Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange

December 14, 2018 at 5:05 pm.


–WR Brandon Marshall was released without ever being active for a game during his month-long stay with the Saints. New Orleans signed Dez Bryant on Nov. 7, but he never played after tearing his Achilles in his second practice. Marshall was signed Nov. 12 to replace Bryant. The release of Marshall is an indication that Ted Ginn Jr., who has been on injured reserve since Oct. 18 because of a knee injury, is getting close to returning. TE Erik Swoope was signed to fill the opening created by Marshall’s release, but the NFL Network reported that Swoope, who was listed on the Thursday participation report as not having practiced because of a knee injury, was released. The Saints did not announce the release, but head coach Sean Payton said, “He’s going through a physical process.” Payton did say it was possible Marshall might be re-signed.

–T Terron Armstead, who has missed the last five games because of a pectoral injury, practiced on a limited basis Thursday as he did last week.

–T Ryan Ramczyk (shoulder) was limited Thursday.

–G Andrus Peat (ankle/shoulder) was limited Thursday.

–S Kurt Coleman (elbow) was limited Thursday.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: RB Mark Ingram II will be a key to the Saints’ attempt to have offensive balance against a Panthers defense that allows the seventh-fewest rushing yards per game. Ingram missed the first four games of the season while suspended for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing drugs and he has just two 100-yard games this season. He and Alvin Kamara split the workload roughly equally, but Ingram generally is counted on more often to get the tough yards against a physical defense such as Carolina. The rushing yards might be hard to come by, but the Saints will have to be patient with the running game if they’re going to keep the Panthers off balance and Ingram will be key to their ability to do that. Ingram needs one rushing touchdown to break a tie with Deuce McAllister for first place in rushing touchdowns in Saints history.

GAME PLAN: Out-rush the Panthers. The flip side of getting Ingram (and Kamara) going on the ground is to slow down Christian McCaffrey, Cam Newton and the Panthers running game. Both teams, and their passing games, are at their best when they’re able to run with some consistent success. The Panthers are second in rushing offense and the Saints are tied for ninth. The Saints are first in run defense and the Panthers are seventh. If either team has a significant edge in the running game they will have an excellent chance of winning. Whoever runs better will make things easier on their quarterback. The Saints’ Drew Brees has just four interceptions, but he has had one in each of the last three games and the last two have come while the team was having trouble running the ball. Newton has 12 interceptions. If Brees has a more effective running game to work with than Newton does, then New Orleans should be in good shape.

–Saints LBs vs. Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey does for the Panthers what Kamara and Ingram do for the Saints in terms of being effective in both the running game and the passing game. McCaffrey can run inside and outside, catch the ball down the field and be a dangerous safety valve, meaning all the Saints linebackers – and others – will have to have a hand in containing him.

–Saints OL vs. Panthers LB Luke Kuechly. Kuechly perennially is one of the most active defensive players in the NFL and this season is no exception. His ability to make tackles all over the field, including in the backfield, can disrupt any offense, including the Saints. Two weeks ago, Dallas rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was a major factor in slowing down the Saints offense in Kuechly-like fashion. New Orleans will have to do a better job of accounting for Kuechly than it did Vander Esch.