The Saints’ Deadly Déjà Vu

New Orleans was routed last week at the hands of a physical Rams defense. Now they have to face a very similar, hard-hitting team in the Panthers. On the road. Oh yeah, and the division is on the line. Can Carolina complete its amazing NFC South surge?

The Saints have struggled against physical defenses. They play another one this Sunday, with the division on the line. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
The Saints have struggled against physical defenses. They play another one this Sunday, with the division on the line. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

So how long have we handed the NFC South to the Saints? Early October, at least for me. After Week 5, these were the division standings:

W-L Games Behind
New Orleans 5-0
Carolina 1-3 3.5
Atlanta 1-4 4
Tampa Bay 0-4 4.5

Since then, New Orleans is 5-4 and Carolina 9-1. That’s how you narrow a cavernous gap. Both teams stand 10-4 entering the big game of the NFL weekend, the game for the lead in the division. And since Carolina plays 4-10 Atlanta in Week 17, and New Orleans plays 4-10 Tampa Bay in Week 17, the Saints-Panthers game looks very much like the NFC South championship game in Charlotte Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.

How did it come to this for New Orleans, a team that looks so dominant at home and so mistake-prone on the road? I watched the Saints’ loss at St. Louis last week, the embarrassing 27-16 debacle that wasn’t nearly that close, and the mistakes were alarming. Drew Brees threw interceptions on the first two series. The first was a badly underthrown ball to Jimmy Graham. The second was one of the biggest brain-cramp throws of Brees’ career, into triple-coverage just inside the end zone, an easy pick. Brees didn’t have a great chance in the game after that, in large part because Rams pass rusher Robert Quinn tormented left tackle Charles Brown all day. Brown was playing in slow-motion. Quinn was Usain Bolt. It was as ugly a matchup as you’ll see. For more insight, Greg A. Bedard wrote about how Quinn abused Brown in his Pressure Points column.

What else you noticed: The Saints got punched in the mouth a lot by a physical team. And they never had an answer for it, which bodes well for Carolina.

“You watch the Saints in the games they lost recently,” said linebacker Thomas Davis of the Panthers after practice Thursday. “You see teams with really physical defenses. We knew exactly how St. Louis was going to play them, because that’s the way they play—intense, chippy, extra stuff after the play. They did a great job playing a real physical game.”

Which is exactly the kind of game Carolina expects to play, except for the extra stuff.

“The comparisons are very valid,” said Davis, “because we play a physical style too. Look at the numbers. Except for Seattle, our numbers are better than the numbers on the teams that beat them. So we have what it takes to get the job done Sunday.”

This is an overly simplistic way to look at it, but it’s real: If Brees plays the kind of clunker he played last week, the Saints are done. They won’t win. New Orleans isn’t good enough to win by running game and defense alone. And I wouldn’t eliminate him playing a clunker. Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson will put on pressure similar to Chris Long and Quinn last week. And the whole storyline of the road woes can’t be eliminated here. The Saints are 1-4 in their last five times out of the Superdome. “The first thing you notice about home and road for them is how precise they are about everything at home,” Davis said. “They do so much better executing their offense at home. Drew can make his checks, line his guys up right and put his guys exactly in the same position they should be in. But on the road, especially if the crowd is loud, he’s at a disadvantage. Maybe he doesn’t get his guys in the right position or run exactly the play he wants because he doesn’t have time to get out of one. But it’s noticeable.”

The reason this game is so important to New Orleans—which routed Carolina two weeks ago in New Orleans—is a loss would likely make them a wild-card team. And wild-card teams have to play three road games and one at a neutral site (New Jersey this season). So the task for the Saints would be borderline hopeless, with their recent road history, if they lose in Charlotte Sunday.

I asked Davis if what had happened the last two months surprised him. “Not at all,” he said. “This is the season we imagined it to be. It feels good to be in position to control what happens to us.”

Both of these teams are, which make this game so compelling.

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14 comments
TimLynch1978
TimLynch1978

After seeing what Panthers players are saying and the seemingly lack of respect, it sure seems like they already think they won this game.  Typical for a young and inexperienced team and I just switched my pick to the Saints because of it.  Drew Brees is going to go hog wild in this game....but I do think the Panthers come out the other side a better team because of it.  2014 for them is going to be pretty interesting.

AlainLapointe
AlainLapointe

Peyton Manning could really throw left-handed and still beats Matt Schaub , who is the only quarterback that comes close to Tony Romo in the " CH... " category .

JPG
JPG

Points to ponder...

Seattle wants to win this game and the West, as if there even any doubt, on their terms in front of their fans all the while with the fans of the 49ers witnessing it and the 49ers team sitting at home and waiting for Monday night.  It's a given.

Got the feeling that Coach McCarthy of the Packers is confident his team can win at home against the Steelers and then use Aaron Rodgers in the final week.


SPHeroid
SPHeroid

If both the Packers and the Bears win in week 16, it would be unbelievable if that week 17 matchup didn't get the Sunday night nod.......

westcoastbias
westcoastbias

If the Cards beat the Hawks, the game of the week will be S.F. at Arizona.  Strongest teams playing that day.  However, given the East Coast Media Bias, it will be one of the mediocre matches in the East no matter what happens.  The 2nd strongest game week 17 is Ravens/Bengals but No Way the mid-West gets national exposure.  Life isn't fair.

Phroggo
Phroggo

Candlestick was also the scene of Vin Scully's last football game as an announcer for CBS.  It happened to be the game of Dwight Clark's famous "catch".  Scully quit in a huff when CBS decided Pat Summerall would be their lead football announcer.


Rickapolis
Rickapolis

What? No Patriot butt kissing? No left wing political propaganda? Gee, what can I complain about?

KristianColasacco
KristianColasacco

@Reedster2185Hey, just thought I'd check back and see how that rant and expert analysis is going for ya?  Ravens got absolutely beat down. 

KristianColasacco
KristianColasacco

@Reedster2185
Dude you have an unhealthy obsession.  Why do you care so much about Peter King or the Patriots that you even feel the need to bring it up in other writer's articles.  Seriously?  You're a fvcking nutjob. 

WCoastPro
WCoastPro

@westcoastbias It appears you don't get it. It's supposed to be a winner make it / loser go home game to get maximum exposure. Are you supposing the Niners lose to the Falcons at home? 


I don't see how you can complain if the last SNF game is the most significant as far as playoff implications go.


In fact 6-9 Seahawks played 7-8 Rams in week 17 sunday night in 2010 so your whole bias rant is empty rhetoric. 

John64
John64

@Rickapolis  Nope, but he still managed to throw in some of his usual Peyton Manning a s s licking...

m.james61
m.james61

@Reedster2185 @Rickapolis I strongly recommend that you reduce the dosage by half and report your symptoms, particuarly the delusions, to your doctor as soon as possible.

If left untreated, your condition can result in permanent brain damage.

Knowitall
Knowitall

You forgot gay marriage and gay rights for all. And all Red Sox, all the time.

SportPage
SportPage

@John64@Rickapolis So that's what you call acknowledging excellence? King fawns over Brady and the Patriots, but I would not say the same about Manning. 

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