METAIRIE, La. — The good news for the Saints is that now that they’ve seen Russell Wilson in person, they have a jump start on figuring out new, more effective ways to stop Cam Newton.
The bad news?
That’s easier said than done.
About the only difference in the two quarterbacks right now is their size, Newton towering over Wilson at 6-foot-5, 248 pounds.
But nearly everything else about the two appears the same right now and the Saints must find a way to control Newton in a critical NFC South showdown with the Panthers Sunday night.
Newton’s 447 rushing yards are nine less than Wilson’s. His 19 passing touchdowns are three fewer than Wilson, but his 25 total scores are two more than the prolific Seattle quarterback.
Newton’s 2,616 passing yards are within 60 yards of Wilson and his completion percentage is just 3.2 percent less.
What’s more, Newton’s leading an offense that is holding onto the ball for three more minutes than Seattle’s and is converting nearly six percent more third downs than the Seahawks.
In other words, the Saints saw Monday night in Seattle something very similar to what they’ll see Sunday.
“If you just write down on paper what it is that they do well, they’re very similar,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “They can extend a play with their legs. They have the big arm to throw down field. They run the ball well as a team. And they’re both patient.
“That’s what we just faced and that’s what we’re going to face this week, where they’ll run the ball all day and then they’ll get these big explosive plays down the field.”
Against New Orleans, Wilson was 22 of 30 for 310 yards and three touchdowns. His 139.6 quarterback rating was the highest the Saints have allowed all season and only the second time an opposing passer finished with a rating better than 100.0.
Newton, meanwhile, has averaged a 93.3 rating during the past eight games, all wins for Carolina. During this stretch, he’s completing 64 percent of his passes and has taken sacks on only 6.3 percent of his drop-backs.
But the biggest difference is his ability to take care of the ball right now. Newton has thrown 13 touchdowns passes to only six interceptions in this streak. During their 1-3 start, Newton had just six touchdowns passes while throwing five interceptions.
“You have seen him grow with confidence and you have seen the players around him playing with that same confidence,” Saints Coach Sean Payton said. “There are a lot of things that he brings to the table that make it very difficult to defend.”
Payton, however, cautioned on making a full comparison to the games. There are differences with each offense, the coach said, and just because one player took advantage doesn’t mean another will, too.
“It’d be the same question you’d ask after the Jets loss,” Payton said.
And while New York ran all over the Saints, two weeks later, a run-first 49ers team gained only 81 yards.
The Saints would know about Newton’s ability. He’s 2-2 against New Orleans, including going 2-0 a season ago. The key to both is not allowing either to get going outside of the pocket, Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said.
“I think going into this game we can’t let him break containment,” Lofton said. “We’ve got to keep him in the pocket because both of them, when (they) get out in the open and moving around, they make big plays with their legs and their arms.”