Rise and shine, Saints fans. It's a beautiful, crisp, Carolina morning, and this leg of the road trip has the Saints in between the Appalachian Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. Can you see the light, misty fog shrouding the Piedmont in mystery?
It's a great day for football...that aroma in the air...smells like (Saints) victory!
Make the jump for a sampling of my Hot Reads for this week's game against the Carolina Panthers.
Saints vs Panthers coverage
**Join me in the comment section for our usual Sunday morning pre-game banter until the Open Thread opens up. **
Why do they need to PROTECT BREES better? Because Drew Brees has already been sacked way too many times in 2011 - nine times. That's an average of more than twice a game, and the older he gets, the more these hits and sacks will hasten his decline and put him in danger of injury, despite the bevy of rules protecting him. Plus, it seems lately that he is more marked than Michael Vick on late hits and cheap shots that don't get called.
What I'd like to see: The Panthers don't really have a fierce pass rush, and two players - Charles Johnson (4) and Greg Hardy (2) - have accounted for all their sacks thus far. So, the front five plus helpers need to neutralize them and give Brees a pressure-free day that keeps his jersey so clean it doesn't even have to be laundered after the game.
Checkdown # 1
For the love of Monty Python, just TURN NEWTON INTO A NEWT.
Cam Newton is being lauded by some as a surefire HOFer and they've pretty much already engraved his 2011 Rookie of the Year trophy (brought to you by Big K Cola). But to Gregg Williams, he's just the next hunk of fresh rookie meat dangling in front of his starving, carnivorous, and aggressive defense.
What I'd like to see: I don't care whether it's the result of rookie inexperience, or a great defensive scheme implemented very skillfully on the field, but I want to see bad reads, hanging on to the ball too long, poor decisions, interceptions, fumbles, and the like from Cam Newton. Bringing him down to Earth in amphibian style, so he doesn't even know whether he's playing on land or in the water would contribute much to a victory.
Checkdown # 2
This game features intrigue on special teams as New Orleans's John Kasay will be GOING TOE-TO-TOE with the Panther's Olindo Mare in the kicking game.
Who can forget the unforgettable Olindo Mare, who was brought to the Saints by Pay-Loo in 2007 to free up a roster spot (as the Saints wouldn't need a kickoff specialist anymore) and give them more range for field goals than the ageless John Carney could offer. Well, this move blew up in Pay-Loo's faces as Mare becursed the Saints and their fans by hitting only 10 of 17 field goals in 13 games of injured, inconsistent place kicking before making way for (shudder) the immortal Martin Gramatica. UGH.
Kasay, who was the only placekicker the Panthers ever had (1995-2010), is returning to Carolina for the first time since retiring earlier this year, and while the Panther fans say they love and respect him, you know that for the sake of victory, they want him to go "oh-fer" in this game.
Both kickers are coming off games in which they missed for the first time in 2011. Mare missed one from 52 yards out and had a 34-yarder blocked last week against the Bears, while Kasay also missed two, although they were both from 50+ yards. How they respond to these misses is crucial and could mean the difference between sweet, sweet victory and bitter defeat.
What I'd like to see: A graceful Kasay perfectly performing his duties in calm, workman-like fashion as the Saints score many first-half touchdowns, while Mare struggles mightily to keep up with many FG attempts.
One feature of this game that worries me is WHAT WILL HAPPEN ON THIRD DOWN.
This isn't something Carolina has done well this year (only 17 of 52 conversions), but with the Panthers' three-pronged rushing game of Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams, and the dangerously mobile Newton, I can see them being able to keep drives alive with third-down conversions using their legs, and it eating the Saints defense alive.
What I'd like to see: The Saints defense keep the Panthers in third and long situations so that even mad scrambles or decent runs aren't good enough to get the first downs.
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And BAM! Stick a fork in me...I'm done.
What do you think of these Hot Reads? Too cold? What are yours? Give it up in the comment section...