Both the New Orleans Saints (1-3) and Carolina Panthers (1-4) need to win on Sunday, and it won’t be easy. The black and gold have dropped six of their last eight against their NFC South foe, and have given up an average of 42 points to them in the last three losses. Here’s a few players that need to step up to plate and knock it out of the park to give the Saints their first home victory of 2016.
After two strong opening games, Brandin Cooks has been relatively quiet for the Saints. Cooks has just five catches for 44 yards in games against the Atlanta Falcons and San Diego Chargers, and it’s time for him to break out of his slump with a younger and inexperienced Panthers secondary. The good news for Cooks is last season’s contests against them saw the young wide receiver combined for 13 catches on 18 targets, 183 yards, and a score. Look for Drew Brees to target him often and get him going early.
41.5 career sacks for Cameron Jordan, and 17 percent (7.0) have come against the Carolina Panthers in 10 games. The Saints pass rush has been searching for answers, as their primary production has come from Jordan and Nick Fairley. With others struggling to get after the quarterback, Dennis Allen will have to rely on his bread and butter to disrupt Cam Newton.
Having missed his first game in his long career, James Laurinaitis has to be ready to suit up and deliver for Dennis Allen’s defense. His football IQ is where the Saints need him most playing against Newton and company, and Laurinaitis will also have a big hand in controlling the line of scrimmage. With running back James Stewart expected to play, it becomes more important for Laurinaitis to play his best, assuming he does suit up.
Although he was held out of Thursday’s practice with an illness, the expectation is that Mark Ingram will play. Getting the run game going is an emphasis for the Saints this week, and it’ll be a tall task with the Panthers allowing only 94.8 yards per game on the ground (10th). Ingram has only had one 100-yard game in his nine career games against the Panthers, but go figure that the one time he eclipsed the mark he was fed 30 times. Ingram also scored in each of last year’s game, and has six total touchdowns against them.
There’s a great bit of mutual respect between Drew Brees and the Panthers defense. Mainly, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Those two big pieces command a lot of respect, and Brees has echoed it.
After last year’s contest that saw the Saints offense get all over the the top-ranked unit, Kuechly said afterwards, “People ask me, "What happened to your defense?" Drew Brees happened to our defense. That's what happened."
Brees only played the Panthers once last season, but he made it count at home. Heck, he did just about everything he could, but the Saints defense let him down. Still, Sean Payton must get near perfection from Brees on Sunday, and that’s not going to be easy. In nine of the last ten games, Brees has thrown at least one pick. Going a step further, Brees has only had five of his 19 career games against the Panthers without an interception.