The Saints' Defense Prepares For Its First Taste of Cam Newton

Cam Newton

With the quarter-point of the 2011 NFL season now in the rear-view mirror, “Who Dat Nation” should be feeling confident about the squad’s playoff chances in January.  At this point in the Saints’ schedule, the road gets a little smoother, as the bottom dwellers of the league (Carolina, Indianapolis, and St. Louis, to name a few) will be showing their faces in the coming weeks.  It should be a fun stretch for Saints fans, and I can guarantee you that the French Quarter will be a site to see.  Looking at Week Five, though, there is one threat who may have some of the city a tad nervous.  That threat is Cam Newton, the Quarterback of the Carolina Panthers.

The name “Cam Newton” isn’t one that is held in high regards around this part of the country.  With New Orleans being a haven for not only Saints fans, but also for Louisiana State University (LSU) fans/alumni, Newton has become a hated figure in the area.  In his final BCS Championship season at Auburn (when he literally ran over the LSU defense), the number one overall draft pick left a sour taste in the mouths of local area fans.  Add in the fact that he was drafted by the division-rival Panthers in the 2011 NFL Draft, and you have the makings for one hated individual in “The Big Easy.”

But instead of throwing insults his way, several Saints fans have praised his efforts so far in the young season.  For being a rookie QB on a reshaping offense, Newton has done a sufficient job at putting points on the board, whether it’s with his arm or his legs.  So far this season, Newton is 97/163 (59.5%) for 1,386 yards, five TDs and five INTs, resulting in an 84.5 QB rating.  On the ground, Newton has found similar success, rushing 33 times for 133 yards and four TDs.  Not too shabby for a guy who some believed would be the next JaMarcus Russell (another familiar name in the area).

Without a doubt, the Saints will have to keep an extra eye on him come Sunday afternoon, as the Saints’ defense has been mediocre at best thus far in 2011.  At the moment, the Black and Gold’s pass defense ranks in the bottom half of the league (19th), giving up 1,016 yards (254 yds/game) and eight TDs through the air.  As far as the run defense goes (which should be on high alert due to Newton’s running abilities plus Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams in the backfield), New Orleans has been fairly solid, ranking 9th in the league and allowing 376 yards (94.0 yds/game) and two TDs.  Against the Panthers, though, the run defense shouldn’t have too much too worry about after the first half, as Carolina has become accustomed to playing from behind and putting the ball in the air.

So with a shoddy pass defense going up against an explosive young QB, how is the Saints’ “D” going to fare come Sunday? 

It’s time to look at the splits.

Here is what we do know about Newton:  he plays better on the road.  Well then isn’t it just a shame that the Saints will be travelling to Carolina this week?  At home, Newton is 46/80 (57.5%) for 590 yards, two TDs, and three INTs (On the road, he is 51/83 for 796 yards, three TDs, and two INTs.).  Also, Newton tends to be a more efficient QB in the first half of games, completing 47 of 77 passes for 648 yards, three TDs and two INTs, giving him a 90.2 rating over the course of the first two quarters (In the second half of contests, Newton is 50/86 for 738 yards, two TDs and three INTs, resulting in a 79.5 rating.).  That’s good news for the Saints, too, because the threat of Newton’s arm should be used more often in the second half, especially if Drew Brees and the offense put the Panthers in an early hole.

So how should the Saints’ defense go about shutting down Newton this weekend? 

Simple; put pressure on him. 

Nothing rattles a young QB, even one of Newton’s stature, like a solid pass rush, anWill Smithd the return of DE Will Smith should help that cause.  Last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Smith, who returned to the Saints in Week Three against the Houston Texans, recorded eight tackles and two sacks, and Jaguars rookie QB Blaine Gabbert was left completion-less for much of the second half.  If the likes of Smith, Sedrick Ellis, Aubrayo Franklin, Cameron Jordan, Turk McBride and Shaun Rogers can find their respective ways into the backfield, then Newton will be forced to make quick decisions, something that every rookie QB has issues with.

Also, expect SS Roman Harper to make his presence felt at the line of scrimmage (Because we all know tRoman Harperhat he’s a liability in coverage, so it would be best if defensive coordinator Greg Williams told him to get near the line on occasion.), as his effectiveness as a blitzing safety should come in handy.  One more note, it should be interesting to see who the Saints send to face off against Panthers WR Steve Smith.  My guess is that it won’t be Tracy Porter, who only recently returned to the defense against the Jaguars, which means that either Patrick Robinson or Jabari Greer will have that assignment.  The Saints lined up Robinson opposite Greg Jennings a good bit in their Week One matchup against the Packers, and we all know how that one turned out.

Regardless of how the defense performs, it’s hard to see the Saints coming out of this one with a defeat.  Hopefully that holds true, as a division victory is simply another step forward en route to a home playoff appearance.

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