Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Writer
METAIRIE, La. – Carolina rookie quarterback Cam Newton is breaking records this season for passing in his first season in the NFL.
And that’s not a good thing for the Saints, who have taken a step back this season against the pass.
And especially not good when Carolina receiver Steve Smith is playing at a level he hasn’t been at in years.
The 3-1 Saints go to Charlotte for a Sunday matinee against the Panthers (1-3) in both teams’ NFC South opener.
A season ago, the Saints entered Week 5 with the No. 11 pass defense in the NFL, allowing only 196.3 yards per game through the air. Through four games this season, opponents are putting up 254 yards per game, dropping New Orleans to 19th in the NFL.
Now the Saints must face Smith, who is second in the NFL with 530 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
“All the things that we’ve seen from him, you see right now,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “He’s healthy, he’s running well and he’s playing with a ton of confidence. It’s all the things that have made him a great player and he’s having one of his best seasons after four weeks.”
Smith opened the season with a 178-yard performance against Arizona. A week later, he put up 156 yards.
But it was a week ago that put him atop Carolina’s all-time receiving yards list. He caught eight passes for 181 yards, giving him 9,414 yards in his 11 seasons with the Panthers, passing Muhsin Muhammad’s 9,255 yards.
“After each game you put the tape on him, it doesn’t matter which game, you can put it on him and if I didn’t ask you who to look for, within a quarter of a play you’d ask, ‘Who’s #89?’” Payton said. “We know who he is and he’s playing fantastic.”
But while the Saints have given up more passing yards this season up to this point (1,016 to 785), there’s another factor likely forcing teams to throw more.
New Orleans’ scoring is up, from 19.8 points per game a season ago after four games to 31.8 this season.
“It’s hard to score that many points running the ball,” Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We’re definitely getting a lot more passing attempts than we have been. When that happens, you’re going to give up more passing yards and you’re going to give up a little more plays in the passing game.”