Panthers at Saints
3:25 p.m. Sunday, Mercedes-Benz Superdome
Radio: WWL-AM, 870; WWL-FM, 105.3; WDGL-FM, 98.1; KMDL-FM, 97.3
Favorite: Panthers by 6.5
Top storyline: Saints eager for another shot at Josh Norman
Brandin Cooks has been looking forward to meeting up with Josh Norman again.
The Saints wide receiver recognizes Norman has developed into one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL, and he’s ready to try his hand against him again when the Saints host the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
“There is not a corner having a better season than he is right now,” coach Sean Payton said this week. “He gets matched versus the best receiver each week, and you break the huddle offensively and he is meeting that receiver before he gets aligned. He’s ready to go and is ready to compete. Certainly, there is a ton of respect on our part for what he has been able to do.”
Cooks had a solid game against Carolina the last time these teams met, but Luke McCown was at quarterback during the 27-22 loss. Cooks finished with seven catches for 79 yards, but New Orleans did a good job of getting him off Norman’s coverage by lining him up in different spots and having him run routes over the middle.
Only two of Cooks’ catches came with Norman directly in coverage. Those plays accounted for 23 yards. Norman ended up sealing the game when he intercepted a pass intended for Cooks in the end zone.
It will be interesting to see how the Saints approach Carolina this week. With Drew Brees out, the previous game plan was centered on making short, accurate throws. It ended up being one of the more efficient offensive game plans of the season, but Payton might opt to go for a more vertical approach this time around.
Know your opponent
Panthers QB Cam Newton
Nearly everything the Panthers do is built on the threat of running. More than 30 percent of Newton’s throws have come after a play-action fake, according to Pro Football Focus, which is the highest percentage in the NFL. He has completed 61.1 percent of those.
The Saints are going to have to be extremely disciplined. Newton has only completed 55.1 percent of his passes when throwing without a fake.
Panthers LB Luke Kuechly
The Saints were without Drew Brees in the teams’ previous meeting, but the Panthers were without the quarterback of their defense during that game.
Kuechly will be back this week after missing the previous meeting with a concussion, which could make things more difficult on the Saints. Kuechly has only missed two tackles this season and is also capable in coverage, as evidenced by his three interceptions.
Panthers TE Greg Olsen
The Saints had no answer for Olsen during the last meeting as the big tight end broke loose for 134 yards on eight receptions. New Orleans has to be more aware of him this time around, or it will end up the same.
The Saints did a better job covering and accounting for tight ends in last week’s game against the Texans. Potentially getting Dannell Ellerbe back this week could be a big help here.
1. Stay disciplined The Saints weren’t perfect against Carolina’s option attack in the previous meeting, but they did a good enough job not to get gutted by it. The defense is going to have to use some of those same principles this week and remain disciplined to contain it. This defense has struggled against the run, so this is no slam dunk for the Saints.
2. Keep it tight The Saints paid attention to tight end Greg Olsen in the previous game, but he still managed to get loose far too often and at times wasn’t even covered. The Saints would be wise to match someone up with him and use man coverage in an attempt to contain him. The other approach didn’t work.
3. More changes? This will be the second week with Dennis Allen at the helm. Last week saw the team blitz on more than 40 percent of the passing plays and use some different fronts and coverages. There were a lot of changes made during his first week. Now that he’s had more time to integrate himself, will he make even more changes?
4. Coleman factor Drew Brees could be without one of his more reliable targets this week since Willie Snead is doubtful with a calf injury. If Snead is unable to play, Brandon Coleman could end up in a bigger role. Coleman has made some big plays this season, but he’s yet to have a consistent performance. He’ll need one Sunday if Snead is out.
OUT: DT John Jenkins (concussion)
DOUBTFUL: WR Willie Snead (calf) QUESTIONABLE: G Jahri Evans (ankle), T Terron Armstead (knee) PROBABLE: LB David Hawthorne (thigh), CB Damian Swann (concussion), LB Dannell ellerbe (hip), RB Mark Ingram (shoulder), LB Hau’oli Kikaha (ankle), WR Marques Colston (not injury-related), S Jamarca Sanford (hip)
Look for rookie defensive tackle Tyeler Davison to start in place of Jenkins at defensive tackle.
If Snead is unable to play, it’s likely that Brandon Coleman will assume a bigger role on offense.
Getting Swann and Ellerbe would be a big boost for the defense. Ellerbe is the team’s best cover linebacker and had a major impact for the run defense when he was healthy.
It will be a major blow if Evans or Armstead is unable to play.
OUT: DE Mario Anderson (out), CB Charles Tillman (knee) PROBABLE: Star Lotulelei (ankle), WR Corey Brown (shoulder), DT Dwan Edwards (ankle), DE Kony Ealy (neck)
Nick Underhill: Panthers 27, Saints 20
The Saints have developed a knack for winning games they shouldn’t win and losing games they should win over the past two seasons. Based on that, I won’t be surprised at all if they win this one. I’m just not going to predict it. Carolina is clearly the better team, and smart money goes on them. But if you’ve been paying attention to my picks, you should probably pick against me.
Joel A. Erickson: Panthers 27, Saints 17
New Orleans played the Panthers well in Week 3 without Drew Brees, but the return of Carolina’s Luke Kuechly should take away some of the short throws that made Luke McCown so successful in that game. That, and the fact that these two teams have two very different kinds of momentum, make it seem like a win for Carolina.
Scott Rabalais: Panthers 35, Saints 16
Carolina has evolved into the kind of team the Saints hope to be again one day, with an up-and-coming quarterback of awesome ability and the NFL’s best linebacker corps. Given the Saints’ season-long woes, it’s hard to imagine Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis won’t have their way with New Orleans and send the Saints to a fourth straight defeat.