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Three Key Players to Watch on the Carolina Panthers Against the New Orleans Saints

Even though these two teams have faced already once this season, this is going to be a different game because the first game the Saints were without quarterback Drew Brees. These are three players that will be key to a Panthers' victory in New Orleans.

Kony Ealy

One of the easiest ways to shut down a quarterback, is simply not giving him time in the pocket to find the open wide receiver. Luckily for the Carolina Panthers they have one of the hottest pass rushers in the game right now defensive end Kony Ealy. The second year defensive end is currently in the midst of a streak of five straight games with a sack.

In the first matchup, Ealy had his worst pass rushing game against the Saints, according to Pro Football Focus, who gave him a grade of -1.8. One of the reasons was that Luke McCown did a good job of getting the ball out of his hands quickly and he didn't hold it long enough for anyone to get to him. Now that Brees is under center, this probably won't get any easier as he is one of the best with an average time of 2.5 seconds before he throws, according to Pro Football Focus.

The more pressure Ealy can put on Brees, the easier the day will be for the rest of the defense, in particular the secondary.

Greg Olsen

The Panthers' tight end had one of his best performances the first time these two teams met finishing with eight receptions on 11 targets for 134 yards and two touchdowns. This was actually the second strong game in a row against the Saints as he had eight receptions on 11 targets for 72 yards and one touchdown in Week 14 last year when the Panthers' traveled to New Orleans.

Olsen has been a key contributor to this offense this year and has been Cam Newton most reliable target, especially with Kelvin Benjamin out for the year. Pro Football Focus has given Olsen the highest rating in receiving with a 14.7, which is .1 ahead of Patriots' Rob Gronkowski.

Olsen is coming off his first Pro Bowl in 2014 and has only gotten better as he is on pace to set career highs in receiving yards and touchdowns. If he keeps the pace he is at, he will finish with 1,146 receiving yards and over eight touchdowns. He should be in line for a big game against the Saints.

Cortland Finnegan

After Charles Tillman sat out of practice for the second consecutive day, it looks unlikely that he will be available for the Panthers' in Week 13 against the Saints. The team certainly tried to plan for this as they signed Cortland Finnegan on Monday to add some depth to the position.

Coach Ron Rivera has said this week that the team will start Finnegan at nickelback, which has been a position of concern the past two weeks. The team has had to move Bene Benwikere to the outside in place of Tillman and moved Colin Jones to the nickelback, who has struggled.

While the coaching staff would love to plug the former Pro Bowler into the starting lineup, Finnegan has been out of football since the end of the 2014 season and may not be up to speed with this defense. The coaching staff will do everything they can to get him snaps to evaluate just where he is in terms of conditioning and understanding of the defense. If he plays well, he should see his role in this defense expand rather quickly.

Twitter @BrandonCroce.

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