With Sunday’s close loss to the Falcons nothing more than a bitter memory, the Saints begin to regroup as they prepare for a second division rival in as many weeks, the Carolina Panthers. As with the Falcons, New Orleans knows that Carolina is a very tough opponent and always has been. A lot better than their 0-3 record indicates, the Panthers are loaded with weapons that are just waiting for a chance to unleash. The Saints will be battle-tested once again as they try to improve to 3-1 on the season.
In an interview with Playmaker Mobile, Saints MLB Jonathan Vilma said of the Panthers when asked what he expects from them on Sunday,
“I expect another dog fight. They have two very good running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. They’re going to try to run the ball a lot, not put their rookie quarterback in tough situations. It’s going to be another close game, just like all division games. They’re always close. They’re always tough. It’s going to come down to who makes the play here or there, who makes the most plays at the end of the game.”
I expect this to be another slugfest, to say the least. If the Saints are going to win this one, they are going to have to do three things.
1. Step it up on offense. The Saints are just too talented at wide receiver to be posting such average numbers. With the exception of Lance Moore who was simply brilliant last week, the receiving corps simply isn’t playing up to its potential. Those guys aren’t getting open the way they should and they’re dropping far too many passes. I don’t care what anybody says, those flashes of explosiveness in the first three games were no fluke. Drew Brees knows how to move an offense. He needs to take more shots down the field, but be smart about it. So far, they’ve come up against some thin secondaries, but they’ve failed to take advantage of it. By not playing up to its capabilities, our offense is quickly losing its credibility as one of the tops in the league. And that’s sad because the talent is there; they’re just not playing up to their potential. Start back to getting into the endzone consistently and missed field-goals won’t even be an issue.
I’d also like to see them utilize the screen more to extend the run like they used to. It has proven to be a bread-and-butter play in the past when the run game was limited. In my opinion, Pierre Thomas is one of the best players in the league at executing the screen because he’s excellent at busting tackles and picking up extra yards. So what if he ends up with more receiving yards than rushing yards; the objective is to move the ball down the field.
2. Mix it up, but keep it simple. Somehow, the Saints offense is in danger of becoming predictable. For instance, it seems as though there’s only one play in the playbook for 3rd and 1. Try something different sometimes and just maybe the outcome will be different. I’ve heard all of the arguments about how the team won’t win the same way it did last year, but at times the simplest approach works best. I think Payton and company have become so worried about such jibber-jabber that they’ve abandoned their own proven strategies. New Orleans didn’t get to and win the Superbowl by being conventional; everything about the 2009 Saints went against the grain of what all other teams thought they knew about them. Teams don’t just abandon what has worked for them in the past, no matter what critics might say; they just tweak it to make it fresh. It’s time for the Saints to get back to playing New Orleans Saints football, but with a twist here and there to make it unpredictable.
3. The defense has to rediscover its aggressive nature. It’s commendable that Gregg Williams is dropping his defense back into coverage this season to try to limit the big plays and setting it to try to stop the run. But for the last two games, it hasn’t worked very well. With virtually no pressure being put on opposing QBs, it’s the little play and the run that have hurt the most. Williams is a master of dialing up trickery on defense. He needs to get back to his gameplan and mix some things up as well. While it’s impossible to stop Carolina’s triple threat (Smith, Williams, and Stewart), the Saints need to at least contain them if they hope to even keep the game respectable.
For week 4, failure is not an option for the Saints. I for one won’t buy into the hype of hangover from Sunday’s loss and all of that stuff. But I will say that the sluggishness that they’ve been exhibiting for the previous three games won’t help them. Offensively, they need a spark–they’re in danger of losing their fire. Defensively, they need to be more enigmatic–to keep the opposing offense guessing. And the coaches need to tune out all the chatter about how they won’t and can’t win and get back to what has been proven to show that they can. It’s going to be tough, but would it be football if it wasn’t?