After three consecutive losses, the New Orleans Saints (5-7) desperately need a get-right game. But no assumptions can be made even with the Saints set to play Carolina (1-11) on Sunday in the Caesars Superdome.
The work has to be done, and here is some of the work that must be done if the Saints are to remain in second place behind Atlanta in the NFC South Division, or climb into a three-way tie for first with the Falcons and Tampa Bay, who play each other Sunday.
1. GET IN GEAR: The Saints' slow start dilemma really has gotten out of hand, culminating with the team's 21-0 deficit to Detroit less than halfway through the first quarter in the last game. There have been proposed solutions but nothing has taken hold for New Orleans, which for the better part of seven consecutive games hasn't been able to get off the field on defense and hasn't been able to match opponents' scoring on offense for most, if not all, of the first half. Missed tackles and poor gap integrity plagued the run defense early against the Lions, as the Saints again spent too much precious time feeling out an opposing offense. And turnovers, penalties and mental errors have been all-too-familiar companions for the offense. If New Orleans can get out of its own way success probably wouldn't be far behind.
2. THROW STRIKES IN THE RED ZONE: The Saints were 4 for 4 in the red zone against the Lions, a week after going 0 for 5 against Atlanta. Eliminating penalties was a major factor, as was running the ball effectively. Alvin Kamara (two) and Taysom Hill (one) scored rushing touchdowns from inside the 5, so New Orleans was able to move the ball effectively inside the 20. That's a trend that hopefully will continue against the Panthers, who have the second-worst red zone defense (71.8 percent) in the league and give up the second-most points per game (26.1).
3. VICE FOR BRYCE: Panthers rookie quarterback Bryce Young has been sacked 44 times this season. That's an average of four per game and for a Saints pass rush that needs to generate pressure, Carolina’s offensive line may help fix what ails. New Orleans has two sacks in the last three games and the pressure partly has been generated on rushes from linebacker Demario Davis. The line needs to handle that task, so that there'll be less pressure on the secondary. New Orleans had four sacks and held Carolina to 139 net passing yards in the first meeting, and since then the Panthers have fired their head coach, offensive coordinator and running backs coach. If ever there was a time to take advantage, this would appear to be such a time.
4. GIVE 'EM SOMETHIN (GOOD) TO TALK ABOUT: The decibel level of Saints fan unrest is something that, unfortunately, cannot be ignored. Jumping out to an early lead, and playing well, is the only way to stem that. Quarterback Derek Carr actually played well against the Lions – 17 for 22 for 226 yards and a touchdown, plus an interception and lost fumble that went on his ledger, but weren't his fault. But the offense needs to put points – preferably touchdowns – on the board early to help generate support from the home crowd. Safety Tyrann Mathieu said the team has to give fans something to cheer about, and he's correct.
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