Both New Orleans Saints right tackle Zach Strief and defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley were able to put in limited practice sessions yesterday, and both players are listed questionable on the team’s official injury report for tomorrow’s big game against the Carolina Panthers. It’s the first of two vital matchups between these two rivals, as they could decide who wins the NFC South and gets a playoff bye.
Strief’s health tomorrow is a huge key, so it’s great to hear that he was able to get a second straight limited practice session in. Even though he’s listed questionable on the injury report, Strief is still expected to play, and he will be going up against Panthers star left end Charles Johnson, who is one of the best pass rushers in the game. Johnson does an amazing job of putting consistent pressure on the quarterback, and he and right end Greg Hardy form one of the best defensive end duos in the NFL. Johnson’s return to health after missing a couple of weeks with an MCL sprain is huge for the Panthers, and he also takes some pressure off of Hardy on the other side of the field; Strief is a solid RT and needs to be at the top of his game in order to try and neutralize Johnson.
Bunkley hasn’t even recorded ten tackles this season, but he’s still a solid nose tackle who is also a key for the Saints. Even if he doesn’t play many snaps each game, he’s still technically a starter and has done a solid job of plugging up holes in run defense. He isn’t great at freeing up others in the passing game, but he is very good against the run. If the Saints can shut down the Panthers running game, then their chances of victory on Sunday will obviously increase.