Inside slant: New Orleans Saints

Dying to know what's going on with the Bucs' rivals in the NFC South? "Inside Slant" from BucsBlitz.com can help. Each Thursday get an inside look at each of the Bucs' divisional foes as they prepare for their respective games. Here's a look at the New Orleans Saints as they prepare for Carolina.

Over the next 13 weeks, second-year running back Reggie Bush will get a chance to do what a lot of people think he can't do: be an every-down featured NFL back.

With running back Deuce McAllister gone for the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the Saints' last game on Sept. 24, Bush will be asked to carry more of a load -- both mentally and physically -- in the near future.

"With everything else Reggie is responsible for, this is going to add to the load on him a little bit more," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said.

While Saints fans have been salivating at the thought of Bush getting more than the 9.7 carries he's averaged in 19 career games, they certainly didn't want them to come at McAllister's expense. As one of the more popular players in franchise history, he will be missed in more ways than one.

But the Saints (0-3) have no choice but to carry on with a committee of backs, including Bush, veteran Aaron Stecker and rookie Pierre Thomas, starting with Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers.

While Stecker and Thomas will have to pitch in, Bush will no doubt be the main guy going forward. He'll look to give the Saints' running game, which ranks 29th with just 79.7 yards a game this year, some much-needed energy.

The low rushing figure isn't a reflection on the talent of McAllister and Bush, but rather it's a byproduct of the Saints playing almost exclusively from behind in their three games.

Bush will get a chance to show his abilities in a variety of areas with his expanded role -- especially as a rusher, where some people doubt that he has the size and strength needed to run effectively between the tackles. But they will now get to see if he does.

"I feel good. This is something I've been looking forward to for a long time now," Bush said Wednesday. "I hate that it came off of such a big loss for us in Deuce, but I feel confident in myself that I'll be able to carry the load and make up for what we're losing with Deuce and we won't miss a beat."

Unfortunately, Bush has had a tough time getting started this season. After averaging about 150 yards a game toward the end of last season, he has just 150 total yards in the first three games -- with 29 carries for 80 yards and 16 receptions for 70 yards. On top of that, he's had to deal with a three-game losing streak -- which he wasn't used to at USC.

When asked if Bush might be pressing too much, Saints coach Sean Payton acknowledged that the speedy playmaker may be trying too hard at times.

"He's learning, and we're all learning, that it's tough to win in this game each week," Payton said. "That margin for error has changed dramatically from when you were in college. He understands that. Obviously, he's competitive, and he wants to win."

More importantly, he wants to win -- and play a big role in it.

"I've really been looking forward to this for a long time and I look at this as a great opportunity," Bush said. "It's not going to be difficult at all to change my mindset.

"It's all about being patient and waiting," he added. "Now, it's here and it's put up or shut up."

SERIES HISTORY

25th meeting. The Panthers lead the series, 13-11, after winning the last three games. Carolina has won the last five times it has played in Louisiana. The last win for the Saints came in an emotional 2005 season opener at Bank of America Stadium, 23-20, just 13 days after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

NOTES, QUOTES

After three games, the Saints rank 29th in the league with only 79.7 rushing yards per game, which can be attributed in part to a struggling passing game that makes the running game more vulnerable.

Another glaring problem is the Saints have had trouble getting a lead and maintaining it, major factors in running the ball effectively. In three games, the Saints have held the lead twice for a total of 11 minutes, 17 seconds -- and both of those were short-lived.

In their season opener, the Saints took a 10-7 lead in the second quarter against the Indianapolis Colts and held it for 5:41 until the Colts tied the game just before halftime.

They trailed the entire game at Tampa Bay in Week 2 before grabbing a 14-10 lead against the Tennessee Titans after Reggie Bush's one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. But the Titans regained the lead just 5:36 later and never relinquished it in a 31-14 victory.

After falling to the Titans in the last game before their bye, the Saints are 0-3 for the 11th time in the 41-year history of the franchise.

The last time it happened was in Mike Ditka's first season as coach in 1997. Only once in the first 10 times they've started 0-3 have the Saints managed to avoid a losing season, going 8-8 in 1979.

According to the NFL, only three teams have overcome an 0-3 start to make the playoffs since the league expanded its postseason field to six teams from each conference in 1990.

The only teams that have bounced back from 0-3 are the 1992 San Diego Chargers, 1995 Detroit Lions and 1998 Buffalo Bills.

It went unnoticed last week, but punter Steve Weatherford replaced backup quarterback Jamie Martin as the holder for Olindo Mare on extra points in the Saints' loss to the Titans.

Martin was the holder all last season for John Carney and held in the first two games this year for Mare. But a change was quietly made after Mare was only one of three in field-goal attempts in the first two games.

Saints special teams coordinator John Bonamego said the reason for the change was to allow Mare to get more practice with Weatherford while Martin takes part in the team's regular drills.

The Saints and Panthers have played some close games since Carolina joined the NFL in 1995 with the two teams facing each other twice a year as members of the NFC West (1995-2001) and NFC South (2002-present).

Of the 24 games played in the series, 11 of them have been decided by six points or less. The Saints have prevailed in six of those games.

The Saints are 8-10 all-time coming off a bye and are 0-1 since Sean Payton took over in 2006. The Saints were clubbed, 35-22, by the Baltimore Ravens in the Superdome on Oct. 29 after their first bye week under Payton.

BY THE NUMBERS

4 -- Offensive touchdowns by the Saints in 34 possessions in three games.

QUOTE TO NOTE

"I think the saying 'one game at a time,' never meant more to us then it does right now. We're just trying to get that first win, and we have to try and forget the fact we have 13 games left." -- Saints QB Drew Brees, on his team's 0-3 start.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

After losing right cornerback Jason David for four to six weeks with a fractured left arm, the Saints will have to shuffle their secondary for Sunday's game with the Carolina Panthers.

Nickel back Jason Craft will likely start against the Panthers with former starter Fred Thomas, who's been a healthy inactive for the first three games, getting a shot along with rookie Usama Young. Saints coach Sean Payton said all three will be in the mix.

Young, a third-round draft pick who has made strides as a defender, and Thomas will likely be vying for time in the nickel and dime package if Craft gets the start opposite Mike McKenzie.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

RB Deuce McAllister was put on injured reserve after he underwent surgery on Sept. 27 to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

RB Reggie Bush will replace McAllister in the starting lineup for Sunday's game with the Carolina Panthers in the Superdome.

RCB Jason David had a plate inserted into his fractured left forearm last week and will be sidelined from four to six weeks starting with Sunday's game with the Panthers.

CB Jason Craft will likely start in David's place against the Panthers. Craft, who serves as the nickel back, has started nine times in 49 career games with the Saints.

SLB Scott Fujita, who sprained his right ankle against the Titans, did not participate in Wednesday's practice and his status for this week is unknown.

WR David Patten, who is the Saints' third receiver, did not practice Wednesday because of a strained right calf. His status for Sunday is unknown.

DT Kendrick Clancy, who was inactive for the Titans' game because of a turf toe, did not practice again Wednesday. His status for Sunday will be determined later in the week.

LT Jammal Brown dislocated a finger in the Saints' last game against the Tennessee Titans, but will play against the Panthers.

S Jay Bellamy, who was waived before the Titans' game, was re-signed to take Deuce McAllister's spot on the 53-man active roster. He was limited in practice Wednesday because of a sprained left ankle.

GAME PLAN

Considering the multitude of problems they've had on offense, the Saints have to simply get off to a better start and find a way to score some early points. They're one of only two teams that have not scored in the opening period (Kansas City is the other), and getting something on the board early would take some pressure off both the offense and defense and allow them to play looser. Establishing the passing game would be a good start as the Panthers rank 20th in allowing 229.0 yards a game. On defense, the Saints will have to pressure David Carr and be more aggressive in their attempt to create pressure and record their first sack of the season. They can't allow Carr to get too comfortable and pick out his receivers, especially All-Pro Steve Smith.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Saints RB Reggie Bush vs. Panthers front seven. Like most of the Saints' offensive weapons, Bush has been rather ineffective this season with just 150 total yards in three games. That will have to change if the Saints, who are averaging just 79.7 rushing yards, expect to have a chance against the Panthers. Carolina ranks 21st against the run in allowing 118.8 yards a game, so finding some running lanes will be a priority for Bush.

Saints RCB Jason Craft vs. Panthers WR Steve Smith. The Saints have given up 12 pass plays of 24 yards or more in three games, which must be music to Smith's ears. He's been a thorn in their side for years, catching 49 passes for 624 yards and five TDs in nine previous games -- including 31 catches for 375 yards and five scores in their last two meetings. They won't stop him completely, but it would help if they can limit his big plays and keep him in front of them as much as possible.

Saints RT Jon Stinchcomb vs. Panthers LDE Julius Peppers. Stinchcomb played very well last season, but struggled in the Saints' most recent game against Tennessee. Keeping Peppers out of Drew Brees' face -- and off his back -- is a must. Peppers has no sacks this season, but with 53.5 in five seasons, it's easy to see he's capable of exploding at any given moment.

INJURY IMPACT

RCB David will miss Sunday's game with the Carolina Panthers with a fractured left forearm. The Saints will likely move Craft into the starting lineup with either Fred Thomas or Usama Young coming in to play in the nickel package.


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