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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Saints Preview

It's hard to say at this point what will happen with the Saints this week.

First, Saints coach Sean Payton said the following:

"It's important for us to play well this week. We have to find the corrections and ... view it as an opportunity for us to get things corrected before it becomes a more important game."

Then Drew Brees is being benched, "because of the Panthers' pass rush" in Payton's words. Then, it was announced that fellow starters safety Darren Sharper, tight end David Thomas, tailback Pierre Thomas, receiver Lance Moore, and safety Usama Young are not expected to play because of injuries.

And, the Saints cut Reggie McKenzie, former Saint and Packer CB who they'd picked up down the stretch this year. The Saints suggest they may pick him up again later, which might suggest it's a cheap way to give the vet a week off (and the team doesn't have to pay him since he wasn't there opening day).

So, who'll play? Looks like the OL and DL will play, and that Mark Brunell will be the QB. Chase Daniel, the QB they promoted from the practice squad for McKenzie, will be the #2. Mike Bell is the RB. And Jeremy Shockey will probably play, if only because he's missed so many games already.

The rest will be there - the big receivers, Reggie Bush as a change of pace, most of the defense.

Matt Moore can expect blitzes, but Carolina's OL has been good. There'll also be a reluctance to show a bunch of weaknesses in the deep game, so they'll probably shade deep on most plays.

New Orleans is 24th on defense, 22nd against the run and 28th against the pass (though 2nd in both scoring and INTs). Teams score on New Orleans running, obviously a key point with Carolina's rushing attack and the Saints' Sedrick Ellis out.

Carolina put up almost 400 yards of offense against the Saints last time, just short of 200 in each run and pass. Deangelo Williams got most of the carries last time, 149 and 2 TDs. Steve Smith had 4 catches for 64 yards, with Muhsin Muhammad out. This game it will be the opposite for both sides - Jonathan Stewart will be the back, Williams is likely out; Muhammad will play and Smith is definitely out. Carolina hasn't mentioned a starter opposite Muhammad; Jarrett was the other starter against NO last time, but he's been benched the last few weeks.

Tyrell Sutton's first action came against NO, and he should be the backup this week. He and Brad Hoover should be able to help work the middle. Carolina obviously brings a larger OL to the table, and that's only helped keep the running game sharper than before.

Gary Barnidge's first meaningful time came against NO, and he responded with 3 catches for 46 yards. The team should be able to work Barnidge up the middle and on the sidelines without Smith as a deep threat, and with Sharper out in the defensive backfield. Dante Rosario should be able to work the underneath routes as well.

Saints are still the #1 offense in the league, 5th in rush and 3rd in pass (the pass stat startling with them 18th in pass attempts). They'll lack punch without Brees, and will probably pass a lot more horizontal with Brunell. It's hard to say what sort of arm Brunell has left, but he's still crafty. There'll also be plenty of slants (New Orleans' biggest plays were slants on bad tackling, odd since the Panthers did such a good job overall in tackling and coverage).

They'll probably rely on the running game, to hit Carolina at a larger weakness, but the Saints have had problems bunching up lately with the running game. Without Thomas, they'll be much more predictable in usage - Bell is slow to the corner and Bush is obviously going to work the corner, the draw, or the pass.

It's hard to say how the starters that'll be left will fare. Carolina may become aggressive with their playcalling to put the Saints out of the game early. It's impossible to really predict any sort of outcome in a game this bizarre - I don't think I've seen this much drama in a late season Carolina game in years, given the lack of implications.

But, it'll be nice to see the season end on a high note, if at all possible.
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