Happy New Year to all the loyal and disloyal CSC contingent!
When the Saints travel to Carolina to face off against the Panthers Sunday we'll be able to enjoy our fifth preseason game of the season. This dressed rehearsal will be a meaningless pre-playoff game, otherwise known as the "glorified scrimmage". I assume several Saints will sit out for all or a portion of this game. Most of us are already aware of the announcement that Mark Brunell will start, and Drew Brees will not play. None of us will know the extent of the exact player rotation because Sean Payton will keep it close to the vest until kickoff and it's possibly going change on the fly based on the progression of the game. I'm not going to spend too much time speculating on who plays and who doesn't, because it's exactly that: speculation. What I will say is regardless of who plays, the Saints will be facing a young and inexperienced quarterback in Matt Moore that I think they can take advantage of and bring back down to earth.
You have 53 players on a roster, and you need to make 8 of them inactive on gameday. Based on injury status I think it's safe to assume that Usama Young and Pierre Thomas will both be held out, so that's 2 players you can count on being inactive. After that, you've got Jeremy Shockey, Sedrick Ellis, Jabari Greer, Lance Moore and David Thomas suffering from minor injuries that could have them held out as a precaution. That's another 5. And don't forget about Scott Shanle and Randall Gay who were both previously held out as the Saints were being careful with them post concussions. That's 9 players that could very easily miss the game, not counting the other guys listed on the injury report battling minor bumps (McCray, Sharper, Vilma, Bushrod, Dinkins, Jahri Evans, Hamilton and Kyle). So that's 17 players listed on the injury report which means the Saints will have 36 "completely healthy" players at their disposal, and indispensable guys like Marques Colston and Drew Brees may be held out anyway. So here's a few bullets on what to look for:
-- Who will get the lion share of the carries? Lynell Hamilton?
-- Will Tracy Porter even play?
-- Will the Saints try to get Jabari Greer any snaps based on the amount of time off he's had?
-- The Saints will not be shy about playing conservative on manageable 4th downs and running Garrett Hartley out there in field goal situations.
Anyway, I digress, back to the topic at hand. Ever since Jake Delhomme got banged up, Carolina has been rolling with Matt Moore behind center. If you're not familiar with him, he was an undrafted free agent out of Oregon State (also played at UCLA but transferred) who first came into the league in 2007 as a backup for the Panthers. You'll remember former Saint draftee Mike Hass as a teammate in college he threw the ball to a good amount. Moore played in 9 games his first year with Carolina and threw for 730 yards, 3 touchdowns, 5 picks and a quarterback rating of 67.0. After not getting a snap in 2008, he's made the most of his chances in 2009. Through 6 games (4 starts), he's thrown for 891 yards, 7 touchdowns, 2 picks, and a quarterback rating of 98.9. Looks like he's improved quite a bit, right? The scary part is that he keeps getting better with experience.
Check out his stat line:
vs. Tampa: 14-20, 161yds, 1 INT
@ New England: 15-30, 197yds, 1 TD
vs. Minnesota: 21-33, 299yds, 3 TD's
@ NY Giants: 15-20, 171yds, 3 TD's
He's been making very few mistakes, and the last two weeks he's been making two very good pass rushing teams pay dearly when he does drop back. Without question the recent resurrection of Carolina's running game has helped Moore adjust. The key will be for the Saints' recently pathetic run defense to slow down the Panthers' recently outstanding run offense and give themselves a chance to put Matt Moore in obvious passing downs. Then, Gregg Williams can throw his different looks and wrenches at Moore and we'll see if the young quarterback can perform well. One thing is for sure: Gregg Williams has been very good this season at getting his defense to create turnovers against young/inexperienced quarterbacks. The only quarterbacks who haven't had multiple turnovers versus the Saints this season are all seasoned veterans: Jason Campbell, Tony Romo, Marc Bulger, and Jake Delhomme. Conversely, young quarterbacks like Josh Freeman, Kevin Kolb, Chad Henne, and Matt Stafford have all thrown at least two interceptions each against the Saints. This bodes well for the Saints. More good news: Carolina's star receiver Steve Smith is injured and is highly unlikely to play, while star running tandem Jonathan Stewart (achilles) and DeAngelo Williams (ankle) were both held out of practice this week. Oh, and Matt Moore happens to be nursing sore ribs to boot. So as banged up as the Saints are, and although they may be running out their ultimate skeleton crew against a team they have traditionally matched up poorly with, remember that the Panthers are hurt too. It may not be as easy for them to duplicate the recent offensive outputs they've had. The key for the Saints, regardless of who is on the field, is to force Matt Moore into mistakes. As good as he's played lately, this is a job I think the Saints can accomplish.
Give me your prediction on Matt Moore's stat line for the game. Will the Saints be able to contain his recent flurry of success? Will the Saints be able to contain the run enough to force Moore into tougher down and distance situations?