STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. SAINTS

PASSING OFFENSE: C -- For the second consecutive week, Jake Delhomme didn't throw an interception and limited his mistakes. He completed 15 of 23 passes for 124 yards with no touchdowns. Not great numbers, but a smart game against his former team. The Panthers did not allow a sack for the second straight game. Muhsin Muhammad had five catches for 42 yards but did have a fumble for the second straight week. However, once again, Muhammad he did recover his own fumble. Steve Smith, who earlier last week expressed anger over allegedly being called a "marginal" receiver by team officials, had one catch for 13 yards. If the Panthers are to go deep into the playoffs, they will have to step up the passing game a notch.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- The third-best rushing team in the NFL put together another tremendous effort, rushing for 185 yards. Stephen Davis (30 carries, 159 yards) recorded his fourth consecutive 100-yard game since joining the Panthers. DeShaun Foster added 25 yards on seven carries. Carolina's offensive line is playing extremely well together and seems to have developed an outstanding cohesiveness. "I think Stephen is the result of that," center Jeff Mitchell said. "It's just a confidence that he transfers to us." Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Sunday's effort was the team's ability to run three consecutive plays with under two minutes left in the game to pick up a crucial first down and run out the clock.

PASS DEFENSE: B-minus -- The Panthers are allowing an average of 11.6 points per game on defense, so they must be doing something right. On Sunday, Aaron Brooks completed 16 of 31 passes for 189 yards with one touchdown to Joe Horn. He was picked off once by Reggie Howard on a deep route. The Panthers failed to register a sack for the first time in the last nine games. Despite being shutout on Sunday, Mike Rucker did tip two balls at the line of scrimmage and Terry Cousin played well after giving up a touchdown pass to Horn.

RUSH DEFENSE: D-minus -- The Panthers allowed a 100-yard rusher for the second straight week as Deuce McAllister ran for 124 yards on 23 carries. As a team, the Panthers allowed 155 yards on the ground and defensive ends Mike Rucker and Julius Peppers were extremely upset over the team's effort following the game. The Panthers had no sacks. McAllister is one of only two different backs to rush for 100 yards against the Panthers since John Fox took became coach last season. The other is T.J. Duckett. McAllister has done it twice in two years.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus -- The Panthers came up with another big play on special teams as Rod Smart returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to give Carolina a 10-3 lead. John Kasay made it a perfect 10-for-10 in field goal attempts by hitting from 49 and 23 yards. But there were some mistakes. Holder Todd Sauerbrun mishandled the snap leading to a botched extra point, while Smart also fumbled a kickoff. Sauerbrun doesn't seem to be booming the ball like he's done the past two seasons. Carolina's coverage teams could have done a better job.

COACHING: A -- The Panthers made some adjustments at halftime and came out and pounded the ball down the Saints' throats. Davis ran six times for 48 yards on the drive and scored a touchdown to put the Panthers up 16-3. The fans loved the fact the Panthers opened the game with a flea-flicker, even though it sailed just out of Muhsin Muhammad's reach. Give the Panthers credit for sticking with the run after Davis was held to 20 yards rushing in the first quarter. The Panthers are 4-0 for the first time in history and that's good news. Consider this: Over the past five years, 11 teams have started 4-0 and nine of them have made the playoffs.


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