When an opposing team on a three-game losing streak comes to town, there’s always a fear that players might not take the match up seriously. For a 1-3 Saints team though, every game is do or die.
“We’re going to have to be at our best. I think our players know that,” Head Coach Sean Payton said.
In a game that surprisingly, could still have playoff implications between two losing teams, the biggest question mark for both teams is the status of reigning MVP Cam Newton.
Newton, didn’t play in during the team’s Oct. 10 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after suffering a concussion during the Panther’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 2. Backup quarterback Derek Anderson started in his place.
“We’re preparing for him,” Payton said. “We feel he’s going to play and starting with Monday’s practice even, I think that’s clearly the only way to approach it and yet we understand the strengths and weaknesses of Derek (Anderson) and the other players who may and may not play on their team, but in this case, our plan is to see him and we’re planning accordingly.”
With or without Newton, the Panthers’ offense presents big problems for an injury depleted Saints secondary. Namely: Greg Olsen. Olsen leads all NFL tight ends in just about every category the NFL tracks, but Payton says his impact is more than just a loaded stat sheet.
“I think that there’s a toughness element to him,” Payton said. “He takes on the task of blocking the D gap or getting down the field on a post or a double move or a seam with the same enthusiasm.”
Receiver Kelvin Benjamin could be another major problem, measuring in at 6’5”, 245 lbs.
“His body type makes it very difficult not only in the field. You start getting in the red area, so he’s a target that becomes tough to defend that way in the seams,” Payton said. “Obviously there’s a strong confidence level the quarterback has in him as well. It’s another weapon you have to account for.”
The Saints and Panthers will kick off in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome at Noon on Oct. 16.