How heavily will the Saints rely on the run game Thursday and who do you think will get the bulk of the carries?
Both Pierre Thomas and rookie running back Mark Ingram should evenly split carries throughout the contest. Darren Sproles will be deployed much in the same way Reggie Bush was before his departure, as a third down scat back. The Saints went into the offseason with a major goal of establishing the run/pass balance that made them so successful in 2009. I expect Payton to call close to 50% runs tomorrow.
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Will Darren Sproles be utilized immediately in the Saints offense or will he be brought more slowly into the game plan?
Sproles is a veteran running back that can handle immediate insertion into the lineup. He has has a great camp and I see no reason why he will not be utlized often in the offense and on special teams.
Will the loss of the Saints’ two starting defensive ends be a big hit to the Saints’ defense?
Alex Brown was a decent veteran — good against the run — but average at everything else. New Orleans had obviously seen enough after a two sack season in 2010 and vanilla training camp to send him packing. Ex-Lion Turk McBride was signed in free agency and the Saints likely view him as an upgrade to Brown after he posted a five sack season last year in Detroit. McBride and rookie Cameron Jordan will rotate at left defensive end, with both figuring to give the Packer offensive line fits. Will Smith on the other hand is one of the NFL’s best defensive ends, you simpy can’t replace a guy with his abilities in the defense very easily. Backup Jeff Charleston is still a nice fill in option though, also second year rookie Junior Galette may turns some heads during the game.
What Saints do you expect will have the biggest game for each the offense and defense?
On offense you would be hard pressed not to say that quarterback Drew Brees will be the offensive “MVP” for the game. He is the leader of the offense and much of their success starts and ends with how well he plays. Then there is the tackling machine that is middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma. He too plays a very similar role in the defense to what Brees does in the offense — captains the unit. Yet again much of the Saints success on the defensive side of the ball starts and ends with how well Vilma plays.
Which division team will the Saints have the most difficult time defeating this year, the Falcons or the Buccaneers? Which of those three teams will have the best shot at winning the division?
Easily it would have to be Atlanta given they are the most established team, other than the Saints, on both offense and defense. Matt Ryan can get the ball out quick, Michael Turner is a good running back, and their defense can generate a good pass rush. I think the Saints are capable of sweeping them this season and should take the division without too much problem.