Saints defense bracing for first test vs Panthers’ Olsen
METAIRIE, La. (AP) — When Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore finished reviewing game video of the latest performance by New Orleans’ defense, he came away unimpressed, but not discouraged.
“We didn’t get up for that game and that’s on us. We know we’ve got to step it up,” Lattimore said after practice Wednesday, as the Saints prepared for their postseason clash on Sunday with Carolina. “It’s the playoffs, so that’s in the past. We’re going to get the job done. We didn’t lose our confidence at all. We’re good. We’re going to get up for this game for sure.”
Lattimore and fellow Saints defenders not only have to address their recent back-sliding as a unit, but also for the presence of star Carolina tight end Greg Olsen, who didn’t play in either of these teams’ previous two meetings this season.
“You’re talking about one of the better tight ends in the game. Not having him is significant and having him is huge,” Saints coach Sean Payton said. “He’s smart. He’s tough. He blocks for the run. He enjoys competing and quite honestly, he does so many little things well in regards to zone or man, that third down or red zone — pick a situation — it’s just significant.”
Olsen missed nine games with a foot injury this season. He played in Carolina’s last four regular season games, with as many as nine receptions in one game.
“We do some things with Greg that we didn’t get a chance to do when he wasn’t with us,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “Gregg’s a pass-catching threat, a good route runner, got good hands.”
He has just 17 catches for 191 yards and one touchdown this season, and had only one reception in Carolina’s loss to Atlanta last week.
Still, Saints defenders expect Olsen to be a factor in a win-or-go-home playoff game.
“Him and Cam have timing together, chemistry,” Saints safety Vonn Bell said. “He knows the offense. He’s a (former) Pro Bowler. He knows how to use his body” to keep defenders from getting to the ball in flight.
“We just know he’s a passing threat,” Bell added.
The Saints improved from 27th defensively overall to 15th this season. They also enjoyed considerable increases in sacks, from 30 to 42, and interceptions, from 9 to 20.
Yet a 31-24 loss at Tampa Bay in the regular season finale “left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth,” Payton said.
The Saints’ defense gave up 455 total yards in Tampa Bay. The Bucs converted 13 of 18 third downs and their lone fourth-down attempt. If not for three interceptions — one by linebacker Craig Robertson and two by rookie safety Marcus Williams, the Saints might have struggled just to keep it close.
“We’ve got a fire lit up under us to come out here and play the way we know we’re capable of playing,” defensive tackle Tyeler Davison said. “Our details weren’t exactly on point like they need to be that last game.”
The Bucs gained 110 yards rushing and had two receivers go over 100 yards, including Chris Godwin, who caught a go-ahead, 39-yard touchdown pass with 9 seconds left.
“Definitely sour to end it with not our best performance of the year by far,” Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said. “But the beauty of this is we get another shot, and this time it really means something.”
Notes: LT Terron Armstead (thigh), DE Trey Hendrickson (ankle) and TE Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion) all practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday after not playing in Tampa Bay last Sunday. ... Several other regulars practiced on a limited basis, including leading receiver Michael Thomas (hamstring), guard Senio Kelemete (knee), tight end Josh Hill (shoulder) and special teams regular Justin Hardee.