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Saints at Panthers: Five things to watch

Saints-Panthers meeting in 'Thursday Night Football'

  1. The New Orleans Saints have shown they're serious about running the football this season, and that should work to their benefit against the Panthers. New Orleans is running for 133 yards per game, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, seventh- and second-best in the league, respectively. That strength plays into Carolina's weakness – the Panthers allow the fifth-most rushing yards (135.2) and the most yards per carry (5.2). With Mark Ingramcoming off his career high in attempts (24) and yards (172), there's no reason to believe the Saints won't feed Carolina a steady diet of Ingram, whose three-game absence due to a broken hand excluded him from three games of punishment. He looks fresh and was dominant, along with his offensive line, with Khiry Robinsonand Pierre Thomassidelined Sunday. Controlling the line of scrimmage and the time of possession worked well at home against Green Bay. Likely, the Saints are going to find out if it carries over to the road against Carolina.
  2. The Green Bay game also gave us more of a look into what rookie receiver Brandin Cookscan do. Cooks led the team in receptions (six) and receiving yards (a career-high 94, including a 50-yard touchdown) and ran for a 4-yard touchdown on a speed sweep. With Jimmy Grahamappearing to recover from his shoulder injury to return to form (five catches for 59 yards and a touchdown against the Packers, after having no receptions against Detroit), the attention he commands and the respect the running game demands should allow Cooks and Kenny Stills(a 45-yard catch against Green Bay) more room to operate down the field. The Saints want to be able to take a few "shot" plays every game. Cooks is giving them one more option in that phase.
  3. As big and as strong as Carolina quarterback Cam Newtonis – he's listed at 6 feet 5, 245 pounds – the Saints sacked him nine times in two games last season. And the Saints' pass rush appears to be gaining some momentum, with consecutive weeks of three and four sacks against Detroit and Green Bay. Newton has gone down 17 times this season in seven games (including three times each in the previous two), so the numbers say that the Saints should be able to apply pressure. But they have to be disciplined about it; Newton can scramble, operate the read-option (he has 214 rushing yards on 50 carries) or buy time to throw. He has to be kept in the pocket, much like the Saints were able to do with Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. Defensive end Akiem Hickswas effective pressuring Rodgers up the middle, and Cam Jordan(two sacks) was fantastic off the edge. The Saints are in a defensive groove that they hope to continue.
  4. Twice this season, in victories over Minnesota and Green Bay, the Saints have been able to adhere to a simple philosophy on defense – allowing yards and field goals is fine, surrendering touchdowns is problematic. With New Orleans' offense, it's a good plan to carry out because the Saints likely are going to score (they average 28.4 points and more than three touchdowns per game). So don't be so concerned if Carolina romps down the field for a few possessions; if the result of the movement is a field goal, the Saints will live with that.
  5. New Orleans has committed 13 turnovers this season; nine have come in the four road losses and in each road loss, the Saints have committed at least two. It's impossible to stress this too much: The Saints have to protect the ball on the road. They've lost three heart-breakers on the road – three points in Atlanta, two in Cleveland and one in Detroit. They didn't win the turnover ratio in any of them, while their opponents cashed in with a game-winning field goal (Atlanta), a pick six (Cleveland) and a game-winning touchdown following an interception (Detroit). A clean game doesn't guarantee a win for the Saints, but it sure will give them their best opportunity.

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