching a swing pass that gained five yards. He had no rushes in the game.
Hightower entered the game for the first time on the team’s third series, moving the chains with a successful short yardage gain of three yards. He cutback through the middle of the defense for five yards on the following down. Hightower’s lone reception was a swing pass behind the line of scrimmage in which he broke first contact to gain a new first down. Hightower is just a handcuff to entrenched starter Mark Ingram.
As part of the Saints new three-headed backfield, Mark Ingram provided the punch in this game, running between the tackles and lowering his pads for tough yardage inside. Ingram kept his legs pumping through contact and showed some of the vision that made him a Heisman trophy winner and a first round draft pick. At times his play lacked a ‘feel’ for where the hole would develop on running plays and as a result he missed a couple of cutback lanes. Despite this, he showed good burst out of his cuts on the few carries he got. The coaching staff also kept him in to block on several third down plays, showing the trust level increasing.
|WR Joe Horn, Rec: 5 - 66 - 0 (8 targets)|
Horn had a relatively quiet game, with 64 yards on five catches. Most of his production came late in the game, when he had two big catches in the final minute with the Saints trying to move into FG territory. Horn also had an uncharacteristic drop on a critical third down play late in the fourth quarter. Horn was not targeted in the red zone in this game.
Stallworth was effective when called upon catching four of the six passes thrown his way. He notched just 47 yards on the four catches and was targeted once in the red zone.
Coleman’s first target fell incomplete on a play-action rollout from Brees to the right side of the formation. He was able to find the endzone on his next target, catching the ball in the left flat near the line of scrimmage, then proceeding to break a Tyrann Mathieu tackle en route to a diving effort inside the pylon. Coleman caught a three-step slant for just four yards on the subsequent series, but the drive ended when he was unable to reel in the pass on a comeback route to end the Saints’ offensive hopes in the first half. The second-year receiver sat down in a void in the Arizona zone for six yards to set up crucial third down midway through the fourth quarter. Coleman found another opening in the defense on an intermediate in-route for 19 garbage-time yards. The Rutgers product did well finding space against a stingy Arizona defense, and made a great play after the catch to get New Orleans in for their only offensive touchdown. Coleman is capable of a big game down the line when the Saints opt to spread a defensive opponent out with the pass.
Cooks was used early and often, catching three passes on three targets for 50 yards on the Saints' initial drive. His first reception was on a deep pattern down the middle and he worked wide open for a gain of 32 yards. His next catch was on a swing route that only gained 2 yards. His final catch of the drive was a come-back route that was also open for a gain of 16 yards, but it did not convert the first down and the Saints were forced to kick a field goal. Cooks did not have another touch until the Saints third drive. He showed speed, quickness and excellent vision on an end around that gained 18 yards and a first down. On the Saints final scoring drive of the first half, Cooks drew a defensive holding call for another first down. Three plays later Brees hot him on a rub route for a 3 yard gain and Cooks' first NFL touchdown. Near the end of the 3rd quarter, Brees targeted Cooks in the end zone, but the coverage was excellent and the result was Brees' only interception on the day. Cooks last reception was in the fourth quarter and gained 9 yards and another first down. Cooks also served as the Saints punt returner in this game, but the Falcons' punt coverage forced fair catches by Cooks on both punts.
Snead’s sole touch of the game came on the very first play from scrimmage in the second half. He broke through the Arizona secondary for 63 quick yards on a play-action post from Drew Brees. Snead may emerge for a big week or two across the 2015 season, but volatility seems like a certainty for the rookie from Ball State.
The OSU alum didn’t appear to be given a large portion of the playbook in his debut, running a seemingly limited route tree, but he was very efficient with his opportunities. Thomas found space in the left flat on New Orleans’ fourth drive for a 11 yard slant route for his first career catch. The rookie caught a nearly identical pass off a slant pattern just five plays later, but extended the play to a 25-yard gain by juking the CB in man coverage out of his shoes and proceeding further upfield. Thomas stayed busy on slant routes into the next series, again winning inside leverage over the middle of the field for seven yards. A fourth slant took place early in the second half, gaining just four yards on third-and-long. Thomas’ fifth reception was his first non-slant of the day, a short hitch route near the left boundary that picked up nine yards. He showed impressive hands on his sixth and final catch of the day, grasping the ball away from his man coverage on yet another short slant for two yards. Thomas drew a pass interference midway through the final period, utilizing a double-move to force his man coverage into desperation and pick up 11 yards. Thomas showed incredible awareness midway through the fourth quarter, seemingly appearing out of nowhere to scoop up a critical loose ball that had been fumbled by Willie Snead, a play that will undoubtedly endear him to his coaching staff. Thomas projects to be a fixture in 3-WR sets as the year progresses, and is definitely on the fantasy radar after already surpassing Brandon Coleman on the dpeth chart.
Pay attention here. Conwell emerged in this game as a new favorite target of Brooks. Taking over at the tight end position for the injured Boo Williams, Conwell effectively worked the middle of the field including some deeper routes. He caught nearly everything thrown his way, and made a number of highly acrobatic catches. However, Conwell was knocked out of the game in the third quarter after he was absolutely clobbered while trying to make a leaping catch in the middle of the field. He had to be helped off of the field and did not return to the game. The word was a “displaced” jaw but after the game he appeared to be just fine in the locker room talking to reporters with no problem.
It was an inauspicious debut in white and gold for the free-agent acquisition to say the least, as Fleener was a distant fourth option in New Orleans’ passing attack. Fleener was targeted on the opening play of the game, but did not record the catch. Concerningly, his next target did not come until early in the fourth quarter, when he was unable to execute a vertical route up the right seam, letting his defender get in front of him and bat the pass away. Fleener’s first catch as a Saint, his only one of the day, came on the following possession when he served as safety valve in the middle of the field while his quarterback was under pressure. There’s still reason to believe the TE spot will return production in New Orleans’ offense, but the transition for Fleener certainly hasn’t started without a hitch.
Thomas’ receiving duties were limited in this game and he’ll most likely continue to see limited targets until Jeremy Shockey gets injured.
Carney was perfect on the day, hitting two extra points and three field goals, including the 47 yard game winner with three seconds remaining in game.
The Saints looked vulnerable to the run at times, allowing a 39 yard run to Stephen Davis and one rushing touchdown. However, the Saints did a nice job of preventing the Panthers’ running attack from getting into any sort of rhythm, and were generally effective at keeping Davis and Foster in check.
The Saints’ pass defense played a solid game, getting pressure on Delhomme up front, and also applying effective coverage on the Panthers’ receivers downfield. The Saints forced a key red zone fumble at the end of the first half when they collapsed the pocket around Delhomme. Notably, the Saints fumbled away both of their Delhomme interceptions during the subsequent returns.
|QB Jake Delhomme, Pass: 19 - 31 - 212 - 1 TD / 2 INT, Rush: 2 - 17 - 0|
Delhomme had an inconsistent performance. At times he showed great patience in the pocket, making some brilliant throws to connect with his receivers. But at other times, Delhomme made ill advised throws, particularly on his two interceptions, which were thrown late and without adequate velocity. On both balls, the defensive back was able to undercut the route and come up with the interception. Delhomme showed a strong dependence for Steve Smith, who was back on the field after missing most of the 2004 season. The two connected on a 33 yard touchdown pass and catch early in the game. It looked like the chemistry between the two was just as strong as ever.
Informed on Saturday evening that he would be getting the start in place of the injured Cam Newton, Derek Anderson looked unflappable in his first professional start since 2010. Anderson looked totally at ease in the offense, executing it true to its conception. He masterfully carried out play fakes and bootlegs and consistently found his targets early on as he established a rhythm. While there were a few missed opportunities, most notably a missed touchdown pass to Greg Olsen down the seam when he overthrew him by a few inches, Anderson was getting the ball out accurately and on time. He showed no fear throwing into traffic, often fitting the football between defenders to find his intended target. Anderson did a lot of damage off play action, consistently finding favorite target Greg Olsen uncovered against the Bucsí predominantly Tampa-2 looks. His first touchdown toss, a play action pass to Olsen, turned out to be an easy pitch and catch in the red zone as the Bucs failed to pick up Olsen in the back of the end zone. Anderson trusted his targets to make clutch catches for him throughout, and none was more impressive ń or risky ń than the touchdown pass to rookie Kelvin Benjamin. With time in the pocket thanks to the great protection he was continually afforded, Anderson spotted a streaking Benjamin down the left sideline. Anderson heaved a pass up for his receiver to snag, and Benjamin did the rest, producing a ridiculous catch by securing the football behind the defender's back, subsequently wrestling it away. Anderson almost made a critical error to erase that inspirational play in the fourth quarter. With Carolina up 17-7, Anderson threw an ill-advised pass left under duress; it hit the hands of the waiting defender, but he couldnít make the interception. Had he caught it, it would have been a pick six beyond doubt. Anderson, however, steadied the ship and thanks to an assist from the Carolina defense, managed to close out the game. In a poised display from the veteran, it was the only blotch on his day.
Cam Newton delivered a debut of the highest quality on Sunday against Arizona, becoming the first rookie quarterback in his debut to throw for over 400 yards. Newton was poised in the pocket, calmly going through his progressions on each passing play and crisply executing play fakes. In the face of pressure, he did not falter and found his receivers even if he had to throw off his back foot. His arm strength is tremendous and allows him to make to any location on the field. His accuracy was much improved from the preseason. He stepped in to every throw he could and delivered fast, accurate passes for the most part.
Newton tossed his first NFL touchdown pass to Steve Smith as a corner blitz came from his left side. The corner that was covering Smith left the receiver for the safety behind him. Smith simply blew past the safety and Newton delivered a looping deep pass for Smith to run under. His second touchdown pass was better than the first. Newton threw a high ball up to Smith in the end zone on and out-and-go route, which Smith reeled in as he leaped high above the corner. Newton’s lone big mistake of this game came when he targeted Smith on a dig route. The linebacker on the play, Daryl Washington, made a great read and broke on the pass. Newton led the team to the five yard line on a potentially game-tying drive, but his pass to Mike Goodson was a yard short. In all, it was a very accomplished display from the rookie quarterback. Newton will not produce like this every week, but he can be a borderline QB1 in fantasy football.
Davis got the start in this game, despite seeing very limited action in the preseason. Although he split carries with DeShaun Foster throughout the game, Davis made the most of his 13 attempts. He ran with power between the tackles, and found increasing running room as the game wore on. Late in the fourth quarter he broke a 39 yard run on a sweep to the right side. He would have scored a touchdown, but he was caught and tackled from behind at the six yard line. On the same drive, Davis rumbled into the end zone from the one yard line for his lone touchdown of the game. Notably, Davis was used in most short yardage and pure running situations, while Foster saw more action on passing downs.
Foster did not get the start in this game, but he shared carries with Stephen Davis on the Panthers’ first series and throughout the game. Foster carried the ball just nine times, but also had three receptions in the passing game. For the most part, Foster was used on second and third downs, and in obvious passing situations. Foster did get one red zone carry at the six yard line, but this occurred while Davis was catching a breather after his 39 yard run. Foster did not see any other red zone action.
|RB Nick Goings, Rush: 1 - 2 - 0, Rec: 2 - 15 - 0 (2 targets)|
Goings fumbled on a kick return in the third quarter when the ball was knocked out by the left hand of his own teammate, but Carolina recovered. Goings was used sparingly, but did have two big catches on the Panthers’ game tying drive late in the fourth quarter.
Hoover did not have any rushing attempts but did see two targets. He spent his afternoon blocking for DeShaun Foster. Hoover had one reception for no gain. His other target was intercepted by Atlanta but nullified due to a Falcons’ penalty.
The rookie was only given a handful of snaps to work with, with Fozzy Whittaker spelling workhorse Jonathan Stewart. Artis-Payne, if preseason is anything to go by, should get his touches moving forward.
Stewart’s first career carry was a seven yard gain up the middle on a third and one situation to open the second quarter. He only saw ten carries to DeAngelo Williams’ 17, but Stewart made the most of them by picking up 53 yards on the afternoon. He combined with Williams to form a terrific one two punch, and appears to be a load to bring down. It’s tough to say if Stewart will have any sort of goal line role with the team. The only time the Panthers were at the goal line, they opted to throw the football on fourth down, so that doesn’t answer any questions about the role of each player. Stewart wasn’t a factor in the passing game at all.
Mike Tolbert was utilised in multiple positions - even lining up out wide on occasion – but his most telling contribution was in pass protection and on a screen pass that gained the Panthers over 20 yards. The play stood out because of the good hands Tolbert showed; almost double-catching it, but maintaining his focus and balance. Tolbert will have a part to play in this offense. In a game such as this one, however, with the Bucs dominating time of possession and no Carolina rushing attack to speak of, his impact was limited.
Utilized primarily as a 'scat back' or change of pace option against a stout Jaguars front, Fozzy Whittaker found little joy. Newton tried to get him the football in the screen game on slow developing plays involving a couple of ball fakes, but Jacksonville were quick to diagnose and snuffed the plays out before they got started. Jonathan Stewart carried the load as the primary rusher, and the Panthers never went away from him to provide Whittaker an opportunity.
Smith looked extremely impressive in his first regular season game after last season’s leg injury. He caught the first ball thrown his way on a fade pattern for a 24 yard gain. This catch was followed up by his lone touchdown reception of the day – a short comeback route caught at Saints’ 22 yard line on which he broke a tackle and then waltzed into the end zone. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, Smith and Delhomme showed uncanny chemistry, connecting six times for 138 yards. Smith made several incredibly acrobatic catches. He also had a touchdown catch nullified at the end of the first half due to illegal touching. His 16 total targets included three targets in the end zone, not including his touchdown. Two of these targets were passes on which he made incredible catches, but was ruled out of bounds. Smith was also used as a punt returner.
Colbert was not a prominent target for Delhomme, as he managed just 11 total yards on two receptions. He was targeted in the end zone at the end of the first half, but could not hold onto the ball on what would have been a great diving catch.
Proehl did not play a large role in the Panthers’ offense, but he did have a 39 yard catch. He also had a long run and catch of almost 50 yards that was called back due to a holding penalty. Proehl also had a terrific touchdown catch nullified for illegal touching.
Towering talent Kelvin Benjamin kept his foot on the gas in his first professional start after showing significant strides in the preseason. Against a Tampa Bay secondary that often pressed him at the line, Benjamin remained poised and looked like a veteran as he used a subtle arm-bar to achieve separation over the middle. Benjamin proved a clutch target for Derek Anderson in the short to intermediate range of the field on dig patterns and crossers, outmuscling linebackers and cornerbacks with his sheer size and power. While the chemistry wasn't quite there on the deeper patterns ń Anderson missed Benjamin on a nine route, throwing it too far inside and short ń the two showed good rapport elsewhere. Benjamin had to make adjustments to a couple of low passes in traffic, but showed poise and excellent body control to reel them in. Benjamin's crowning glory was his touchdown, a ridiculous one-handed grab around a defensive back's torso on a 50-50 ball into the end zone. Anderson spotted the rookie in single coverage and heaved a pass to the left pylon at the front end of the end zone. Benjamin secured the football with the defender's back turned and wrestled it away. Benjamin certainly did not look like a wet-behind-the-ears rookie in his debut.
Corey Brown became something of an afterthought in the Panthers passing attack as Cam Newton consistently had eyes for his other targets. Brown was often on the field, but his role was limited to that of a space player, utilized as a decoy on misdirection plays. He lined up in the backfield as a H-back in one particular alignment. As a pass catcher, he was unfortunate to have a screen pass catch and run taken away by penalty, while Newton threw a sideline pass his direction but left it too low to haul in. Brown's lone catch came on a quick flip outside the numbers, although there was a strong suspicion of offensive pass interference by Greg Olsen that may have aided his cause.
Jerricho Cotchery's presence gave Anderson an all-effort option in the passing attack when both rookie Kelvin Benjamin and favourite target on the day Greg Olsen were covered. Cotchery showed some nice second effort on his receptions, dragging tacklers and showing veteran savvy to find the open areas to exploit. Cotchery did not blow Tampa defenders away with his quickness in and out of breaks; rather, he did the simple things well and proved a trustworthy target. Cotchery was on the field in almost all sets and should continue to be a factor, especially on third down.
The big-bodied rookie receiver was rotated in and out of the line-up throughout the contest, but still has a ways to go before he can be trusted as a regular contributor. Having missed a large portion of preseason through injury, the coaching staff seems reluctant to thrust him into the fire just yet. Funchess used his large frame to good effect on his one catch, boxing out the defensive back for a short gain.
Newly-acquired speedster and former first round draft pick Ted Ginn Jr. came up with only one catch against Seattle, albeit an impressive one, as he dove low to reel in a low Cam Newton pass for a first down. Ginn was the third receiver in the Carolina pecking order in this contest, but Domenik Hixon's return from injury should relegate his use to three- and four-wide sets and return duties exclusively. With Cam Newton taking what Seattle gave him for the majority of this close-to-the-vest clash resulting in short to intermediate completions - Ginn was not utilized as a deep threat.
It is worth noting that the buzz in training camp was that Kealoha Pilares would be used more in the offense, and the Panthers were as good as their word. Pilares got the hand-off on 3rd and 5 on a zone read and converted. Later, Pilares lined up in the backfield and was the target of a check-down. Pilares has little value in fantasy leagues, but he is a talented player who, if his role expands, could be worth watching.
Mangum was Delhomme’s second favorite target in this game. His five targets included two red zone looks. He finished with two catches for 22 yards.
Seidman had no catches in the game, but was targeted once in the end zone.
Perhaps in a nod to the Broncos' fearsome defense, Ed Dickson was utilized mainly as an in-line blocker and rarely asked to go out in pass patterns. Understandably, Greg Olsen was the primary target from Cam Newton, essentially eliminating any chance of a significant role for Dickson.
The Panthers new acquisition made his presence felt in this TE-friendly offense. Olsen and Shockey often lined up together in two TE sets in this game, running routes in tandem to spots on the field to exploit the coverage. Olsen dropped a very catchable pass on a 3rd and 10 early, but made up for it later in the game with an explosive 43 yard effort. On the play, Newton threw a high ball up to his giant TE who came down with it, juked a defender and almost scored a touchdown. It showed the type of athletic play Olsen is capable of. If Newton can continue to deliver passes with accuracy like he did in this game, expect Olsen to be a huge part of this offense.
Kasay was perfect on the day, delivering on field goals of 39 and 46 yards in addition to two extra points.
The Panthers’ rush defense was dealt a serious blow when defensive tackle Kris Jenkins sprained his knee on the first series of the game. However, after allowing Deuce McAllister and the Saints to pound the ball in the run game early on, the Panthers were ultimately able to contain the Saints’ running game. The Panthers allowed just 101 total yards on the ground.
The Panthers’ pass defense failed to register any sacks on the day, but did a nice job in pass coverage. They kept all Saints’ receivers from reaching the end zone and also held them to under 200 yards.