The New Orleans Saints wrapped up their last day of full on practice Friday. Saturday they’ll put the finishing touches on things prior to boarding a plane and heading up to Charlotte for Sunday’s game against the Panthers.
Penalties and turnovers have been points of emphasis this week on and off the field. A tough division opponent waits, and it is one that is a little ticked off. The Panthers chirping this week about how they felt disrespected by the Saints last season in the 45-17 loss to close out the regular season. Carolina feels that the Saints were more about breaking records rather than respecting the game. The Panthers played without six starters on defense as the Saints offense put up 617 yards of offense.
If you care to read how the Panthers are using that loss as motivation, here is the article from the Charlotte Observer. http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/09/12/3525687/panthers-still-boiling-from-saints.html
How do the Saints feel about the Panthers thinking there were taken advantage of? “We just play. I mean this is the National Football League not Pop Warner,” said Saints tight end Jimmy Graham this week. “Guys get paid to play and guys get paid to win and score. That’s just what we do here,” “Last year we scored a lot against a lot of people and I know we have to get back to doing that.”
What motivates people and off the field can be debated. What cannot is the fact that neither team wants to start the season 0-2. A loss for Carolina would put them down two games in the NFC South Division after losing at Tampa last week. “We need to win this game. That’s how we see it and I’m sure that’s how they see it. It’s all about your division,” Graham adds as to the importance of Sunday’s contest. “We need to go to Carolina ready to play because obviously they’re a great team with a great quarterback. A great defense and we’re going to need to play our ‘A’ game. We can’t do what we did last Sunday.”
The team also prepared to deal with some of the elements that come with playing away from the dome. “You want to make sure you are ready for noise,” said acting head coach Aaron Kromer following practice on Friday. “You might not hear each other. You’ve been preparing for the road and now it’s time to do it. You have to go out in the grass and play the best we can.”
The final injury report of the week looks the same as it did the previous two days of practice. Defensive end Turk McBride (ankle), wide receiver Devery Henderson (concussion) and cornerback Johnny Patrick (thigh) did not practice. Those three players have also been ruled as officially out for Sunday’s game.
Cornerback Jabari Greer (sports hernia) and linebacker Scott Shanle (knee) were listed as practicing fully on Friday. Greer practiced fully all week and his conditioning will be challenged when guarding Saints-killer Panthers receiver Steve Smith. Shanle was limited on Wednesday and Thursday.
If you have followed the Saints for a while you know that when the Black and Gold play Carolina, receiver Steve Smith is a concern. Smith seems to have career games against the Saints. “He’s a savvy veteran who’s still got it. Year after year he’s still performing,” said Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins this week. “He’s fast, and very very strong. He’s an emotional player that gets into the game. He’s a game breaker and makes that offense go. No matter who you put on him he can make plays.
Game one of last year, Smith caught just three passes, but totaled 79 yards and caught a touchdown. In the season finale, Smith had 6 receptions for 86 yards to go with a touchdown.
Smith despite tormenting the Saints has garnered respect as well. “What makes him so special is that I bet you he could play running back. All of these years, he could have been a running back. When I say that, I mean he could probably have played safety. He could have played a lot of physical positions,” said Kromer on Friday. “Here he is out there playing receiver, doing a great job blocking, being really physical and catching balls and running people over when he does catch it. He is just a physical guy and mentally tough.”
Smith is in his 12th NFL season spending all of them in Carolina and for the most part has been the Panthers offense sine being drafted. “He is the absolute reason that Carolina has had success for years on offense,” adds Kromer. “He is such a weapon with his speed and his ability to catch contested balls and his physicality in the game. He is a force to be reckoned with.”
Sunday the Saints hope his impact will be minimal.
Saturday morning the team will go through a walkthrough before boarding a plane for Charlotte. Sunday the Saints take on the Panthers at noon.