Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange

December 27, 2018 at 1:43 am.


–WR Michael Thomas leads the NFL with 120 pass receptions and his 316 career catches are a NFL record for a player during their first three seasons.

–T Terron Armstead, who returned last week from a five-game absence due to a pectoral injury and aggravated the injury last Sunday, did not practice Wednesday.

–T Jermon Bushrod, who missed last week’s game because of a hamstring injury suffered a week earlier, did not practice.

–G Larry Warford (knee) did not practice Wednesday.

–T Ryan Ramczyk (shoulder) was limited Wednesday.

–S Vonn Bell (quadriceps) was limited Wednesday.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: The quarterbacks. We don’t know exactly what head coach Sean Payton’s plan is for using his quarterbacks, but it is expected that more than one will play and the productivity from that position, as always, will have a significant impact on how the Saints’ offense performs. Drew Brees doesn’t need to play because the Saints don’t need to win, but he is just eight yards short of extending his NFL record for consecutive seasons with 4,000 yards to 13, so a cameo appearance is possible. Backup Teddy Bridgewater could ultimately be Brees’ successor, but he’s also going to be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason so other teams will be interested in seeing him play. An extended appearance by him would help the Saints and others evaluate what kind of offer he’ll command in the offseason. Taysom Hill has been a useful player this season, but he has never played more than occasional snaps at quarterback.

GAME PLAN: Don’t get anyone hurt. Of course, no game plan can protect players from injury, but the point is to get through this game as healthy as possible. Along the way the Saints would like to regain the offensive balance that has been missing lately, but a series of injuries on the offensive line and the likelihood of limiting snaps for key skill players will make that challenging. Similarly, the defense hopes to sharpen its edges by defending the pass better than it did last week, which should be realistic against this offense with Kyle Allen starting qt quarterback rather than against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense, and give some backups some playing time.

–Saints LBs vs. Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey. This, of course, assumes McCaffrey plays in a game that has no meaning for either team. This was a key matchup in the first meeting and it becomes even more important in the absence of Cam Newton. The Saints did a good job of containing McCaffrey in the first meeting. He ran 15 times for 53 yards and caught eight passes for 67 yards, though he did throw a 50-yard halfback pass for Carolina ‘s only touchdown. The Panthers’ offense had been limited to little more than Newton and McCaffrey before Newton was sidelined. Now New Orleans will be even more focused on taking away McCaffrey and it will be even more challenging for the Panthers to get him free for big plays.

Saints OL vs. Panthers LB Luke Kuechly. Again, this assumes Kuechly plays, but there’s no guarantee he will. Kuechly led a very good defensive performance in the first meeting and again he will be the key to the Panthers defense trying to slow down the Saints. He had game-highs of 13 total tackles, 11 solo tackles and two tackles for loss in the first game as batting down one of Drew Brees’ passes. His ability to read the offense, get into the backfield, make tackles all over the field and play in pass coverage means New Orleans has to account for him primarily on virtually every snap.