The Fleur-De-Lis Report: Jameis Winston and the Saints aim to bounce back against the Panthers in Week Three
The New Orleans Saints (1-1) are on the road today taking on their third division rival in three weeks, the Carolina Panthers (0-2). The Saints’ offense has struggled to generate much of anything these first two games and now they will look to right the ship against a winless Panthers team.
OBSERVATIONS FROM THIS WEEK
Last week, injuries dominated the story lines. 11 players were featured on the injury report including runningback (RB) Alvin Kamara who missed last game with a rib injury and quarterback (QB) Jameis Winston playing with a fractured back. This week was more of an encouraging sign as almost everyone participated in a full week’s worth of practice.
Both Wednesday and Thursday’s injury report revealed many of the same names from last week but everyone was present and practicing, including cornerback (CB) Paulson Adebo. Adebo participated in limited practice for the first time in weeks since suffering a sprained ankle. He told the media that he feels good and is on track to making a return, however it's unclear if he’ll be ready to go today. Obviously having Adebo back would be a huge boost to the defense. He would allow for guys like Bradley Roby, Justin Evans, and PJ Williams to play more natural roles within the secondary.
Alvin Kamara was limited all week but still participated. He remains listed as questionable and is expected to play today. Jameis Winston was also limited all three days. There was some speculation after last week’s loss that he could be benched in favor of Andy Dalton due to the significance of his back injury. However, team doctors cleared Winston to continue playing, after determining that there’s no further risk of injury.
Friday, rookie CB Alontae Taylor did not participate in practice after appearing on Thursday’s report with a knee injury. He has been ruled out for today’s game after being placed on injury reserve. This is very disappointing news considering how well he played last week. Given the magnitude of the moment, he stepped in nicely following Marshon Lattimore's ejection and played with a level of poise rarely seen in a rookie. The Saints were already high on Taylor’s potential as he showed flashes of excellence at times during camp. Hopefully, he can recover soon and continue his growth as a player.
Tight End (TE) Taysom Hill and safety (S) Marcus Maye are listed as questionable for today as both are dealing with rib injuries and were extremely limited in practice this week. Sources say Hill is expected to sit this game out. We should learn more about the severity of his injury later this week. No word on Maye's gameday status yet but I imagine he'll likely be a game time decision based on how he feels in warm ups.
For Carolina, RB Christian McCaffrey was given a rest day Wednesday but practiced each day after. He is healthy and is considered a full go for today. Former LSU CB Donte Jackson was limited for much of the week but practiced fully on day three. He’s still listed as questionable. Edge rusher Brian Burns appeared on Friday’s injury report, but there’s no indication that he will miss time.
PREVIEW OF THE GAME
The Saints offense has been bad coming out the gate this season. Points have been hard to come by and moving the ball has been a real struggle. For context, New Orleans is currently averaging 18.5 points per game, tied for 20th in the league. They are 18th in passing yards at 221 per game. Running the ball hasn’t been completely terrible as they’re averaging 125.5 yards per game, 10th in the league. They are 24th in first downs at just 18 per game. They’ve converted 8 of 26 third downs which is a 30.8% conversion rate, ranking 25th in the league. Basically they’ve been a bottom tier offense through the first two games outside of the fourth quarter in Atlanta.
But perhaps the most troubling statistic is how they’ve ranked in pass protection. They are 31st in sacks allowed, giving up 10 sacks in two games. The only team that ranks worse is the Bengals. The offensive line has done Jameis Winston no favors and it will be extremely important to get that corrected against a formidable Carolina defensive line, led by Pro Bowl edge rusher Brian Burns and former first rounder Derrick Brown.
The Saints will also need to limit the turnovers if they are to overcome the Panthers. I mentioned how they have been fairly solid in the run game but Mark Ingram has now fumbled in two straight games. Jameis Winston will need to improve his decision making as last game I thought he tried pressing the issue a bit, resulting in three interceptions. These are things that cannot happen especially when playing a division rival on the road. The Panthers defense may not be the best, but they are opportunistic. They have several guys who can make plays including S Jeremy Chinn and CB Jaycee Horn, son of Saints legend Joe Horn.
Another major point of emphasis will need to be finishing drives with touchdowns. Too many times this season, drives have ended in punts or field goals. I do believe our defense is good enough to hold most teams but in a league like the NFL, it becomes increasingly hard to win when your offense cannot complete drives. Ultimately, this will come down to how in sync Winston and his receivers are. Last game, Winston and Olave were not on the same page and it showed on the field. Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry have both looked very solid in the first two games but I question if they’re getting enough targets. I think we saw in week one the great potential of this receiving corps whenever they are all involved in the offensive game plan. Hopefully offensive coordinator (OC) Pete Carmichael will figure out a way to get all three guys going in this game.
Alvin Kamara will play a vital role even if he’s just a decoy. I don’t know how many touches Dennis Allen will give him considering he’s coming off injury but his mere presence on the field will hopefully keep Carolina’s defense honest.
Defensively, I thought the Saints corrected a lot of wrongs from week one to week two. The way this unit played against Tom Brady and that Bucs offense was good enough to win the game. The Saints linebackers have exceeded my expectations, especially second year man Pete Werner. Werner currently leads the team in tackles and has been one of the Saints better defenders so far this season. Still, I would like to see more from the pass rushers. So far, the Saints have only one sack on the season and that is just not good enough. I think it'll be important to rattle QB Baker Mayfield and force him into costly mistakes but that starts with getting him on the ground early and often. Their WR corps is solid led by DJ Moore and Robbie Anderson but I do think New Orleans’ secondary is equipped to handle them, especially if the pass rush is on point.
The most dangerous weapon the Panthers have is All-Pro Christian McCaffrey who appears to be fully healthy this season. Containing him will be the key to slowing down their offense as I don’t think Baker Mayfield is good enough to beat the Saints by himself.
Kickoff is at noon.
Overall, this should be a game the Saints win given that Carolina has lost their last nine games. The Panthers are simply not a good football team. Though as I said before, divisional opponents are always tough no matter how good or bad they are.
New Orleans' offensive woes concern me especially if they continue to struggle today. Carolina may not be that well coached but they still have enough talent to make life difficult for the Saints if they aren’t focused and clicking on all cylinders. Winning this game is very important as it will improve the team to 2-1, maintaining 2nd place within the NFC South. I think if the Saints are to compete for a division title this year, they must keep pace with Tampa Bay, leaving very little room for error.
The betting odds currently have the Saints favored by 2.5 points. While I’m hopeful they can figure things out on the offensive end, I don’t see them piecing it all together just yet. I think the defense dominates Baker Mayfield and they win a close one, 17-10.
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