The New Orleans Saints are looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss to the Miami Dolphins. A loss that’s steeped in temporary but depleting circumstances. With 20+ players listed on the COVID/reserve list along with four coaches, New Orleans hopes to get the majority of those forces back in time to keep their playoff hopes alive with a win at home against the Carolina Panthers. Here are five big questions we’re asking ahead of the Sunday afternoon matchup.
Will the week away benefit some key starters?
Saints defensive end Cam Jordan missed the Week 14 win over the New York Jets while on the COVID list. He returned the next week to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and logged five tackles, two sacks, two tackles for a loss, and forced a fumble on a scrambling Tom Brady. There’s no doubt that the week away was frustrating for Jordan, but it appears to have rejuvenated him in a way as well. He added two more sacks in the Monday night loss to Miami.
With names like Taysom Hill, Demario Davis, Kwon Alexander, and Malcolm Jenkins all returning from the reserve list, along with wide receiver Deonte Harris hopefully returning from his suspension, a similar rested and impactful return would be welcomed.
Can the Saints be more creative with Alvin Kamara?
Call it game script, play flow, whatever you want. The usage of Alvin Kamara has felt a bit stale over the last few weeks. It doesn’t help that he’s faced 8-man boxes 72.73% and 61.54% over the last two games respectively. That makes it tough for any running back in the NFL, let alone one working behind a substantially hampered offensive line.
That could mean that Sean Payton and Pete Carmichael may have to develop creative ways to get Kamara the ball in space and in a variety of manners. They got a bit of a crash course in ways to do so with an up close and personal look at the Dolphins and wideout Jaylen Waddle on Monday. Though the return of a certain weapon on offense could also help to alleviate the focus of the opposing defense being solely on Kamara.
How will Deonte Harris perform in his long-awaited (and hopeful) return?
Okay, so Harris isn’t technically available yet as he is still on the COVID list at the time this is being written. However, it seems likely he’ll be among the list of returning players at some point this week. Along with that, he’s also completed his three-game suspension stemming from his offseason arrest.
Before being suspended, he was the Saints’ leading receiver in terms of yardage, their most efficient deep threat, and their most valuable receiver between 0-9 yards of the line of scrimmage (22/32 for 255 yards and 1 touchdown). Now, as he hopefully returns to the lineup, the team could use his skillset, especially going up against an injured and inexperienced secondary.
Can the Saints pas rush rattle Sam Darnold?
The last time these two teams met in Week 2, the Saints only pressured Sam Darnold on 9 snaps, 19.5% of his dropbacks according to Pro Football Focus. However, over the last few weeks, Marcus Davenport and Cam Jordan have led a reassurance on the defensive line. Together they’ve generated six sacks and 17 total pressures in just the last two games. Cam Jordan has now piled on a pair of sacks in both of those games, and in Marcus Davenport’s last six appearances, he’s logged at least a sack in five of them.
Add to that a David Onyemata that looks to be hitting his stride last in the season and a returning rotation that was unavailable last week, and the Saints may be able to put together a more impactful pass rush this time around. I’m sure the whole “having-a-coaching-staff” thing will help this time around vs. Carolina as well.
Darnold has been pitiful under pressure this season, completing only 44.7% of his passes and throwing only one touchdown to six interceptions when pressured.
Can Saints fans have nice things?
For once, it would be nice to see the New Orleans Saints win a game without Saints fans having to brace themselves as they open their favorite app in anticipation of bad news. The Saints need a win in Sunday’s game in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. Here’s hoping they can do that, and find away to escape with just the win and few concerning additional headlines.
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