Drew Brees has been making a habit of productive games. Error-free – as a Schottenheimer disciple – has been his motto. He will have two players that will be key to aiding his game. One is the return of center Nick Hardwick who will get the start over Jason Ball and the other is wide receiver Keenan McCardell.
Hardwick and Brees have worked together in the past so their chemistry will be apparent. What is not so clear is how Brees and McCardell will interact.
You know the subtle nuances that go on as they exit the huddle. A bat of the eye says cut the route inside and McCardell reads it as go outside.
But the 34 year old traded from Tampa on Tuesday is a veteran of his trade and reports that he is "ready to get this thing going." Eagerness does not immediately mean effectiveness. Oddly enough, it may not surprise to see him in the starting lineup.
The idea is he is a receiver who has run routes for many a year. Besides the mixed signals, routes stay the same. And McCardell believes he can change the course of the game.
"I am a complete receiver," McCardell said. "I would like to call myself a guy that makes plays. A playmaker. When it is crunch time, when you need a play, who is going to step up and make a play. I have always been that type of guy."
As for Hardwick, he is eager to return to the field. As the anchor of the line he sees the road ahead with clarity. He needs to continually have good games or Ball could replace him in the lineup.
"They're a tough team," said Hardwick. "They have one of the best defensive lines we'll face this year."
That isn't as true as it has been in the past.
Julius Peppers and Brentson Buckner each have two sacks. Those totals lead the team. Likewise, they have just five takeaways in five games. But who knows when that talented defense – the same one that helped them get to the Super Bowl – will arrive this year.
"They have played a lot of tough teams and I think they have had some bad breaks with injuries," Brees said. "They are 1-4 and they are playing at home and they are saying, ‘this is going to be the game that gets this turned around.' We know they are going to bring their best game for us."
"Defensively, they have good cover people," Carolina coach John Fox said.
Is he talking about the soon out of the starting lineup Sammy Davis or perhaps Jamar Fletcher or Drayton Florence?
All signs point to Florence getting the nod at corner across from Jammer. He will be up against a less than the sum Panther offense so this is a good chance for him to shine.
Stephen Davis is likely out and that will affect the passing game and Steve Smith, of course, is out. That leaves Mushin Muhammad and Keary Colbert as the primary targets. Muhammad leads the Panthers with 20 receptions. The next closes has 13.
"We have our work cut out for us," Fox added.
But quarterback Jake Delhomme is still the quarterback that led the Panthers from unknown to known and a chance at history. If he can play as Brees has, the contest could become epic.
"You don't go to the championship football game in the NFL without a quarterback who knows what he is doing and is efficient," Schottenheimer said. "And I know a little bit about him, and he is a great competitor. My concern is we are dealing with a wounded bear, and they are going to bring their best. I think we are going to have to be at our best to be able to compete."
On Special Teams:
"They are very strong in the kicking game," Fox said.
Get rid of Bennett! No way! Turns out that plan has worked like a charm. Mike Scifres hasn't been just good he has been golden. As in pinning the opposition back into what his coach calls the ‘Gold Zone'.
A kicker – in the third round! Gazooks! Turns out the plan was alright. Kickers win games in the clutch. Nate Kaeding has yet to earn those stripes but he has hit some memorable ones already. He admitted this week that his kickoffs were a concern and he is focused on improving that area of his game. Luckily, he shan't have to work to hard as Carolina's best kickoff return this year went 33 yards.
John Kasay has only had three field goal tries in five games this year and he missed one. Todd Sauerbun is one of the best punters of the modern era. He crushes the ball. It will be interesting to see who wins the field position battle.
"If you look at our schedule there's a lot of games on there that we should win," linebacker Dan Morgan said.
You can bet that the Chargers are the first weak link they perceive on the schedule.