The Saints are back on track after a victory in Tampa Bay on Sunday, moving them to 8-2 on the season. Week 12 sees another NFC South divisional opponent in the Carolina Panthers. Currently sitting at 5-5, the Panthers aren’t doing as well as predicted this season, partly because of the loss of Cam Newton, partly from losing some close games, either way, it’s good for the Saints with currently a 3-game lead over their week 12 opponents. I will now go into some detail on standout Panthers players and ones to watch for this game.
The clear standout and in some people’s discussion for MVP or at least offensive player of the year, is Christian McCaffrey. A huge amount of Carolina’s game runs through CMC, you could argue he IS the Carolina offense. He can run, catch and is extremely productive. CMC is Alvin Kamara but with more physicality and is used a lot more by the Panthers. An every down player, McCaffrey has over 1,000 rushing yards (1,059) over 500 receiving yards (517) with a total of 14 touchdowns. Stop CMC and you will get close to stopping the Panthers all together. Putting the run game into context, the next player has less than 100 yards! Even when they totalled 3 points last week at the Falcons, he still got 191 yards from scrimmage. Expect screens, pitches, deep shots, basically every play design you can think of, he will be in it. The Saints defense will have to work as a unit to stop CMC or just limit him because he will always get the Panthers yards. The issue at the moment might be who is throwing or handing off to him.
Under center is Kyle Allen replacing the injured Cam Newton. The second-year player out of Houston hasn’t exactly been lighting up the league but has been okay when required. Touchdown to Interception ratio of 10/9 and a completion percentage of 61.9% are showing exactly where he and the Panthers are at with a 5-5 record, although 4 of those picks were in his last outing. He is a bit mediocre, run of the mill with nothing to shout about but he has CMC on his team so not all is bad in his world. I would be shocked however if he was the starter come next season.
Standout receiver is DJ Moore. Again, not a player who has been outstanding this season but he has been very good between the numbers, outside of the endzone. His stat line reads 779 yards for just the one score. Still learning his trade as a first-round pick in 2018 he has a bright future ahead of him. Moore is an excellent route runner and with a better-quality Quarterback he can be the Panthers No.1 receiver for years to come. With Marshon Lattimore likely out again, Eli Apple will be charged with covering him and the rest of the defenders filling the box to try and limit CMC as much as possible.
You can never forget Greg Olsen. Although his years are moving on and he has had a few injury issues recently, he still makes plays. With his speed nowhere near where is was he will be the go up and get it guy on third downs and in short yard passing situations. I expect Olsen will also be used plenty in a blocking role.
A way the Saints can get through the Panther is to literally get through them. The Offensive line has been banged up recently and is not playing particularly well having given up 34 sacks on the season. If the Saints defensive line can get at them and hit the quarterback early, they should produce some errant throws creating turnover opportunities.
This unit is, well, strange. They dial up some interesting play calls, especially in the Falcons game and do have some play makers but this isn’t a feared side of the ball as it has been in previous years. However, they have the joint most sacks in the league so keeping Drew Brees upright will be very important for the Saints impressive offensive line. Again, this could be another game “won in the trenches”.
Luke Kuechly is still the leader of this unit. He has the most tackles in the team (90) and tries to dominate from the front. Although he is yet to get a sack, he has 5 tackles for a loss, 7 passes defenced and 2 picks. When watching the Panthers, it’s Kuechly who is usually the guy calling the plays, making adjustments and surveying the field. Often you see him looking directly at the Quarterback, trying to see into his soul. The Saints will need to stand tall and out game the Panthers line backer corps.
Mario Addison is one the guys the Saints O-line will need to protect Brees again. The 9th year veteran has amassed 8 sacks on his own this season in the Panthers huge 39 sack total (joint 1st in the NFL) however the Saints have only 19 sacks allowed all year, 6 of those came 2 weeks ago against the Falcons (when the Saints had injury issues). Whether coming up the middle of getting around the side, protection will be required at all times against Addison amongst others.
When Gerald McCoy was available, I was hoping the Saints could get a deal done, it wasn’t to be as he has clear quality. Having a decent season but not explosive, he is the type of guy that will always create pressure. I also enjoying his quirky personality when he was on the Bucs team and on “Hard Knocks” funny guy.
It appears as though Brian Burns will return for this one, currently been in full practise all week. The first-round rookie has started well in the NFL and again is a player the Saints O-line must cope with. An out-and-out pass rusher, his speed will cause problems for Brees and the Saints. If he beats his tackle, it is likely Brees will get away in his aging years. Although he may get the ball out, he still might take a hit. I’m expecting quick passes in this one.
The Panthers may have a depletion at cornerback with Ross Cockrell currently not practising. That leaves a younger secondary to deal with Michael Thomas and hopefully another Saints wide receiver of some description, if not, Jared Cook will be the number two. I’m thinking the Saints big bodied guys will bully this secondary in the short yard game. Don’t be expecting those deep shots people keep trying to get Drew Brees to throw, do what you do Drew.
The key to beating this defense with the offense the Saints have at their exposal is much of the same. Run game, short pass game, screens and everything to Michael Thomas. However, Drew Brees will need to get the ball out early due to the excellent Panthers defensive line and not take hits like he did in week 10 against Atlanta. It goes without saying that the offensive line needs a good game otherwise nothing will head in the right direction for New Orleans.
As they tend to be, I expect a close game. Although the Panthers have recently had beatdowns by the Falcons and the 49ers I think they keep pace in this one but the Saints get the win holding out in 4th quarter. The Saints D will have to work hard to shutdown CMC as much as possible but I’ve got AK41 of the black and gold out scoring and getting more yards from scrimmage in this one. If you are lucky enough to have Michael Thomas in your fantasy roster, you start him! Home in the dome, win in the dome please to keep pace with the top of the NFC.
Saints 28 – Panthers 20