Saints Seeking Consistency in Matchup With Panthers
WHEN THE NEW ORLEANS SAINTS HAVE THE BALL
With main running backs Pierre Thomas (ankle sprain) and Reggie Bush (broken fibula) expected to miss another week, the Saints will likely rely on the accurate right arm of Brees (2334 passing yards, 16 TD, 11 INT) this Sunday. Though the fiery All-Pro hasn't been as consistent as in years past, he's still made good on over 70 percent of his throws and is once again on pace for another season of more than 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. Physical wideout Marques Colston (46 receptions, 527 yards, 2 TD) remains the top target in New Orleans' sophisticated aerial attack, but there are plenty of other good options for an offense that's averaging over 280 yards per game (5th overall). Brees did an excellent job sharing the wealth in the Week 4 meeting with Carolina, as wideouts Lance Moore (29 receptions, 5 TD) and Devery Henderson (22 receptions, 1 TD) and tight ends Jeremy Shockey (30 receptions, 2 TD) and David Thomas (23 receptions, 2 TD) all had at least five catches in the win. Pierre Thomas and Bush also sat out the Saints' previous matchup with the Panthers, but stand-ins Chris Ivory (332 rushing yards) and Ladell Betts (119 rushing yards, 1 TD, 19 receptions) combined for 114 yards on 25 carries to provide a threat from the running game.
Brees and his cohorts will be attempting to successfully navigate a pretty solid Carolina stop unit that's permitted the fourth-fewest yards in the league (301.7 ypg), ranks third in pass efficiency defense, and produced 10 interceptions. Chris Gamble (26 tackles, 7 PD) and Richard Marshall (37 tackles, 1 INT) give the Panthers a formidable cornerback duo, while strong safety Charles Godfrey (37 tackles, 5 PD) has developed into a dangerous ballhawk in his third NFL season, having picked off a team-best four passes thus far. Carolina hasn't been as effective in stopping the run, allowing an average of 119 yards per game on the ground (21st overall), but was able to hold St. Louis standout Steven Jackson to a non-threatening 59 yards on 23 attempts last week. Strongside linebacker James Anderson (68 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT) tops the Cats in tackles and had a monster game against the Saints earlier in the year, amassing 16 stops (14 solo), a sack and recovering a pair of fumbles. On the opposite side, Jon Beason (53 tackles) is a two-time All-Pro who's renowned for his coverage skills.
WHEN THE CAROLINA PANTHERS HAVE THE BALL
Matt Moore (844 passing yards, 5 TD, 10 INT) provided a bit of a spark after being re-installed as a starter by Fox in Week 7, throwing for a career-best 308 yards and three touchdowns in a home win over San Francisco, but regressed badly with a three-interception outcome against the Rams last Sunday. Carolina's inability to mount a consistent pass attack has negatively impacted a once-potent running game as well, with the team averaging a meager 3.3 yards per rush for the year. Jonathan Stewart (178 rushing yards, 5 receptions, 2 total TD), who's at a frustrating 2.8 yards per carry clip right now, will carry the load if Williams (361 rushing yards, 1 TD, 11 receptions) is unable to go. A painfully young receiving corps is beginning to show signs of progress, as rookies David Gettis (18 receptions, 2 TD) and Brandon LaFell (15 receptions, 1 TD) teamed up for 216 yards and two touchdowns on 14 catches in the San Francisco victory, taking advantage of constant rolled coverage towards veteran playmaker Steve Smith (26 receptions, 2 TD). Stewart can also be an asset as a receiver, as evidenced by his 55-yard scoring connection with Clausen in the Week 4 loss to New Orleans.
The injuries at cornerback and standout free safety Darren Sharper's absence for the season's first six weeks while recovering from knee surgery haven't affected the Saints' secondary too much, as the team presently stands third in pass defense (178.6 ypg) and has yielded only six touchdowns through the air. Sharper has since returned and made his presence felt, coming up with a key fumble recovery in last Sunday's win, and Super Bowl XLIV hero Porter (17 tackles, 1 INT) seems to be on track to play this week after missing four games with an injured knee. Tackle Sedrick Ellis (21 tackles, 3 sacks) is New Orleans' leader in sacks, but coordinator Gregg Williams will bring the blitz from anywhere, as he showed when defensive backs Malcolm Jenkins (42 tackles, 1 sack, 8 PD) and Usama Young (14 tackles, 1 sack) both took down Clausen in these teams' earlier encounter. Active middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma (50 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) and strong safety Roman Harper (39 tackles, 1 INT, 4 forced fumbles) head up a run defense that was burned for a 38-yard touchdown by the Steelers' Rashad Mendenhall last week, but held the Pittsburgh back to 33 yards on his other 14 attempts.
Fantasy players won't want to pay too much attention to this game, as there aren't a whole lot of really intriguing options to choose from. Brees is certainly one participant worth using and Colston has been very productive in recent weeks, but no other receivers stand out in New Orleans' spread-it- around system with the possible exception of Lance Moore, the team's leader with five touchdown catches. The backfield scenario isn't favorable either, with Ivory, Betts and Julius Jones all figuring to get touches. Stewart will merit a start if the struggling back is Carolina's clear-cut primary ball carrier, but the usually-reliable Smith now carries significant risk due to the Panthers' less-than-desirable quarterback situation. Stay away from Moore but keep an eye on Carolina kicker John Kasay, who's 6-of-7 on field goal tries beyond 40 yards. Opposing the punchless Panthers makes any fantasy defense a good value, and the Saints' should be no exception.
If the Saints play to last week's level and the Panthers perform to their usual standards, this game won't be very close. New Orleans has had its issues getting it together in consecutive weeks, however, and an offense that's been too reliant on Brees lately could run into a few problems against a Carolina defense that can hold its own versus the pass. The Panthers hung tough against the Saints in the Superdome last October and are capable of doing so once more this week. However, New Orleans still holds a clear talent edge that eventually will turn out to be the determining factor.
Predicted Outcome: Saints 20, Panthers 16
I'd like to see JJ and Ivory get a heavy load this week. We need to pound the ball some, and this could be the team to do it to.
im looking for jj to do his best reggie impersonation this week
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