To beat (the Saints) or not to beat, that is the question:
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of losing to the Saints,
Or to take arms against that sea of troubles
And by opposing end our hopes of a top ten draft pick. To die — to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That Panthers fans are heir to: ‘tis a high draft pick
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to lose:
To lose, perchance to dream of Zach Wilson in a Panthers uniform
-Matt Rhule, probably
Dramatic soliloquies in the locker room aside, the Panthers have quite the conundrum on their hands this weekend as they play host to the New Orleans Saints. With a win, the Saints would clinch the number one seed in the NFC, and the road to the Super Bowl would run through the Superdome. That means they’ll be giving their best effort. The Saints are a damn good team, so losing to them would not be surprising. But should the Panthers do everything in their power to beat the Saints on Sunday? Ay, that’s the rub.
The last time these two teams faced off, the offense was fairly productive overall. Teddy Bridgewater was out to prove that the Saints kept the wrong backup quarterback, and he had one of his more efficient games of the season, netting a QB rating of 128. The Panthers needed that type of performance from Teddy, as the running game did just North of diddly squat: 37 rushing yards, under three yards per carry, and a long rush of seven yards. AS A TEAM! While I wouldn’t expect that poor of a performance this time around, especially with Curtis Samuel seeing some reps out of the backfield, don’t get your hopes up for a dominant game on the ground. The offensive line is banged up, and Teddy doesn’t exactly strike fear into the deeper levels of the defense.
One thing Teddy did when these teams met in New Orleans earlier in the season was get the ball to all of his play makers. The big three plus Mike Davis all had at least five targets, and the wide outs each had at least one catch of over 20 yards. DJ Moore was the only one to find the end zone, but did so twice on just five catches. The pass protection was fantastic in the game, allowing just a single sack to a very good Saints defensive front. Unfortunately, that same offensive line is a shadow of it’s former self due to injuries. We’ll have to see Teddy’s best game as a passer if the offense is to have a prayer of putting up enough points this weekend.
Boy, this unit has been good so far this season. They rank in the top five against the run and the pass, and they are eighth in points allowed. Their dominance has started up front, especially getting after the quarterback. They’ve already notched 42 sacks on the season, which is just shy of three per game. Leading the way in that department is Trey Hendrickson, who’s been a little banged up recently. If he plays on Sunday, however, look for him, Cam Jordan, and Company to wreak some havoc on a depleted offensive line.
Things don’t get much easier if you can make it past the front four. Demario Davis has been fantastic at weak side linebacker this year, already notching over 100 tackles and four sacks. Safety Malcolm Jenkins also flies around making tackles and creating takeaways. The rest of the secondary does as well. In fact, after Davis, the top five tacklers on the team are all defensive backs. They love the three safety look with Jenkins, Marcus Williams, and CJ Gardner-Johnson all on the field together. Their guys on the outside are no slouches either: Marshon Lattimore and Janoris Jenkins. As a unit, they’ve forced 21 turnovers, but they seem to come in bunches. They have as many games with zero takeaways (four) as they do with three or more takeaways.
As with most games this year, the success of the offense will depend entirely on the play of its quarterback. Obviously the quarterback will play better if the offensive line can buy him some time, but don’t expect that to be the case on Sunday. The Saints already had more talent on the defensive line, and now the Panthers might be on their fourth string left tackle for the game. Not a recipe for success. If the Panthers offense is going to score, they’ll need their RAC masters on the outside to make some people miss. Advantage Saints.