Panthers-Saints: Will New Orleans Set Franchise Mark With 8-0 Start?
The last time the New Orleans Saints were 7-0 Michael Jordan won his first title, we found out what "going postal" meant, the country became aware of a man in Los Angeles named Rodney King, and the Soviet Union collapsed.
In Louisiana, former KKK leader David Duke lost the governor's election to future convicted felon Edwin Edwards.
Yes, it's been a while since the Saints have experienced this kind of success.
An 8-0 start would be a "first ever" for the black and gold.
In order to achieve midseason perfection, the Saints must beat the Carolina Panthers—a team, despite its 3-4 record, that will prove to be a tough test.
Carolina and head coach John Fox have owned New Orleans. The Panthers have won six of the past seven meetings against the Saints, and Fox sports a 5-1 record in head to head meetings against Sean Payton.
The Panthers used a strong running game and a tough defense to jump out to big leads and sweep the Saints last year.
This year the Panthers will look to use the same formula to put the first blemish on the Saints' perfect record.
The running back duo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart has combined for 700 yards and five yards per carry over the past four games. The Panthers' pass rush is tied with the Saints among other teams for 10th in the league in sacks.
Defensive end Julius Peppers leads the team with seven sacks. Six of those sacks have come during the Panthers' recent surge of three wins in the past four games.
Three matchups to watch...
1) Julius Peppers vs. the Saints offensive line- Drew Brees has been under severe pressure in each of the last two games and now the offensive line must protect against one of the most athletic and talented pass rushers in the world.
Peppers will line up anywhere along the line of scrimmage so the offensive line and Brees must find him at every pre-snap lead.
2) Steve Smith vs. Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter- Despite Smith's recent grumblings that he is no longer an asset to the team, he continues to be a frequent target of Jake Delhomme's passes.
Smith ranks ninth in the NFL with 62 targets. He leads the team in receptions and yardage.
Take Smith away and Carolina's passing attack is significantly weakened.
3) Jon Beason and Thomas Davis vs. Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell- Expect the Saints to give Thomas and Bell around 30 combined carries. Their effectiveness running the ball inside will be largely determined by linebackers Beason and Davis.
The Saints will win if...
1) They limit turnovers.
The Saints have turned the ball over four times in each of the last two games and still have managed to win by an average of 10 points.
I don't know how much longer they can continue to be so charitable with the ball and still get away with it.
2) The Panthers are forced to abandon the run before the fourth quarter.
The Saints rank 11th against the run, but that number is deceiving. They generally jump out to big early leads and forced teams to quit running the ball. This is when they are at their best.
The Dolphins stopped running the ball for no apparent reason, but the Giants and Falcons had to abandon a successful running game because they were down by multiple scores late in the game.
The quicker the Saints jump out to a big lead, the better off their defense will look.
3) The Saints protect Drew Brees.
I mentioned earlier that the offensive line has struggled to protect Brees lately. He has been sacked seven times in the past two games after getting sacked just four times in the first five games.
The sacks and other quarterback hits have led to interceptions, lost fumbles, and poor field position.
A protected Drew Brees can lead the offense to six or seven touchdowns per game.
This is a tough game to predict. Division games are always played closer than they appear on paper. The Panthers have won three of their last four but those victories have come against Washington, Tampa Bay, and a Jekyll and Hyde Arizona team.
Delhomme has thrown 13 picks on the season and has had multiple-interception games four times this season. The Saints defense has feasted on errant passes taking five back for touchdowns. New Orleans gets two interceptions.
The Panthers have the top ranked pass defense but just the 24th ranked rush defense. Carolina holds Brees to 255 yards and two touchdowns , but Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell combine for 150 yards and two touchdowns.
DeAngelo Williams has 80 first half yards and finishes with 125 as the Panthers successfully establish an early running game.
New Orleans 34, Carolina 23
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