You definitely all have to have your assignments down because if one guy is wrong, Cam will exploit it.” Sedrick Ellis, Saints defensive tackle
METAIRIE — Despite their disappointing loss to the Washington Redskins and dazzling rookie Robert Griffin III in their season opener Sunday, the New Orleans Saints managed to take something positive out of the game.
When they went back to work, they already had a leg up on their preparations for Sunday’s matchup with the Carolina Panthers and another Heisman Trophy-winning dual-threat quarterback in Cam Newton.
They weren’t happy in allowing Griffin to account for 362 of his team’s 459 total yards. They got a sneak peek at what they’ll likely see in Sunday’s game, although the Panthers don’t use the read-option nearly as much as the Redskins.
So if you have to go against Newton, you might as well do it now, Saints interim coach Aaron Kromer said Monday.
“You just experienced it,” he said. “Obviously, we would have liked to have had more success. But the experience against it, you can’t get. Any simulation we try to do in practice would not be the same with the talent RGIII has, so it definitely is a benefit.”
Then again, that won’t be determined until Sunday when the Saints face Newton for the third time in his 18-game NFL career.
But after doing a decent job against Newton, who took the league by storm in accounting for 4,757 yards and 35 touchdowns as a rookie, the Saints at least have some good vibes going into Sunday’s matchup.
In their two meetings, the Saints allowed Newton to complete 31 of 56 passes for 382 yards with three TDs and two interceptions.
They also sacked him three times and limited him to 59 rushing yards and one score. Two of his four lowest rushing totals — 32 and 27 yards — came against the Saints.
So that’s something they can be positive about as they prepare for him again this week.
“I don’t think he killed us at all, I think we did pretty well against him,” recalled defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis. “We kept him in the pocket, even though he had one pretty good run that I remember. For the most part, I thought we had him in control.”
Newton did escape the pocket for a 13-yard run in the game in Charlotte and had a 16-yard scamper in the season-ending rematch in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but the Saints held him to 30 yards on his other 11 carries as they swept the series.
The Saints didn’t do that badly last week as Griffin ran 10 times for 42 yards with a long of 12, which means they allowed just 30 yards on his other nine tries.
“That’s just something we have to deal with and again this week,” Ellis said of dual-threat quarterbacks. “Those kind of quarterbacks are becoming more prevalent in the league. It’s a new wave: they’re able to pass and run, so you have to know how to play it and defend it well.”
Ellis said the Saints had trouble with Griffin because they used the read-option extensively, which allowed him to decide whether to run or pass depending on the look he got from the defense.
“Anytime an offense runs that zone-read scheme, it makes it harder for the defensive line to get a pass rush because you have to play the run first,” Ellis said. “Carolina plays a different kind of football. They kind of mix it up a little more where Washington was zone-read the whole game.”
Still, Ellis and his teammates know what kind of problems Newton present.
“You definitely all have to have your assignments down because if one guy is wrong, Cam will exploit it,” he said. “He’s a good athlete. He’s a big, tall guy and he has speed, deceptive speed.
“He has those long legs, and you just have to keep him in the pocket as much as possible. He’s going to make plays because that’s what he gets paid to do. Keeping him contained is what it’s all about. If we can do that, we’ll be well off.”
Because Newton is much bigger and heavier than Griffin at 6 feet, 5 inches and 245 pounds, the Panthers like to throw the ball more down the field.
“He stretches the field very well,” said Saints linebacker Jonathan Casillas. “When he doesn’t have any options, that’s when he becomes even more dangerous — with his legs.”
Saints free safety Malcolm Jenkins said the Saints aren’t concerned about facing another quarterback who can frustrate a defense in more ways than one.
“I think we’re looking forward to the opportunity,” he said. “We know what they bring to the table and how good of an offense they are, so we’re looking forward to the challenge.”