Sun, 06 Dec 2020

Know Your Foe: New Orleans Saints

Carolina Panthers
21 Oct 2020, 20:44 GMT+10

Will Bryan

The Saints (3-2) are coming out of their bye week to host the Panthers (3-3) in Week 7.

New Orleans opened the season with a win against the Buccaneers before falling in back-to-back weeks to the Raiders and Packers. The Saints then bounced back with narrow wins against the Lions and Chargers.

The Saints, who have won three straight NFL South titles, haven't started 3-3 or worse since they went 2-4 in 2016.

Teddy connection

While he was backing up Drew Brees the past two seasons, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater went 5-1 as a starter, with his only loss coming to the Panthers in the 2018 season finale. In Bridgewater's five straight wins during the middle of last season, he averaged 153.8 passing yards and 1.8 passing touchdowns (compared to 279.3 passing yards and 1.0 passing touchdowns this season).

Bridgewater won't be the only Panther returning to the Superdome. Cornerback Eli Apple also played for New Orleans the past two seasons, and offensive coordinator Joe Brady was an offensive assistant there from 2017-18.

Will Thomas return?

Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, last year's NFL Offensive Player of the Year, had been out since Week 1 with an ankle injury. While he was listed as questionable in Week 5 against the Chargers, he was ultimately "suspended" before the game.

Thomas led the NFL with 1,725 receiving yards in 2019, the fourth-most receiving yards in a season since 2000.

From Weeks 2-5 without Thomas, the Saints ranked 20th in receiving yards (578) by wide receivers, leaning on Emmanuel Sanders and Tre'Quan Smith to pick up the slack.

The Panthers have already faced two opponents with top-flight receivers (Arizona's DeAndre Hopkins, Atlanta's Julio Jones) who were game-time decisions. Will Thomas be a third?

Saints offense still humming

New Orleans is used to high-flying offensive production, and while this year's yardage isn't gaudy, the Saints are still scoring in bunches. They're 12th in total yards (378.4), 12th in passing (263.4), but fifth in scoring (30.6).

New Orleans is also fourth on third down (48.5) and 11th in red zone touchdown percentage (66.7).

Running back Alvin Kamara is second in the NFL with 676 scrimmage yards and his seven total touchdowns are tied for the league lead. Since entering the league in 2017, Kamara is top four in scrimmage yards, receiving yards by a running back and total touchdowns.

The Red Zone and Third Down

The Panthers have struggled to convert in the red zone, ranking 28th after converting just 47.8 percent of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns.

But the Saints defense has struggled in this area, too.

New Orleans ranks 31st (85.0 percent) in red zone defense and 26th (48.6) in third down defense.

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