Thursday, October 30, 2014

Matchups favor the Saints on Halloween eve, but football's freakin' weird

Posted By on Thu, Oct 30, 2014 at 2:44 PM

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A few weeks ago, I collaborated with my Black & Gold Review co-founder to write a "manifesto" for the 2014 Saints. The second of its three sections is titled "Accept that Football Is Weird," because football is weird; it's a sport with so many moving parts that the result in a given week is all but random.

Teams can improve their chance of winning with better coaching and preparation, and they can take advantage of various matchup advantages, but the level of competition in a league like the NFL is so equal that, in the end, everything can be undone by one stupid thing happening at some random time.

There's absolutely no logical reason for the Saints to struggle so much on the road compared to their play at home, especially in primetime at home, but they do, and so here we are, with a Thursday night game on the eve of Halloween. Weirdness seems predetermined. Fortunately, the aforementioned matchups seem to be in the Saints' favor, and the Saints do have the better coach.

The Carolina Panthers Stop the Run Even Worse than Green Bay

The major matchup advantage the Saints had this past game against the Green Bay Packers was their torrid running game against the porous Green Bay defensive front. This year, despite the presence of players like linebacker Luke Kuechly, the Panthers have the worst run defense in the NFL. They are currently allowing an embarrassing 5.2 yards per attempt, which could be a particular problem against a Saints team that averages more than 5 yards a carry.

The Panthers' supposed improved performance on defense recently against Seattle has prompted talk of a defensive resurgence, but a closer look reveals Carolina still gave up 119 rushing yards and 4.6 yards per attempt to the Seahawks. The Saints should be able to run all over the Panthers. If they don't, it's because football is weird.

Drew Brees Is on Fire

There was a lot of talk after the Saints blew a two score lead to the Detroit Lions, in the fourth quarter, about Drew Brees and apparent decline. Brees was indeed terrible in the fourth quarter of that game, but for the same of discussion let's take a look at what his numbers would look like the past two weeks if that quarter had never happened.

52 of 63 (83%)
636 yards (10.1 YPA)
5 TD, 0 INT
135.2 passer rating

Those numbers are exceptional. If they're the start of a trend, the Panthers have no chance tonight. If they're an exception, and Brees again makes a worst-possible-moment mistake or two, then we'll be sad before bedtime.

The Panthers' Offensive Line Is Beaten Up

The Saints' defensive line hasn't been as good in 2014 as it was in 2013, but defensive end Cam Jordan had a pair of sacks against Green Bay, and pass rusher Junior Galette has generally provided solid pressure from his defensive end/linebacker spot. 

They may be able to build on their momentum tonight against a Panthers' offensive line racked by injuries. Carolina's offense is only okay in general, so if the Saints can dominate the line of scrimmage, they should be able to control the Panthers from start to finish.

All of these thoughts are pretty logical — but prepare for anything, because football is weird.

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