Lets start by looking at the offense of the Saints vs. the defense of the Panthers.
In passing offense the Saints are 9th in the NFL. Not that this should surprise any of us. We are all well aware that the Saints have one the best groups of receivers in the league. That passing offense will be up against the young secondary of the Panthers anchored by veteran SS Mike Minter who come into this game ranked 18th in the NFL against the pass. Some feel this ranking could be on the way up as the youth of the Panthers are gaining experience and confidence.
Rookie CB Chris Gamble and first year starter FS Colin Branch have led the way in the interception department as of late and seem to be coming into their own. Gamble has three interceptions and needs one more to set a franchise rookie record (set by Ricky Manning Jr. last season).
Adding fuel to the fire, and dirt to a quarterbacks jersey, is defensive end Julius Peppers who has seven sacks in his last four games and nine on the season. He ranks fourth in the NFL but is just one sack off the League lead. Peppers and opposite defensive end Mike Rucker will pressure Brooks and aid in the defensive effort against the passing game.
In the running department, the Saints come in ranked 26th in the NFL. However, with Deuce McAllister in the backfield you had better be ready and able to stop the run. The Panthers, unfortunately, haven't shown great prowess in that area and come in ranked 24th in stopping the run. Not to mention that McAllister has three consecutive 100-yard rushing games against Carolina.
The Panthers have been missing MLB Dan Morgan for the past few weeks due to concussions and at the time of this article there had been no mention of upgrading his status. However, I'll go out on a limb and say that Morgan is Probable for this game.
When it comes to the match up of Carolina's offense against New Orleans defense it doesn't get any clearer. The Panthers passing attack comes in ranked 14th in the NFL. Keary Colbert has established a team record for rookie wide receivers for the Panthers with 600 receiving yards. He has 37 receptions and needs eight more to establish a rookie high in that category.
Opposite Colbert is Muhsin Muhammad who is having his best season in 3 years, and is currently ranked in the top 10 of the NFL's elite receivers this season. If history repeats itself and Muhammad can match his career high receiving effort against New Orleans (9/13/98) when he caught nine passes for 192 yards he could very well be the next Panther player in the Pro Bowl buzz. Considering that the Saints passing defense is ranked dead last in the NFL, this is a distinct possibility.
The running game of the Panthers rests on the shoulders of two misplaced, replacements. Fullbacks Brad Hoover and Nick Goings have picked up where Stephen Davis, no DeShaun Foster, no Rod Smart, wait…Joey Harris? Does anyone know who our starting running back is again? After injuries placed the first, second, and third string running backs on injured reserve the Panthers had to rely on the hard-hitting fullback Brad Hoover to carry the ball. When back spasms, and a deep bone bruise in his hip forced him to the sideline, the Panthers turned to Nick Goings. Trouble for the Panthers running game? Hardly. Despite the injuries, and the hardships, the Panthers have rushed for a total of 1083 yards in their 11 games this season for an average of 4.0 yards per carry, and 98 yards per game. Current running back Nick Goings is seeking his third consecutive 100-yard rushing performance against the Saints. With the Saints ranking last in defending the run, Goings could become just the fourth Panthers player to post three consecutive 100-yard games. Anthony Johnson (1996), Fred Lane (n 1997), and Stephen Davis (2003) are the only others to reach the mark.
Stats are not going to predict the outcome of Sunday's game, and offer only a tiny widow of possible events, weaknesses, etc. What is certain is that this is a NFL game with two NFC South rivals battling for second place in the division with possible playoff contention being won or lost.
The Carolina Panthers
The New Orleans Saints
On any given Sunday.
Panthers vs. Saints: Breakdown
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