Last week’s Monday night game between the Seattle Seahawks and the New Orleans Saints was supposed to be the game of the year, a clash between NFC superpowers for conference supremacy and home-field advantage. Instead, it became a beatdown of New Orleans at the hands of Russell Wilson and the 12th Man. Now the Saints limp back to the Superdome for what may now be the game of the year in a battle for playoff position and the NFC South crown against the surging Carolina Panthers. Both teams can find success on offense and defense, especially the Saints offense and the Panthers defense, but which matchups between the units will have the greatest impact?
Jordan Gross/Travelle Wharton vs. Cameron Jordan
Jordan had become a real playmaker for Rob Ryan‘s aggressive 3-4 defense, adjusting well to playing the five-technique, and he will be a problem for Carolina if he get penetration and disrupt the rhythm of the offense. He also moves around the formation frequently, so Gross and Wharton will have to team up to take him out of the picture. Carolina’s game plan is heavily based on holding on to the ball, so it will be imperative for those two to keep the chains moving and Cam Newton settled by keeping Jordan out of the play.
Captain Munnerlyn vs. Marques Colston
Munnerlyn has been the rock for Carolina’s improved secondary, but he will have his hands full against Colston. Colston has a huge size advantage, being 6-foot-5 to Munnerlyn’s 5-foot-8, and Drew Brees will try to exploit that matchup as much as possible. Munnerlyn needs to expect that attention and prepare for it thoroughly because only by having the instincts to be a step ahead can Munnerlyn overcome that disadvantage. Munnerlyn has to win this matchup consistently for the Panthers to win or Colston will be Brees’ favorite receiver on Sunday.
Luke Kuechly vs. Darren Sproles
Thomas Davis will most likely be on Jimmy Graham because of his superior coverage skills leaving Kuechly to cover Sproles. There are few players in the league that have the short area quickness of Sproles, and none of them are linebackers so Kuechly will need to use his superior instincts to keep Sproles bottled up. With the amount of screens and flares that the Saints throw to Sproles it will be almost impossible to keep the ball out of his hands, but Kuechly has the instincts and open-field tackling ability to take him down before he can get big yards.