Photo by: New Orleans Saints
I almost didn’t do one of these this week because I was ready to write it off as an exhibition game. But where’s the fun in that, right? The Saints and Panthers both have new QBs at the helms and the Saints will be resting starters throughout today’s action, but that doesn’t mean there’s no gameplan in place. Not to mention that it’s not like there’s nothing to play for here. The Saints can secure the franchise’s best winning record in its history and there will be players who are going to get extra opportunities to make their sell for a role through the playoffs and beyond. So let’s look at the Saints five keys to victory today as they host the Carolina Panthers in the regular season finale.
1. Confuse and pressure Kyle Allen.
Teddy Bridgewater isn’t the only new starter for their team. UDFA Rookie Kyle Allen of Houston/Texas A&M will make his first career start against a defense just licking its chops to put on a show at home before the playoffs. That show begins with a prelude of pre-snap disguises, has a rising arc of post-snap changes, introduces the major conflict of pressure in the backfield, and all comes crashing down as the curtain falls on a young quarterback that got his first start in the wrong environment against the wrong group. Making Allen have to adjust after the snap with new information that was disguised pre-snap will take the inexperienced young’n time. Time that he shouldn’t have with a pass rush as brutal as the Saints have been, bearing down on him early and often. Allen has a strong arm but isn’t touted as a deep ball QB and has one of the best pass-catching back in the backfield with him so passes will come out quickly. But as long as the Saints don’t give him time to take shots and make him rely heavily on that short to intermediate game, the Who Dat defense should be able to keep all of that in front of them and control the game.
2. Give Tre’Quan Smith a shot to be a big-play receiver with Teddy.
Ted Ginn Jr has been announced inactive today meaning that even if Michael Thomas plays a considerable amount (which I don’t think he will), Tre’Quan Smith is gonna see a lot of playing time. His snaps fell to 26 last week, his third lowest of the season outside of the first two games. That had more to do with the return of Ginn than anything. Since Ginn is sitting this one out after spending the week on the injury report limited with a knee injury, this is Smith’s final chance in regular season action to get his game going and this time with a new leader under center in Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater is going to have Mark Ingram, Dwanye Washington, and his Tight Ends to rely on in that same short/intermediate game I referenced with Kyle Allen. But his confidence and attitude will help him find comfort in taking deep shots in front of the home crowd. Tre’Quan can go out there and be his big-play guy and re-establish himself ahead of the playoffs, where I’m thinking he’ll break out consistently for the first time all season.
3. Finish the season on top defending the run game.
Outside of that quick-pass offense that’ll keep Allen clean and safe, Carolina will likely rely heavily on their run game as well. For as long as they can, at least. I expect that even though no inactives were announced on the defensive side of the ball for New Orleans that players like Cameron Jordan and Demario Davis may be on a pitch count to keep them healthy before the playoffs. The limits of the 46-man gameday roster make it thus. But despite the potential for starters sitting on the defense, the Saints will want to maintain their dominance as the top rushing defense in the league. With teams traveling to New Orleans all throughout the playoffs, the last thing the Saints need is to display some weakness at the element of the game they’ve been most strong all season. Nor do they need a shot to their confidence in defending it. Again, if they lack at all in run defense, it’ll likely be due to personnel available, but visiting teams might take it and run with it, no pun intended. The Carolina Panthers were the only team in 2017 to not allow a 100-yard rusher all season, the Saints now have a chance against that same team to do so for 2018.
4. Establish the unparalleled home-field advantage of the Superdome.
Speaking of confidence heading into the playoffs. The Superdome has always been notorious as one of the most challenging stadiums to play in as an away team. It’s a long-standing reputation kept alive by fans, music, players dancing on the sidelines, and genius video presentation. The Saints have this one final home game of the regular season ahead of the playoffs to remind every playoff team what they’ll have to endure in their house.
5. Stay healthy.
This one speaks for itself. Above all else, keeping players (star or otherwise) healthy throughout this game before entering the playoffs is of the utmost importance. Don’t get me wrong, the Saints made a deep run last year with way more injuries than they’ve dealt with this season, but there’s certainly no need to compound any issues over a game that essentially means nothing outside of some records and franchise bests. Above all of that, eyes are set on February in Atlanta.
No diving at the goal line, Tommylee.
Follow Ross on Twitter @RossJacksonASC