Key Match-ups for Panthers against Saints

The Carolina Panthers have an opportunity to hold the division lead in the NFC South with a win over the New Orleans Saints. This is certainly hard to imagine considering they are 1-4-1 over the past six weeks. This game will not be easy but the team that can win these three key match-ups have to like their chances of winning in primetime.

DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart vs. New Orleans Saints’ Run Defense

When looking at the stats of the Saints’ defense the run defense (101 yards against per game, 10th overall) is much stronger than their pass defense (289 yards against per game, 29th in the NFL). So why would the Panthers want to try and beat the Saints by running the ball?

The Panthers unfortunately have a number of things working against them and the best chance they have at winning on Thursday night is controlling the game and winning the time of possession battle. The best way to do this is to give the ball to their two top running backs, Jonathan Stewart and the returning DeAngelo Williams. The longer the Panthers offense stays on the field, the less time Drew Brees will be on the field.

The other big reason the Panthers need to rely on the running game is that they have undrafted rookie David Foucault protecting Cam Newton’s blindside. The less time the rookie is expected to hold his block, particularly in pass blocking, the greater chance he has to be successful. A strong run game Thursday night, would give the Panthers offense a much better chance of grabbing the win.


Panthers Secondary vs. Saints Receiving Options

After an awful game, the Panthers’ secondary bounced back in a big way against Seattle. The return of Josh Norman helped stabilize this group but now they turn their focus to the Saints, who is led by quarterback Drew Brees and a number of receiving options.

This group is led by Jimmy Graham, who has been dealing with a shoulder injury the past few weeks but looks to be getting healthier and should be a big part of their offense.

This could spell trouble for the Panthers who could be without free safety Thomas Decoud and would be replaced by rookie Tre Boston. The fourth round rookie replaced DeCoud against Seattle and actually was the one covering Luke Willson on the game winning touchdown. If Boston gets the start, he will need to have a big game for Carolina’s defense.


Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis vs. Mark Ingram

The Saints run offense usually is not the first thing defenses will focus on with a quarterback like Drew Brees under center. However, the team has a talented running back in Mark Ingram who is coming off a 172 yard performance against Green Bay.

The Panthers defense, particularly Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, should feel confident just as confident entering this primetime match-up. Last week against Seattle, they were able to contain Marshawn Lynch to only 62 rushing yards. In the last five games, the Panthers have held the opposing team’s leading rusher under 70 yards four out of the last five games (Gio Bernard had 137 yards rushing).

The linebacker play of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis has been a huge reason for this as both are tackling machines that rarely miss tackles. If the Saints are able to get Ingram going, this offense is nearly impossible to stop. The Panthers defense will need big games from their two linebackers.

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