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Five questions before the New Orleans Saints reunite with Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina Panthers

Here’s what we’ll be looking for this week.

New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

The Saints have gone from two-game losing streak to a two-game win streak. Now, after the bye week, New Orleans will look to extend their winning ways against a very familiar divisional rival in the Teddy Bridgewater-led Carolina Panthers. Things have improved little by little for the Saints as the season has progressed, but some questions definitely linger.

How will the (expected) return of Michael Thomas affect the Saints?

New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The Saints, up until their bye week, threw the ball on early downs outside of garbage time and two-minute drives at the ninth-least rate in the NFL. However, if you look at their early down habits, some of their most successful and common early-down plays included passes to the former Buckeye. Now, we expect that he’ll be back on the field Sunday after he self-proclaimed it during a Cameron Jordan First Take interview. Will the Saints shift back to their early down air attack or will they stick with the run? With Carolina’s track record against the run, 18th in yards per game and 30th in DVOA against running backs, it seems likely that either approach could work. But the comfort for Brees in having Michael Thomas back, should he indeed return, could be the difference-maker.

Can Emmanuel Sanders continue his growth in the Saints offense?

New Orleans Saints v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

This is another element that can be affected by Thomas’ return. There’s the chance that Sanders doesn’t get the attention that he’s seen a of late, but also the chance that the opposition focuses too much of the Saints’ returning wideout that Sanders sees opportunities continue to open up. Looking at Sanders’ numbers so far this year:

Week One: five targets, three catches, 15 yards.
Week Two: three targets, one catch, 18 yards
Week Three: five targets, three catches, 56 yards
Week Four: nine targets, six catches, 93 yards
Week Five: 14 targets, 12 catches, 122 yards

The best case scenario is that Sanders continues to be a factor, making defenses’ jobs harder and harder. With a productive pair or even trio of wideouts along with Brees and an outstanding tandem of running backs, the Saints are on the brink of an overwhelmingly talented offense.

Can Marshon Lattimore get back to Pro Bowl/Rookie of the Year level?

Green Bay Packers v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

As the Saints slowly piece back together their starting secondary, one large question will continue to loom. What’s going on with Marshon Lattimore? He opened up the season with a great performance matching up with Mike Evans but hasn’t gotten back to that level of play for the following contests. He missed the game against the Detroit Lions along with running mate Janoris Jenkins who can hopefully return this week. And they’ll need to be at the top of their game taking on a pair of shifty, speedy, and crafty wideouts in D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson. Lattimore has been known to struggle against the smaller, quicker receivers in the league, but he and the rest of the secondary will need to tighten up regardless of the play style across from them. The symbiotic relationship between the secondary and pass rush will be imperative and leads to our next question.

Will the pass rush have a repeat performance?

According to PFF, the Saints piled on 31 total pressures against rookie quarterback Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers. Unsurprisingly, that uptick in pressures corresponded with the return of Marcus Davenport who made a pretty remarkable difference for the Saints’ defensive line as Nick Underhill of pointed out. Now the Chargers were also down two starting offensive lineman on the right side. Last week, the Panthers gave up 19 pressures to the Chicago Bears which included four sacks. Three of the four sacks happened on plays where the defensive line ran a stunt or twist. Something the Saints will be able to maximize if they retain a fully healthy defensive line. Any pressure generated by the Saints down linemen will help to cover any residual deficiencies in the secondary if they have any continued struggles following the bye week.

How will 3,000 fans affect the game?

After publicly sparring with the Mayor of New Orleans, the Saints will finally see a boost of attendance in the Superdome. The last two home games have played host to just 750 friends and family of players and staff. This week, after almost heading to Baton Rouge for future home games, 3,000 fans will be in the dome to provide the season’s first semblance of home field advantage. But will it be enough? Likely in comparison to what they’ve had so far, this will be a big boost of confidence and moment for the home team. Added bonus for the fans present is that they’ll also get to see the return of Teddy Bridgewater to Poydras as well. If all goes well attendance could see a rise from 3,000 to 6,000 to 15,000 by the Week 15 matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Lagniappe: After a disappointing loss last year, how will the Saints perform off the bye week this season?

What are your biggest questions ahead of the Saints-Panthers Week Seven matchup on Sunday Night? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @RossJacksonNOLA and subscribe to my daily Saints podcast, Locked On Saints.