- Saints Defence saves the day - Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Darren Sharper and Co. take a bow
- Saints set franchise record with perfect 8 and 0 start
- This was football New Orleans Saints style - hard fought and never easy
The Carolina Panthers rode into New Orleans Sunday with a win streak of 8 straight in the Super Dome and almost came away with yet another victory. But for some resolute defending and a couple of quick fire drives the Saints would have kissed goodbye to their 2009 perfect record and been left wondering if they would ever beat the Panthers at home again.
Saints snap loosing streak at the Super Dome Vs Panthers
Instead the Saints got the job done thanks to some impressive performances by a group of lesser known names to record a come from behind 30 to 20 win over the Panthers… but it was a tight run thing.
Gregg Williams works the problem
The Saints played some uncharacteristic football with penalties, turnovers and miscues littering their day and all but killing them at various stages of the game. That the Saints defence turned up with their A game helmets on whilst the normally explosive offence dozed through the first half owes as much to Gregg Williams aggressive play calling as anything else.
Whilst the D was culpable for the early DeAngelo Williams 66 yard touchdown run, thereafter they solidified the middle of the field and forced the Panthers into a number of 3rd and long situations which they failed to convert.
Williams used a lot of blitz packages to unnerve Jake Delhomme on the few occasions he dropped back to pass. This ensured the Saints had an 8 or 9 man front to stop the repetitive Panthers running attack.
The Saints should be thankful for the telling contribution of back up Defensive Tackle Anthony Hargrove, filling in for the injured Sedrick Ellis, who soon found a way to plug holes whilst making a telling contribution with key tackles, a forced fumble and recovery for a touchdown. Along with more recognised starters Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Darren Sharper, Roman Harper, Tracy Porter, Jabari Greer et al, the Saints D once again showed that they are a vastly improved unit from years gone by with some great run pursuit and forced turnovers to keep the score competitive.
Brees, Colston and Co. stutter
That the Panthers were able to rack up such an impressive rushing total owes as much to the frequency with which the Saints offence gave up possession as it does to the Panthers conservative play calling. The failure of many key Saints O personnel to turn up for this game is at first worrying and in some ways comforting. If the Saints are able to pull out a win with a misfiring passing attack then it further demonstrates the total team package New Orleans can call upon this season.
Amongst the more anonymous and downright sloppy were receiving stalwarts Jeremy Shockey and Marques Colston who had disappointing games by their standards. Speaking of which Drew Brees did not look his usual self assured best throwing a bad interception Colstons way as well as fumbling a bobbled snap in a key 3rd down on two drives in the red zone.
Marques Colston Loves Butter Fingers
He still had the presence to pick out Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson for deep pass plays and use Reggie Bush in the flat on the way to racking up yet another 300+ yard game but this was far from his best. That fact alone is encouraging. If the Saints can pull out a win against a tough Panthers team with Brees, Colston and Shockey far from their A game then it bodes well for our championship prospects.
Pierre Thomas to the rescue
Some of the Saints early offensive play calling came back to haunt them as they looked to jump out to an early lead. Instead of establishing the running game head coach Sean Payton elected to throw from the offset. Whilst this was not an unreasonable strategy given the success the Saints have had so far this season it did leave them struggling to recapture the initiative when this tactic failed to deliver. It was only through the introduction of Pierre Thomas in a more central second half roll that the Saints were able to move the ball more freely and start to wear down the physical Panthers defence.
One drive in particular stood out with the Saints taking over possession at their own 2 yard line with 11.02 left on the clock. Payton employed a combination of inside running by Thomas and Mike Bell as well as dumping the ball to Reggie Bush and Thomas in the flat. 8 consecutive plays resulted from employing the trio and within 13 plays the Saints had marched all the way to the Panthers 16 before a dropped pass by Colston saw the Saints settling for a John Karney field goal for the go ahead score.
This was the balance of offence that had been so effective for the Saints all season but it took until well into the 4th Quarter to employ it.
Special praise should go to another unsung unit following this game; the Saints Offensive line. They did a great job of protecting Drew Brees who, with the exception of an early forced fumble, had plenty of time to pick his targets. Honourable mention goes out to Jermon Bushrod who kept the mighty Julius Peppers quiet all night. Jermon Bushrod for the Pro Bowl; is that such an extravagant claim?
The DNA of Champions
To win and to win ugly is the mark of champions. This was not the best we have seen the Saints play, far from it, but it did tell us a lot about the make up of the team and the depth of quality on the roster. When the A team were miscuing New Orleans were able to call on some impressive performances by lesser known names to get the job done. As Al Davis would say "Just Win Baby".