The Saints will end the regular season at 13-3 for the second year in a row after soundly defeating the rudderless Carolina Panthers. The team set the record for largest lead at halftime in franchise history and were also able to set the NFL record for least turnovers in a season with only eight.
Here are some quick observations from the last regular season game:
Michael Thomas’s “average” game
You can’t guard Mike, but the Panthers did their best to slow him down and allowed only four receptions for 37 yards, his lowest total of the season. Cornerback James Bradberry was covering Thomas for most of the game, and overall seemed to disrupt the Brees-Thomas connection with help from safety Tre Boston.
Tre’Quan Smith’s “breakout” game
While the Panther’s defense made sure to keep an extra eye on Thomas, they allowed Smith to have his best game of the season. For the day he had 5 receptions for 56 yards and one touchdown on a nice concept on the goal line.
Josh Hill added three receptions of his own and seemed to be a main part of the gameplan, as Brees went to him often, including in the redzone.
Similar to the record-breaking play against the Indianapolis Colts two weeks ago, the Saints use play action and have Hill block before leaking out. Luke Kuechly recognizes it in time and is able to knock the ball from Hill’s hands saving the touchdown.
Though Thomas didn’t put up his usual numbers, the offense was still able to put up 35 points relying on role players like Smith and Hill. The offense seems to be firing on all cylinders and it couldn’t have come at a better time, as the Saints prepare to host the Minnesota Vikings next weekend.
Sam, Mike, and Will
With injuries in the secondary as well as the defensive line the entire starting linebacker group finally being fully healthy is a big positive for this defense. Luckily Pro-Bowl snub Demario Davis hasn’t missed anytime so far, but missing both A.j. Klein and Kiko Alonso wasn’t an ideal situation.
With all three players back, the defense held the Panthers to 41 rushing yards on 19 attempts for an abysmal 2.16 yards per carry and saw Klein nab his first interception of the year that he returned for a touchdown.
Hopefully the injuries in the secondary won’t linger through the playoffs, but having at least one unit completely healthy at this point in the season is one positive going forward.
Backups holding it down
Vonn Bell, Eli Apple, and Marcus Williams were all inactive in the final game as they deal with injuries of their own. But for the second week in a row the cast of depth players stepped up. Patrick Robinson and Janoris Jenkins manned the cornerback positions with P.J. Williams moving to safety. Meanwhile rookie CJ Gardner-Johnson continues to impress since he was thrust into the starting lineup when Bell became injured.
On the defensive line Mario Edwards Jr. added a sack and Carl Granderson continues to see increased playing time with Davenport on injured reserve.
The team wasn’t able to secure a first round bye which makes the quality of depth even more important. The performance of the defense over the last two weeks should give some confidence to the fan base if some or all of the starters aren’t able to go next Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.