Week 3 for the New Orleans Saints pits two teams that are missing arguably their best respective players against each other. While Drew Brees is out of the game with a shoulder injury, so too is Panthers' middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. Kuechly is possibly the best MLB in the NFL, and losing him is a blow to a tremendously talented Panthers' defense. However, they have enough talent to overcome his lack of presence. Here are 5 things to watch for in Week 3.
1.) Panthers Without Kuechly
As alluded to in the opening paragraph, Luke Kuechly will be out against the Saints. Kuechly is an anchor in the Panthers' defense, and he flies to the ball better than anyone in the league. However, players like Thomas Davis and Charles Johnson are more than capable of picking up the slack. While losing Kuechly is big for the Panthers, look for them to try to scheme around the hole in the middle of their defense.
2.) Josh Norman vs. Saints
Norman is a good corner, and he's played well in the first two weeks. He faces a challenge in Brandin Cooks that is mitigated in who is throwing Cooks the ball. He'll likely be stationed in the formation, so look for the Saints to try to create mismatches on both ends of the ball in the passing game.
3.) Saints' Playbook Changes
The Drew Brees led offense is a highly advanced one. The Luke McCown one likely won't be. McCown may not even have privileges to change plays at the line. Look for Carolina to use a lot of fronts to try to exploit the back-up quarterback's inexperience reading their defense.
4.) Jonathan Stewart
The Saints may need to sell out to stop the Carolina running game. The Panthers don't have many receivers, and their running backs are good for two huge games a year. Those two games are almost always against the Saints. The Saints need to try to mitigate the damage that the Panthers can do to them on the ground, and they may need to stack the box throughout the game in order to do so.
5.) Bank of America Crowd Noise
BoA stadium is notoriously quiet. There is a lot of speculation as to why that is, but it's kicked up in the past year and a half or so. Carolina's fans will be rabid trying to distract McCown, and they'll likely carry that noise every snap that the Carolina defense is on the field. McCown will need to be patient at the line and make his reads, else the Saints will have a lot of trouble moving the ball. If he can't identify the Carolina defense at the snap, expect a lot of 3 & outs from the Saints' offense.
If the Saints gameplan well, they may have a chance today. An NFC South with nothing to lose playing against another NFC South team is a dangerous thing. 3 teams have started 0-3 and made the playoffs, so this game is as close to a must win as you'll see this early in the season. The Saints need to try to salvage their season, and it all starts today. They don't have the best tools to do so, but they do have the element of chaos on their side.