New Orleans Saints: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 16

Murf Baldwin@@MurfBaldwinContributor IDecember 18, 2013

ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 15: Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints passes against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on December 15, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Rams beat the Saints 27-16.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Well, it finally happened.

The notoriously slow starting Saints (on the road) were upended by the lowly St. Louis Rams, 27-16, in a score that was not truly indicative of how the game really went. The Saints were thoroughly manhandled by a much tougher team, especially in the trenches, and generally had nothing to offer the upstart Rams. 

Now, the Saints must reverse out of cruise control and put the pedal to metal against the Carolina Panthers. When the two teams met a couple of weeks ago, the Saints dished out the same punishment they received from the Rams. 

Running away with a 31-13 victory, the Saints looked like the very best the league had to offer. But that was at home. The Saints will undoubtedly receive Carolina's best shot and will now have to match physicality with the ultra-physical Panthers in the unfriendly confines of Bank of America Stadium. 

Although the Panthers were able to generate 128 yards on the ground (on 23 carries), they weren't able to truly establish a rhythm in that aspect as they trailed right out of the gate. And with the Panthers unable to get on track through the air (160 yards passing), they had no chance of matching production with the white-hot Saints.

Throw all of that out the window; this is a totally new ball game.

Division Standings

NFC South Division Standings
TeamWinsLossesPoints forPoints against
New Orleans104359270
Tampa Bay410258354

Not many outside of this column had Carolina catching up to the Saints after starting out 1-3. Now, the Panthers have a chance to knock the Saints from the No. 2 seed in the NFC all the way down to possibly the sixth seed. These circumstances would make it harder for the Saints to advance as they would more than likely spend the entire playoffs on the road.

As great as the Saints are, my confidence wanes at the thought of the Saints opening the playoffs in some obscure city like Green Bay (I kid) to face the Packers or even in Philadelphia in a tilt with the Eagles.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 8:  Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers is sacked during a game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 8, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Saints defeated the Panthers 31-13.  (Photo by Wesl
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

This makes the contest with Carolina paramount. If the Saints were to drop to the sixth seed, they would fall one slot below the San Francisco 49ers—a team they desperately need to avoid facing on the road.

Tampa just learned the hard way of how good the 49ers are now after being thrashed 33-14 at home. Tampa has won four of its last six contests and will undoubtedly be in the mix for the division title next season.

The Buccaneers are in prime position to grab a defensive end in the draft, which would help take care of their rush woes. Having three different running backs top the 100-yard mark just goes to show how physical of a team they are. And it can be argued that Tampa has the most talent in the division.

The same can't be said for Atlanta. They lack talent in the trenches, although they are loaded at the skill positions. Gone are the days of throwing 60 times a game—teams need balance to win in this new era of football.

For the Falcons, and the Saints to a lesser extent, to truly compete, they need to evolve with the times. It's funny, because the Falcons used to be stout in the trenches and generally looked like the next NFC team to win a Super Bowl.

Now, they are in the midst of a top-five selection in the NFL draft. A fact that I'm sure is not lost on fans of the Black and Gold.

Injury Report 

Injury report prior to Rams game
T Terron ArmsteadNoseQuestionable
NT Brodrick BunkleyBackQuestionable
S Rafael BushAnkleQuestionable
OLB Keyunta DawsonCalfQuestionable
DE Glenn FosterKneeQuestionable
TE Josh HillHamstringQuestionable

This was the lightest injury report since Week 1. Glenn Foster is a talent. He has three sacks despite being in deep rotation in the interior of the defensive line. He's equally adept rushing the passer and stopping the run.

Keyunta Dawson is a veteran that can cover, rush and play special teams. He's more suited for a 4-3 defense, which works out well as that's been the alignment of choice for the Saints most of the season.

Rafael Bush has shown himself to be a viable option at the safety position. He has some serious range and will separate you from your senses upon impact. Once fellow safety Roman Harper is jettisoned, look for Bush to make a name for himself shortly after.

It's time for Terron Armstead to get some playing time. You draft the guy in the third round let him play! He can't be much worse than tackles Charles Brown and Zach Strief, and he's undoubtedly more athletic.

What's the definition of insanity, coach Sean Payton?

Things to Improve Upon

Does anyone remember when the Saints had a great special teams unit? Both Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles were always a threat to give the Saints ideal field position. Now, Thomas is an afterthought in the return game, with Sproles looking more and more ineffective each passing week. 

It's time to get running back Travaris Cadet involved in all special teams action. 

There's no better way to quiet a crowd on the road or ignite a home crowd than with an explosive kick return. So why not try to manufacture ways to achieve better starting field position?

The Saints lack creativity in a myriad of ways. They refuse to go to a no-huddle offense early in a game and need the benefit of switching out personnel groupings to achieve creativity.

But the fact that they continue to languish close to the bottom of the charts in regard to field position befuddles me. It's time to start manufacturing reverses and other trick plays in an attempt to break one open. 

Once again, what's the definition of insanity, Coach Payton?


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