LOCATION: Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, NC)
BETTING LINE: -4 (Panthers)
New Orleans Saints Player To Watch
Defensive End – #94
Cameron Jordan had his best game of the season last week against the Broncos. Leading the team in tackles and tackles for loss, as well as recording one sack, he will be counted on to contain Cam Newton in the pocket and exploit the Carolina offensive line. He is the only true pass rusher on the Saints’ roster as of now but has yet to prove he is deserving of his Pro Bowl reputation without the presence of a pass rusher on the other side. If the Saints plan on sitting at the top of the NFC South at the end of the season Cameron Jordan must become a force game in and game out, starting in Carolina.
Carolina Panthers Player To Watch
Tight End – #88
Carolina’s offense has struggled to find a force in recent weeks. Without Kelvin Benjamin on the field last year, Olsen was Cam Newton’s favorite target and should be heavily targeted against New Orleans. The defending NFC champions are struggling to get back to .500, let alone the playoffs, and will have to start finding answers quick. Olsen led the Panthers in receiving against New Orleans earlier this year and should be an interesting matchup against a rising Saints defense. Look for Olsen to be in many different formations as head coach Ron Rivera tries to get his superstar tight end the ball early and often.
New Orleans Saints Key Positions
The Saints have counted on their run game in recent weeks but failed to have a 100 yard rusher against the Broncos last Sunday. It is clear that the Saints’ offense runs through the arm of Drew Brees but with a balance offense New Orleans can keep Luke Kuechly guessing on defense. Expect another day of splitting carries between Tim Hightower and Mark Ingram, as neither have “run away with” the backfield.
Drew Brees is a firm believer in spreading the ball around but New Orleans’ receivers are a big part of their loss last Sunday. The Saints cannot afford to lose the turnover battle in Charlotte and ball security will continue to be an emphasis on offense. Look for one of the hottest rookies, Michael Thomas, to still be a big part of the Saints’ offense on Thursday night.
The New Orleans Saints’ defensive line came to life last week as they got to Trevor Siemian six times on Sunday. The Saints came into last week tied for last in sacks but emerged as a true hazard to Siemian’s safety. If the Saints can even produce half the amount of sacks that they did last week, it will be a long day for Cam Newton and the Carolina Panther offense.
GAME PREVIEW ANALYSIS
The Saints travel to Charlotte to take on division rival Carolina on Thursday night. Both team are in desperation mode, as they try to stay afloat in the NFC South. Both teams sit at the bottom of the division and find themselves way out of the playoff race if they fail to win Thursday.
The Saints come into the game after a devastating loss last Sunday to the Broncos. Drew Brees and other leaders on the Saints’ roster must help their young team erase any doubt as they take on the defending NFC champion, Carolina Panthers. Look for New Orleans to try and establish a balanced offense again and take advantage of a struggling Carolina’ secondary over-top.
On defense, the Saints have made great strides of improvement, as they gave Drew Brees a chance to win the game, despite four offensive turnovers. Anchored by captain Cameron Jordan, a pass rush was finally present against the Broncos with hopes of carrying over during the short week. Look for Dennis Allen to continue to blitz his linebackers and try to keep Cam Newton in the pocket as the Saints try to climb back to .500.
On the opposite sideline, head coach Ron Rivera is still attempting to get his Panthers on track. Cam Newton and the Carolina offense has yet to establish an identity, in part of their struggling offensive line, but has the matchup advantage to exploit a growing Saints’ defense. Look for Rivera to take chances down the field with his big bodied receivers and try to get Stewart in the endzone when near the goal line.
On defense Carolina is backed by the best linebacker in the league, Luke Kuechly, but are missing key parts on their defensive line and secondary. Carolina must find a way to generate a pass rush to alleviate the pressure off of their young defensive backs while disrupting Drew Brees’ passing lanes. Look for Shaq Thompson to come off of the edge at linebacker and for defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to get creative with his blitz calls.
Both teams are in a must win mindset and this Thursday night should shape up to be a four quarter battle at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
Carolina Panthers Key Positions
The Carolina Panther line has struggled to defend against heavy blitzes this year. With the presence of Sheldon Rankins in the middle again for the Saints, expect Dennis Allen to send pressure heavily. Veteran Ryan Kalil must take charge off his offensive line and hold everyone accountable for their shaky first half of the season. The only way the Panthers overcome another loss is to keep their Pro Bowl quarterback upright.
What made the Panthers so great last year was their unstoppable front seven. This year the Panthers have struggled to get after the quarterback and without Josh Norman in the secondary, it has cost them. Defensive ends Kony Ealy and Charles Johnson have combined for only three sacks this year and will have to get after Drew Brees in hopes of disrupting his rhythm.
The presence of Josh Norman a year ago has definitely hurt the Panthers’ secondary this season. Veteran Kurt Coleman, from The Ohio State University, must get his young corners to play as a unit against an array of talent that the Saints plan to bring to Charlotte. With two rookie corners potentially starting, their best hope is to pray for a pass rush and look for tip balls against New Orleans’ speedsters.