Know Your Foe: New Orleans Saints

Jameis Winston

CHARLOTTE - Playing in the first game of the post-Drew Brees era in a neutral stadium in Jacksonville with the team's top receiver sidelined, the New Orleans performed exactly as expected.

They beat the perennial NFC power Green Bay Packers 38-3.

Wait, what?

Yes, you read that right. The New Orleans Saints were one of the surprise teams of Week 1, and they come into Bank of America Stadium this weekend. So let's break it all down.

Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston Time

Winston was magical in his first start for the Saints after Drew Brees' 2021 retirement. The guy who led the league in touchdowns and interceptions in 2019, Winston was near flawless on Sunday, posting a passer rating of 130.8 as he tossed five touchdowns with no picks.

The Saints game plan worked to control the ball and the clock, as they ran 39 times, passing just 21 times, and held a nine-minute advantage in time of possession.

Winston set an NFL record, becoming the first quarterback to throw five touchdowns with under 150 (he had 148) passing yards in a game.

Afterward, he told NBC's Peter King that his best play of the day was a pass that he threw out of bounds rather than force down the sideline into coverage.

In Winston's last matchup against the Panthers in London in 2019 for Tampa Bay, he had five interceptions and a lost fumble, and was sacked seven times. After Sunday's performance, he may give this Panthers' defense a few more headaches than presents.

Alvin Kamara

Check the names again

The Saints have had some familiar playmakers on offense during their run of NFC South titles, but this week may force fans to look at their roster cards a second time.

Wide receiver Michael Thomas won't be back for Week 2 as he continues to rehab his ankle injury. Running back Latavius Murray was released just before the season opener. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is now in Buffalo, and Jared Cook is playing for the Chargers.

So that leaves running back Alvin Kamara. And some new guys.

Tony Jones Jr., a second-year running back out of Notre Dame had 50 yards on 11 carries on Sunday. Returner Deonte Harris had a 55-yard touchdown catch, and second-year tight end Juwan Johnson had three catches for two touchdowns.

Give the Saints offensive line credit, as they didn't allow a sack and gave up just three QB pressures while opening holes for 171 yards of rushing offense against a Packers defense that ranked in the top 10 in yards allowed in 2020.

Of course, Kamara is still one of the top dual-threat running backs in the NFL, constantly going back and forth with Christian McCaffrey for most scrimmage yards since the two of them came into the league together in 2017.

New injuries on the defensive front

New Orleans was especially stout defensively as they shut down Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, forcing three turnovers and applying seven QB hits while not allowing a touchdown in arguably Rodgers' worst game of his career.

However, it might be a bit of a pyrrhic victory on the defensive front as there are reports on injuries to cornerback Marshon Lattimore and defensive end Marcus Davenport. Both could potentially miss Sunday's game.

Defensive end Cameron Jordan will be playing in his 21st career game against the Panthers. He's averaged 3.7 tackles and 0.5 sacks per game over his career against Carolina.

The Saints defense will be leaning on decorated veterans like him and safety Malcolm Jenkins as they come to face a young Panthers offense on Sunday.

The Panthers trail the all-time series against the Saints, 25-28. Carolina has played New Orleans more than any other team in its history.

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