Game Primer: Panthers v. Saints

The Carolina Panthers feel they are better than their 0-3 record indicates. They will have a chance to prove it in Week 4 as they hit the road to take on the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. Panther Insider breaks down every phase of the game in this in-depth preview of the divisional tilt.

When the Panthers Run

This would be a good time for the Panthers to find their rushing attack. Pro Bowl tailbacks DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart need to deliver in New Orleans if only to control time of possession and keep the Saints' potent offense off the field.

Last season, Williams and Stewart became the first teammates in league history to each top 1,100 yards rushing. This season, Williams is on pace to finish with less than 1,000 yards for the first time since 2007, while Stewart is on pace for a career-low 363 yards rushing.

The Saints run defense ranks in the bottom half of the league in yards per attempt (4.4). Nonetheless, Gregg Williams' unit figures to be geared up to stop the run with a rookie leading Carolina's passing game. Also, the Saints are a team that focuses on creating turnovers, so it's vital the Panthers not put the ball on the ground like Stewart did in Week 3.

When the Panthers Pass

Jimmy Clausen must focus on the basics during the first road start of his pro career. He has to cleanly handle every snap; make smart decisions with the football; and have his hot-read ready at all times.

The Saints will test the rookie with heaps of pressure. The linebackers and safeties will blitz while the cornerbacks sit on underneath routes. Clausen must be ready for this and be willing to take what the defense gives him. This could lead to big days for RB Mike Goodson and TE Dante Rosario, both of whom are excellent check-down options.

Despite the aggressive schemes, the Saints are one of just six teams in the league to average one sack per game or less, so Clausen should get some time to make plays. If the Panthers can establish the run and set up play-action, No. 2 can look downfield for fellow rookies Brandon LaFell and David Gettis.

When the Saints Run

DE Everette Brown
Chuck Burton/AP
The Saints are 0-1 without RB Reggie Bush and the running game really struggled without him last week. Replacements Peirre Thomas and Chris Ivory combined to carry 16 times for 43 yards (2.69 yards per carry) against an Atlanta team that allows a league-worst 5.1 ypc. Also, Thomas injured his ankle in that contest and may be limited or altogether unavailable against the Panthers.

The Panthers' run defense is a full 2 yards better than the Falcons, giving up just 3.1 ypc. That's the third best number in the NFC behind only the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks, two teams that are a combined 5-1 at the moment.

Carolina's defensive front seven could be shorthanded for this contest. Tyler Brayton (ankle), Greg Hardy (foot) and Jamar Williams (neck) are all battling injuries. Also, the team released DT Louis Leonard this week to make room for C Chris Morris thanks to injuries to starting OL Travelle Wharton (ankle) and Mackenzy Bernadeau (shoulder).

When the Saints Pass

Drew Brees directs the league's No. 6 passing attack. The Saints will spread the field with their many weapons and push the ball up the field. The biggest threats are WRs Marques Colston, Devery Henderson and Robert Meachem, but Brees' weapons run deeper than Carolina's defensive secondary can handle.

Veteran corners Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall will have their hands full on the outside, but youngsters like Sherrod Martin and Jordan Pugh are the ones with the toughest challenges ahead of them. Recently re-signed CB C.J. Wilson may be up for this game just to give Ron Meeks another experienced cover man.

The key for the Panthers is pressuring Brees, which will be no easy task. Brees has been sacked just once every 22.4 pass attempts this season, while the Panthers defense has recorded just two sacks through three games.

Just for Kicks

The Saints re-signed the ageless wonder John Carney this week. He will take over field goal duties for Garrett Hartley, who has struggled this season with three misses.

Captain Munnerlyn has returned all of Carolina's punts this season, averaging an impressive 9.2 yards per attempt. But fans still await the debut of rookie Armanti Edwards, who may be given some chances as a punt returner (despite his preseason struggles) once he's activated.

What are Panthers fans saying about Sunday's game? See in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and also a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. You can see more of his updates by following him on Twitter.

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