Time again to learn a little bit about the Saints next opponent and what to expect during the game this Sunday by chatting with that teams SB Nation blogger. So allow me to re-introduce you to Jaxon, head honcho over at Cat Scratch Reader. Jaxon gave me some great answers to my questions about Delhomme, the Panthers running game and defending the Saints. You can also read my answers to his questions right here. We will speak again when the Panthers and Saints meet up later in the season.
CSC: Delhomme left the game last week with a chest injury but says he's fine for this week. Do you believe this to be true? What is fan sentiment regarding Delhomme this season?
CSR: The word is Delhomme practiced fully today so I'm 99% sure he will play Sunday. His ribs will still be sore and there is a chance it could impact his throws I imagine. Also, I'm sure getting hit in the same spot again this week would be slightly uncomfortable to say the least.
I ran a poll a few weeks back and 75% of the fan base felt he was still our best option. Admittedly though after the Bills game he was on his final opportunity for even the most diehard Jake fans (including myself). But he redeemed himself against the Cardinals (for at least another week). Panthers OC Jeff Davidson seems to have gotten the message that he can't rely on his QB to win the game with his arm so the Saints should expect the Panthers to run the ball 40+ times on Sunday. If Jake can then through the ball less than 20 times and avoid INT's then the fanbase will continue to stick by his side.
CSC: What makes the Panthers running game so good? What will the Saints need to do to shut it down?
CSR: It's a combination of two things, a stout and large offensive line and two RB's that are good at hitting the hole or cutting back when there is nothing there. Williams is more dangerous in the open field hence the Panthers throwing the ball more to him this season (18 catches in 7 games vs. 22 all last season). Stewart gets the call in the red zone as he can drag 3 or 4 players with him at times.
The key to stopping them is controlling the gaps and not forgetting containment even on the inside runs. The Cardinals got burned for 278 yards rushing by over committing SS Adrian Wilson in the box. When he guessed at the wrong gap the Panthers were off and running. They also lost containment on the edges several times. The final key will be getting an early lead, stopping the Panthers running game early and making the Panthers think they need to throw to keep up.
CSC: The Saints seem unstoppable so far this season. What do you think the Panthers might be able to do that to win this game that other teams have failed to do so far?
CSR: Win the time of possession battle. I'm thinking if the Panthers can again play error free ball and run the ball effectively they can keep the Saints offense off the field. Also, the Panthers have dialed up the pass rush lately so hopefully they can get some pressure on Brees and force him to the check down throws early. DE Julius Peppers is playing inspired ball lately and always plays well against the Saints.
CSC: With the Saints and Falcons leading the pack in the NFC South, have Panther fans given up hope of winning the division or going to the playoffs?
CSR: Though we have been up and down week to week lately overall we have not given up hope at all. We know we have a lot of talent and experience on this team. Thanks to key mid-season additions to the DL (such as former Saint Hollis Thomas) the defense seems to finally be adapting to Ron Meeks Cover 2 scheme and should keep us in the game early. The obvious key is the play of QB Jake Delhomme. When he is asked to throw the ball less than 30 times the chances of the Panthers winning rises dramatically. With only four losses a playoff run is still possible in spite of a difficult schedule.
CSC: Tell Saints fans something about the Panthers that would completely surprise them.
CSR: Hmm...tough question since I'm not sure how much you follow the Panthers. You may have heard the Panthers have the No.1 ranked pass defense. Honestly prior to the Cardinals game I thought it was a fluke but I'm not sure now. What you may find surprising is that our secondary this Sunday will include two rookies, 2nd round pick Sherrod Martin at FS (who was drafted to play CB) and 7th round nickel corner Captain Munnerlyn (who will obviously play a lot). Munnerlyn has been a pleasant surprise who excels in man coverage and if anything will make mistakes being too aggressive. What surprises ME as that having two rookies in the secondary doesn't worry me in the least. These guys have grown up fast (Martin is actually 25 yrs old).
CSC: Care to make a prediction?
CSR: I'm going to pass on a prediction because I NEVER predict a loss and therefore feel like I jinx us sometimes. If I was a betting man I'd take the Panthers and the 14 points in a skinny minute, but I don't bet.
I do want to thank the Saints for the bulletin board material with all the talk of going undefeated. The Panthers are the division champs and did beat the Saints twice last season so they have no reason to feel lucky simply to play the Saints tough. Sure you're playing lights out lately but I'm thinking this is a trap game for the Saints if they let the Panthers 3-4 record fool them. Delhomme INT's ended potential game winning drives against the Falcons and Cowboys and led to both Bills TD's. As I said earlier if the Panthers can play mistake free ball they will give the Saints a game to the end (or you can come give me crap about it afterward!).