- Play Calling: On the opening drive of the game, the Saints were determined to set the tone. They marched down to the Carolina 2 yard line, and faced a 4th and goal. Saints head coach Sean Payton decided to go for it, and dialed up a toss play to RB Alvin Kamara. Carolina has a very fast defense, and this was a lateral play. But Payton trusts Kamara to beat defenders to the point – and he did, but just barely, as he shook off a big shot from LB Shaq Thompson.
- Personnel: The Saints still are missing starting corner Marshon Lattimore, so they’d had to use backup PJ Williams and corner Sterling Moore as well. They just re-acquired Moore off the street, and he performed steadily. The most innovative use of personnel in this game, however, was the Saints’ use of 3rd QB Taysom Hill on their special teams units. Hill turned in 2 tackles, and one effort that caused Panthers punter Palardy to fumble a snap.
- Game Planning: Payton came into the game wanting to be aggressive, and that’s what he did with all 3 units. The 4th down play call TD to Kamara set the tone. On defense, the Saints are getting better and better at playing situational football. Coordinator Dennis Allen isn’t so quick with his blitz calls anymore; he’s gotten more judicious.
- In-Game Adjustments: Notwithstanding how much the Saints defense has improved, they still lack high end personnel, and in this game, we thought the Panthers might have been able to run QB Cam Newton a bit more. But on the run-pass option calls, it’s up to Newton to decide – we simply felt he perhaps could have taken over the game just a bit. Perhaps this is a credit to the Saints’ defensive discipline. Additionally, while RB Christian McCaffrey scored a TD in this game, it was more or less off a broken assignment by the Saints. We’d like to see McCaffrey utilized more in the passing game as a WR, and we felt there were opportunities in this game.
- Clock Management: Payton called a strange time out near the end of the first half that gave the Panthers a slim opportunity to steal points, slim, but still an opportunity.
- What We Liked: The Saints’ improving defensive soundness. While they lack many top end players, they are making sound defensive calls more sensitive to the situation.
- What We Didn’t Like: This is a bit ticky tack, but Carolina, down 28-14 with just over 11 minutes in the 4th quarter, faced a 4 & 6 at the Saints 12. Head coach Ron Rivera decided to pass up a 30 yard FG to make it 28-17. Instead, he tried to make the first down and failed. Trailing by 11 with 11 minutes left still is quite a deficit, but 6 yards is a bit much. This is a close one though, and we certainly can see Rivera’s point as well.