The New Orleans Saints’ matchup against the Carolina Panthers this Sunday is a very intriguing one, in large part due to the threat that is Christian McCaffrey.
The New Orleans Saints already suffered one disappointing loss to a division rival this season in their loss to the Atlanta Falcons two weeks. That game felt like it was the Falcons’ Super Bowl and Atlanta came out looking to prove something against the Saints.
New Orleans made things right the following week with a relatively easy win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, avoiding the same fate in two consecutive weeks. It was also the first time since 2014 that the Saints went 2-0 against the Bucs in the season, opposed to 1-1.
This Sunday, the Saints play their third of four consecutive division games, this time against the most dangerous NFC South foe, the Carolina Panthers. While the 5-5 Panthers are not currently in a position to make the playoffs, they do pose a matchup threat to the Saints.
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One of the big reasons why the Panthers pose a threat is because of Christian McCaffrey, who is a threat to every team he plays. McCaffrey has really taken the next step this season and has been the best running back in football, both carrying the ball and in the passing game.
McCaffrey has carried the ball 199 times for 1,059 yards with 11 rushing touchdowns. He has also added 517 receiving yards on 59 receptions with three receiving touchdowns.
McCaffrey is averaging 157 yards from scrimmage each game, which puts him on pace to eclipse 2,500 yards from scrimmage if he plays all 16 games. Chris Johnson is the only player in NFL history to do that, gaining 2,509 yards from scrimmage in 2009.
McCaffrey is on pace to beat Johnson by 12 yards.
The Saints have a dual-threat weapon of their own in Alvin Kamara, who is going to be the key in winning this game as the Saints are going to need to out-McCaffrey Christian McCaffrey. It sounds like a tall order because it is one, but the Saints need to develop a similar offensive gameplan that utilizes Kamara in all facets.
The primary reason for this is the pass-rush that the New Orleans Saints are facing. The Carolina Panthers lead the NFL in sacks and allowing pressure on the quarterback has been the culprit in both of the Saints’ losses. Aside from those two losses, the team’s offensive line has been pretty good.
However, it is not as good with Andrus Peat out, who ironically was injured in both of the games that the Saints lost. Although, the team did win last week without him.
Either way, the Panthers are likely going to be sending the house as Drew Brees frequently and will focus on Michael Thomas in coverage. With limited options outside of Thomas and pressure in his face, Alvin Kamara is going to have to be the reliable dump-off valve that Brees calls upon time and time again.
Toss plays, draws, screens, flat routes and seam routes should make up most of the Saints’ playbook. The team does not have to go to Kamara every time, but he (and Latavius Murray) needs to be a viable threat in every single play to force the Panthers to send less pressure and respect the running backs out of the backfield.
They already respect them, but the Carolina defense won’t stop sending pressure until the Saints force the issue. That is where Kamara and Murray really come into play.
The other reason why this is important is clock management. The Panthers want the ball out of the Saints’ hands as long as possible and will drain the clock with McCaffrey. To avoid three-and-outs, the Saints need to get the running game going early to set the table not only for the rest of the drive but for the rest of the game.
All in all, when you look at the box score, without even watching the game, you will likely be able to tell who won based on the performance of the New Orleans Saints’ running backs and whether or not they kept up with Christian McCaffrey’s performance.