With key players back following a game in which the New Orleans Saints figuratively were stripped bare due to a Covid-19 outbreak, New Orleans (7-8) is scratching to keep alive its playoff hopes Sunday when the Saints take on Carolina (5-10) in the Caesars Superdome.
Here are a few ways in which the re-stocked team can take down Carolina.
1. LEARN FROM THE PAST: In the first game between the teams this season, a 26-7 Carolina victory on Sept. 19, the Panthers sacked Saints quarterback Jameis Winston four times en route to holding New Orleans to 128 yards and six first downs. New Orleans never solved Carolina's rush package and if the Saints are going to be successful offensively Sunday, they have to be prepared to protect Taysom Hill. Missing the last game due to Covid protocols at least gave Hill a week to heal a bit more, so he should be somewhat fresh for those quarterback power runs that New Orleans utilizes. His mobility also could lend aid to an offensive line that was handled by Miami in a 20-3 loss on Monday night.
2. HEAVY DOSE OF AK: Running back Alvin Kamara had 15 touches against Miami. Partly, that was attributable to the Dolphins daring the Saints to pass with rookie quarterback Ian Book making his NFL debut for the Saints, and partly it was attributable to the fact that the Saints failed to convert a third down on 12 attempts. The snap count dwindles, as do opportunities, when the third down conversions are nonexistent. Regardless, New Orleans might simply force feed Kamara on Sunday. There's good reason to do that; Carolina allows 118.5 rushing yards per game, including 135.3 the last three. He's New Orleans' best offensive player – he's one of the best in the league – and he needs the ball in his hands in the run game and/or the passing game.
3. UNSETTLE DARNOLD: As thoroughly as Carolina pressured Winston in the first meeting, was about as much as the Saints didn't pressure Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold. Darnold played one of his best games of the season (26 of 38 for 305 passing yards and two touchdowns, with an interception) and after a tumultuous year in which he has been injured and benched, he'll be the starter Sunday. This Saints defense is better than the one that sacked him twice but for the most part, couldn't rattle him. Defensive ends Cameron Jordan (eight sacks) and Marcus Davenport (7.5) really have come on strong the last couple of games and they'll be a handful – especially if they line up on the same side of the defensive line in some of the Saints' rush packages. New Orleans needs that pressure and the numbers say the Saints should be able to generate it against Darnold, who has been sacked 26 times in his 10 games.
4. SUPPLY THE JUICE: Possibly, this will be the Saints' final game this season in the Superdome. The Saints are 1-5 at home this season (not counting the "home" win in the season opener in Jacksonville), so the home field simply hasn't rocked as it has in the past. New Orleans is hoping to give its fans reason to be at their throaty heights, something it hasn't been able to accomplish this season with any frequency. An early touchdown, or forced turnover, or big play on special teams, can hopefully put the crowd in a mood that will last throughout the game. The crowd boost can make a difference, but the team has to supply the juice that will get the crowd boosted, and give it reasons to stay boosted.
ZATARAIN'S KEY INGREDIENTS RECIPE OF THE WEEK:
JAMBALAYA PASTA SALAD
Bring a little Cajun flavor to your next picnic or barbeque. This Cajun-style pasta salad starts with Zatarain's Jambalaya Pasta Dinner Mix and adds a kick with Zatarain's Creole Mustard. It's fast, easy and full of flavor.