The New Orleans Saints (3-2) return to the gridiron after their BYE week to host their NFC SOUTH rival the Carolina Panthers (3-3). First-year Head Coach, Matt Rhule's Panthers, are coming off of a home loss to the Bears last week after winning three consecutive contests. Sunday's game is the first of two meetings between the Panthers and Saints. The teams will meet again in Week 17. We give you our Saints News Network's X-Factors for Week 7.
OFFENSIVE X-FACTOR: WR MICHAEL THOMAS
It has been four weeks since All-Pro WR Michael Thomas has suited up for the New Orleans Saints. An ankle sprain suffered in the 4th Quarter of the Saints Week 1 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has forced Thomas to miss three games for the New Orleans Saints; the 4th game Thomas was ruled out of was not injury-related. Thomas' healthy scratch in Week 5 against the Chargers was a result of an altercation in practice with DB Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
The 2019 Offensive Player of the Year told ESPN's First Take he “will be back next week” during an interview with DE Cameron Jordan during the Saints' BYE week. This was the first time in his NFL career Thomas missed multiple games, and his missing presence was felt through the Saints first two games without him. While the Saints' offense has begun to find its way with back-to-back 30+ point performances by the offense, there is no denying that Thomas' production has been missed.
DEFENSIVE X-FACTOR: DE CAMERON JORDAN
Without his favorite target, QB Drew Brees has been forced to create and grow chemistry with wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders, Tre'Quan Smith, and Deonte Harris. The relationship between Brees and Sanders has vastly improved the past two weeks, with Sanders reeling in 18 receptions for 200+ yards. So while it was a possible blessing in disguise for Thomas to miss time, Sean Payton and Drew Brees will welcome him back with open arms. Expect a big welcome back game from “Can't Guard Mike”.
It has been a quiet start to 2020 for Cameron Jordan, but we have seen some signs of life out of the former first-round pick over the past two weeks. After failing to record a sack through the first three games of the season, Jordan has recorded 1.5 sacks over the past two weeks. Throughout his Saints career, the Pro-Bowl DE has seen sack droughts, but after getting to the QB once, the flood gates seem to open.
With the exceptional play of DE Trey Hendrickson and the return of Marcus Davenport, the Saints' defensive line looks as threatening to opposing quarterbacks as ever. The other side's pressure should open up more one-on-one opportunities for Jordan to feast on opposing gunslingers and return to peak form.
New Orleans is looking to erase consistent mental lapses from the defense as they head out of their BYE week. The defensive unit has not performed poorly according to the stats, ranking top-10 in yards allowed but the big plays allowed and pass interference penalties have the Saints among the leagues worst in points allowed. A solid pass rush and game-changer in Cam Jordan returning to form will only help the defense get back to where they want to be.
WILD CARD X-FACTOR: QB/TE TAYSOM HILL
It took a while, but the Swiss Army Knife finally found the end zone in 2020 and at a crucial point in the ball game. His first rushing touchdown of the season came with under 1 minute left in Monday Night's contest with the Chargers tying the game at 27.
Since signing a 2-year, $21M extension over the summer, Hill's production has been subpar. Whether that is how Sean Payton has utilized the NFL's most versatile weapon or not is up for debate, but Hill may benefit from the return of Michael Thomas more than any Saint.
With many injuries to offensive weapons (Cook, Thomas, Montgomery) in the early portion of the season, Hill has not been used in a “Joker” role as often as last season. This stretch is similar to 2019's five-game period when Drew Brees was sidelined for New Orleans. Hill's value in his multitude of positions is so valuable that when an injury occurs, his usage rate, rather than going up, goes down for the simple reason that he can not be the Swiss Army Knife but rather another WR or special package QB.
As Thomas, Montgomery, and Cook return to the lineup in Week 7, Hill can return to his do it all self and not just a special package QB. It will only make the Saints' offense more dynamic, and in that, all the Taysom Hill “Stans” will return to the Twitter-verse as well. For Who Dat Nation, like Thomas' return, it will be a welcomed sight.
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