09-08-2005, 02:34 PM
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Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: San Antonio, TX
ESPN Insider: Saints-Panthers
Thursday, September 8, 2005
Back to business for SaintsBy Scouts, Inc.
Why To Watch
Hurricane Katrina has profoundly affected the lives of all the people in the New Orleans' organization never mind the ability of the team to prepare for this game. That needs to be said, but the Saints understand they must get back to business and that starts with a tough division game in Carolina.
With several key players returning from season-ending injuries for the Panthers, getting a win will be easier said than done. However, don't count New Orleans out. QB Aaron Brooks, RB Deuce McAllister and WR Joe Horn are all threats to make a big play every snap and the defense is coming off a strong final preseason game.
It's not often that teams that finish the previous season with a 7-9 record are predicted to make a run deep into the playoffs, but expectations are high in Charlotte and for good reason. QB Jake Delhomme has developed into an excellent starter and a defense that features LDE Julius Peppers excels at generating turnovers.
When the Saints have the ball
Rushing: Brentson Buckner and Kris Jenkins form one of the better defensive tackle tandems in the league. However, Buckner who turns 34 this month, tends to wear down late in games and there isn't great depth behind him, especially considering that Carolina surprisingly cut third-round pick DT Atiyyah Ellison (who was later re-signed to the team's practice squad). New Orleans can take advantage of that lack of depth and wear the Panther's interior defensive line down by consistently running RB Deuce McAllister between the tackles. McAllister explodes through holes and he has the lower body strength to consistently pick up yards after contact.
The key to clearing the way for McAllister will be the Saints' ability to neutralize Jenkins. That's easier said than done, as Jenkins is close to impossible to block with one man. He has the initial quickness to make plays in the backfield and the power to hold his ground at the point of attack. With that in mind, look for OC LeCharles Bentley and LOG Kendyll Jacox to do a lot of combo blocking when New Orleans runs inside. This means Bentley and Jacox will initially double team Jenkins, making it hard for him to make a play at the line, and then one of them will slide off to pick up a defender at the second level.
Pounding the ball inside will also cut down the angle FB Mike Karney has to take to get to MLB Dan Morgan when he's in the game. Although Morgan has the burst and range to regularly beat Karney to the edge, Karney is a powerful lead blocker that can neutralize Morgan once in position. If Morgan tries to overcompensate by avoiding Karney rather than stacking him up at the point of attack, it will create a running lane that McAllister has the vision and lateral mobility to exploit.
Passing: Adding free-agent signing DC Ken Lucas coupled with the development of second-year DC Chris Gamble should improve the Panthers' secondary significantly. Lucas isn't a shutdown corner but he is a quality starter and his presence allows Ricky Manning Jr., who started 16 games last year, to move to nickel back, where he has the cover skills to excel. The versatility of first-round pick Thomas Davis will also help Carolina defend the Saints' multiple receiver sets. Spreading the field forces the defense to either go to its nickel or dime package, making it susceptible to the run, or keep its base defense in the game, making it vulnerable to the pass. Davis is unique because defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac can line him up at safety when Carolina stays in its base defense or move him to linebacker when it goes to the nickel or dime package. Idrees Bashir, who has better overall cover skills than Davis, will likely come into the game at safety when Davis moves to linebacker.
The Panthers' ability to match up means QB Aaron Brooks should have to hold onto the ball longer and that's not good news for New Orleans because the Panthers' front four excels at rushing the passer. It doesn't help that this game is in Carolina either, as it will make it more difficult for Brooks to adjust the protection at the line. One of the ways new offensive coordinator Mike Sheppard can help Brooks is running some screens. McAllister is extremely dangerous after the catch and the Panthers' defensive front will be a little more hesitant getting up field if McAllister starts to slip behind them for some big plays.
When the Panthers have the ball
Rushing: Earlier this week head coach John Fox said that Stephen Davis, who is coming off season-ending knee surgery and has a history of knee problems, didn't experience any setbacks following the final preseason game. Davis is expected to play as a result, but how many touches offensive coordinator Dan Henning gives him remains to be seen. It's likely the Panthers ease Davis back into the lineup so DeShaun Foster should get the majority of the carries this week.
Expect Carolina to attack the perimeter more when Foster is in the game than they do when Davis is in the game. He is more explosive than Davis and running him-off-tackle will help keep the Saints talented defensive ends on their heels when New Orleans runs play action. Running outside also plays to the strengths of FB Brad Hoover and allows the Panthers to take advantage of free-agent signing LOG Mike Wahle's range. While Hoover isn't a dominant lead blocker that can knock defenders back at the point of attack, he takes good angles to his blocks and does a nice job of sustaining his blocks once in position. Wahle is quick around the corner and big enough to engulf the Saints' outside linebackers at the point of attack.
Carolina should run behind Wahle when Davis, who is at this best running between the tackles, is in the game as well. Wahle is a powerful drive blocker that has the leg drive to root defenders out of holes and he'll be working against RDT Johnathan Sullivan most of the day. Sullivan has shown steady improvement during the preseason but he remains inconsistent and he should have problems holding his ground this week.
Passing: Henning's commitment to the running game will force New Orleans' defensive coordinator Rick Venturi to move SS Jay Bellamy into the box at times. That's just fine with QB Jake Delhomme because stacking the line will set up the play-action package and create some single-coverage matchups. Delhomme's first option when throwing downfield will be WR Steve Smith. Smith shows a second gear when tracking the ball and he has the body control to make the spectacular catch. However, the Saints will likely give DC Fakhir Brown safety help over the top or run a cover-1 scheme that allows FS Dwight Smith to roam the middle of the field even when they stack the line.
Delhomme must be aware of where Smith is at all times because he has good range and the balls skills to make some big plays. As a result, No. 2 WR Keary Colbert could have a productive day. Colbert doesn't have Smith's speed but he is a crisp short-to-intermediate runner that excels at getting open underneath. He consistently creates good separation working against man coverage and he does a nice job of settling into a soft spot when he reads zone.
Of course it won't matter how open his receivers are if Delhomme doesn't have time to find them and deliver the ball so quality pass protection is key. That could prove difficult because DE's Charles Grant, Darren Howard and Will Smith combined to record 29 sacks last year. Rotating them helps keep all three fresh and explosive. Henning can help his offensive tackles by running some max-protect schemes that keep a back and/or tight end to help out. Delhomme can also keep the young defensive ends off balance by changing his cadence and using some hard counts.