“Who Dat” Nation is still behind their defending Super Bowl champion Saints
After an impressive but hard-fought victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Saints have eagerly put the win behind them as they begin preparations for their second matchup against division foes, the Carolina Panthers.
The battles against Carolina have always been some of the toughest for the Saints since the Panthers entered the league as an expansion franchise back in 1995. In fact, Carolina holds the advantage in the divisional series 17-14. To give an indication of just how tough these two teams play each other, of those 31 games, 14 of them have been decided by eight points or less. In their last matchup back on October 3rd in the Superdome, the Saints eked out a 16-14 victory in what was a power struggle from beginning to end. The keys: a solid rushing attack by Chris Ivory and Ladell Betts, effective passing by Brees with no interceptions, critical third down conversions and heads up special teams and defensive plays, particularly in the waning minutes of the game.
In order to be successful in Bank of America Stadium where the Saints are 7-7, they will have to execute a similar gameplan to that of October 3rd, without the costly turnovers of course. Offensively, it all starts with the play of the offensive line. First off, they’ve got to be more disciplined and eliminate the penalties that have been literally killing drives. Next, they have got to consistently move some bodies around in order to open up the run game. With injuries to Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush likely to keep them both sidelined again this week, the bulk of the ground duties will be divided among Ivory, Betts, and Jones in some combination or another. I’d like to see Coach Payton mix it up with some screen plays to extend the run and help keep Carolina’s defense off balance. That should help set up Brees’ passing and allow him to take some shots down the field. Thirdly, they have got to do a better job of protecting Brees.
Defensively, the Saints have to continuously exact a pass rush on Matt Moore to keep him from getting into any kind of rhythm and hopefully bait him into turning the ball over. In the past, Steve Smith has had some big receptions against the Saints secondary. Look for Moore to try to find him as often as he can. With the return of Darren Sharper, the secondary, which has been playing extremely well thus far, has some additional spark and energy brought by his ball-hawking presence on the field. It’s going to be interesting to see if the Saints 3rd ranked passing defense can shut Smith down or even successfully contain him. As for slowing down the explosive two-headed monster comprised of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, the Saints will be battle-tested as usual when they face the Panthers. In the last matchup, the backs contributed both scores for Carolina when Stewart scored a touchdown on a 55-yard toss from Jimmy Clausen and Williams scored on a 39-yard run. However, this time around Williams, who is hampered by a foot injury that caused him to have to miss practice this week, may be a no go. Nonetheless, Payton has indicated that the Saints will prepare for the Panthers as usual.