When New Orleans travels to Charlotte for Sunday’s game, you’ve likely read as much about the Saints as you possibly can.
But what about the Panthers?
That’s where A View From the Other Side comes in. Every Friday during the Saints’ season, WWL-TV.com will ask five questions to at least one beat writer covering the Saints’ opponent that week.
This week, we welcome in friend Pat Yasinskas of ESPN.com, who is kind enough to help us out.
Yasinskas is in his fourth season covering the NFC South for ESPN.com. Prior to that he covered the Carolina Panthers for The Charlotte Observer for nine seasons. Prior to that, he covered the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the NFL for The Tampa Tribune from 1993 until 1999.
Let’s all pause and give Pat our undivided attention. He knows his stuff.
WWLTV.com: The Saints have given up some pretty big numbers in the passing game this year. Can Cam Newton take advantage of this enough to put Carolina in position to beat New Orleans?
Pat Yasinskas: “Cam Newton's been putting up numbers against everyone he's played and I don't think it will be all that different against the Saints. They have a tendency to give up some yards and he'll get his share. But I'm sure Gregg Williams will throw some looks at Cam that he hasn't seen before and there will be plenty of blitzes. The key is for the Saints to force a few mistakes or turnovers. You know the Saints will score points, so they just need their defense to create a few mistakes by Newton.”
WWLTV.com: With the shockingly impressive start to Newton's career, we haven't heard much from Carolina's stable of running backs. Have they been forgotten and are they being used enough?
Yasinskas: “That's almost as surprising as how well Newton has started. The Panthers came into the season expecting to rely heavily on the running game and they only wanted Newton throwing about 22 to 24 times a game. But defenses gave him a lot of openings, he took advantage of them and the Panthers stuck with the hot hand. We saw a little more of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart last week and I suspect that trend will grow. The Panthers know they need balance in their offense and they know they have two good running backs. It's time to use them to start taking some of the pressure off Newton.”
WWLTV.com: The Panthers lost two defensive leaders in Jon Beason and Thomas Davis. How big of a loss was this for that defense and how has coach Ron Rivera made up for these losses?
Yasinskas: ”The loss of Beason was particularly devastating. He was the best player on that defense and had more locker-room presence and credibility than anyone on the team. Losing Davis hurt too, but he had been hurt twice before. The Panthers still have a very good outside linebacker in James Anderson and Dan Connor is a decent middle linebacker. He's not a play-maker like Beason, but he's sturdy against the run. Rivera's been rolling three guys in at the other outside linebacker spot and the results haven't been bad. But the Panthers don't have the big-play capability like they did with Beason and Davis.”
WWLTV.com: Carolina is allowing 143.8 rushing yards per game. What must change for them to stop New Orleans' ground game?
Yasinskas: “The college draft would have to start today or they'd have to open up a free-agency period. Seriously, Carolina's just not good in the middle of the defensive line. They haven't been since Kris Jenkins left. The Panthers tried to fix that in the offseason by signing free-agent Ron Edwards, but he suffered a season-ending injury early in training camp. They did draft Terrell McClain and Sione Fua in the third round this year and those guys have some potential. But they're not ready yet. The Panthers have been signing defensive tackles off the streets, but you're not going to find anyone who can make a difference this time of year.”
WWLTV.com: Despite the 1-3 start, has Rivera, the first-year coach, surprised you with how competitive they've been despite no offseason and a rookie quarterback?
Yasinskas: “I'm not all that surprised that Rivera has brought life to this team. He came with a great reputation and this team obviously needed some fresh air after things went bad with John Fox. But Newton has been a total surprise. I thought the kid could develop into a good quarterback over time and even thought he'd make some plays early on. But there's no way I expected him to go out and throw for 400 yards a game for a couple of years. Heck, even the Panthers, who scouted the heck out of him, are stunned at how prolific he's been so far.”