Five Things to Watch: Panthers v. Saints

The New Orleans Saints see the Carolina Panthers, led by rookie QB Jimmy Clausen, and believe they have a "get right" game on their hands. However, John Fox's crew views this is a golden opportunity to make a statement about the team's progress.

1. Will Jimmy Clausen be able to make at least a baby step forward against the aggressive and exotic New Orleans Saints defense? Clausen was fumbling snaps and staring down receivers in his first NFL start against the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday. This seems like a recipe for disaster against Gregg Williams' "blitz from anywhere at any time" defense that would like to feast on a wide-eyed rookie QB.

2. The Panthers haven't had a lead in a game since the third quarter of the season-opener against the New York Giants. Establishing the running game early, putting some points on the board and controlling time of possession would go a long way towards giving this offense the confidence it desperately needs. Both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart had success running the ball against the Saints last season; it would be a big help if that could continue.

3. With Saints RB Reggie Bush already out and Pierre Thomas questionable, Drew Brees may be in full-out aerial assault mode. With Panthers DEs Tyler Brayton and Greg Hardy slowed and possibly out with injuries, a pass rush will have to come from somewhere if the Panthers want to keep pace with the Saints. That and they'll have to capitalize on any mistakes, unlike last week when Ron Meeks' unit dropped four potential interceptions. If the defense can keep the Saints out of the end zone and put pressure on the newly signed 46-year-old kicker, John Carney, a missed field goal could turn the tide in the Panthers' favor.

4. Someone on either side of the ball needs to make a big play. That doesn't mean a 22-yard run by Williams to get the ball to midfield on a drive that results in a punt. It means a momentum-shifting play that results in a touchdown.

5. The Saints are coming off of a tough overtime loss at home to the Atlanta Falcons. The struggling Panthers seem like perfect fodder for a "get right" game for the defending champs. With Coach John Fox's lame-duck status, a standout performance in a game like this will go a long way towards securing a job next year, as no one's position will be safe under a new regime.

Michael Stolp is a graduate of Wilkes University with a degree in Communications. He grew up in Piscataway, N.J., and recently relocated to Charlotte, NC. To follow his personal blog, click here.

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