A quarterback doesn’t last 17 seasons in the NFL without a heaping dose of intelligence and savvy.
So Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints knows the value when he’s asked to appraise Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly.
“He’s one of the smartest football players I’ve ever seen, been around, had the chance to go up against,” Brees said in the Saints locker room following Wednesday’s practice.
Kuechly spends massive time each week dissecting video of opposing offenses. He’s been known to frequently shout out which play the opposing team is about to run before the snap, based on formations and tendencies.
This will be the third time this season these teams meet, after the Saints swept the Panthers in the regular season (34-13 in Charlotte and 31-21 in New Orleans). Predictability might be the best way for a team to self-destruct in this situation, and that was prominent in the thoughts of Saints coach Sean Payton.
“Every hour we spend watching film, Luke Kuechly is watching the same film diligently,” Payton said during a conference call with New Orleans media. “You have to have plays that begin looking like something you’ve done, (but) that are something different.
“If you line up in a similar formation two or three times, he’s that in-tune (with what you’re doing), and is such a great communicator with (fellow linebackers Thomas) Davis and Shaq” Thompson.
“He’ll yawn at some of your formations if you don’t create some disguise.”
Self-scouting is always important in the NFL, where a team plays 16 games each regular season. But in a situation such as this, where tendencies could be the narrow difference in which team advances, the grunt work – what you’ve shown the other team, how you’ve shown it, and how frequently you’ve shown it – can be huge.
“You’ve got to self-scout, to play Devil’s Advocate” on your own patterns, said Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins. “Say, ‘Yes, we’ve done this well the last couple of games, (so) let’s tweak this right here so they aren’t just expecting something.’”
Panthers veteran defensive back Captain Munnerlyn said the onus is on his team – the one that lost the previous two matchups by a combined 31 points – to react to the data: “They’ll change up some things. We’ve definitely got to changes up some things, too.”
While predictability is trouble, Brees said a team has to strike a balance, remembering what got them into the playoffs.
“There are always wrinkles. You’ve got to make adjustments on the run,” Brees said. “(But) for us, it’s what we do: Do it to perfection.”
Staff writer Brendan Marks contributed
Bonnell: (704) 358-5129: @rick_bonnell