GAMEDAY: Panthers vs. Saints

This Sunday will be the defense's toughest test in recent weeks when the Panthers meet nemesis Deuce McAllister and New Orleans Saints. McAllister has run for at least 100 yards in each of his last three games against the Panthers, including twice last season. He's averaging 114 yards per game against the Panthers in the past three meetings.

Carolina Panthers (4-7) at New Orleans Saints (4-7)

GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/05/04
SURFACE: Momentum Sportexe
TV: FOX, Ron Pitts, Tim Ryan; DirecTV, 706
SERIES: 19th meeting. Series tied 9-9. The Panthers swept the two-game series from the Saints last year, winning 23-20 in overtime at the Superdome on a 31-yard field goal by John Kasay.
2004 RANKINGS: Panthers: offense 20th (26th rush, 14th pass); defense 22nd (24th rush, 18th pass). Saints: offense 16th (27th rush, 9th pass); defense 32nd (32nd rush, 32nd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Panthers are down to their sixth running back, but Nick Goings is coming off consecutive 100-yard games and the Panthers will attack the league's worst run defense. Carolina has found a good offensive balance during its three-game winning streak, but the Saints hope their defense's strong second half last Sunday will carry over. Offensively, the Saints need to run the ball to keep Panthers DEs Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker at bay - especially considering some of QB Aaron Brooks' poor decisions when under pressure recently. RB Deuce McAllister will need a solid game against a Panthers run defense that has allowed an average of just 81.5 yards over the past four games.

FAST FACTS: Panthers: Offense has scored a touchdown in 18 of its 27 red-zone possessions (66.7 percent). ... WR Keary Colbert needs eight receptions to break Rae Carruth's rookie record of 44 set in 1997. Saints: Offense has gone three-and-out in its first possession in six consecutive games. ... Brooks needs one 300-yard passing game to tie Archie Manning's franchise record of nine.

PERSONNEL NEWS:

Panthers:
--QB Jake Delhomme threw for the first time this week on Thursday and will be ready to play. Delhomme has been red hot with 10 touchdown passes in the last four games. He should light up a Saints defense that is last in the league in pass defense.

--RB Nick Goings is coming off back-to-back 100-yard games and should find success against a lame Saints run defense.

--FB Brad Hoover will be blocking for Nick Goings on Sunday and that should give Carolina's running game an even bigger boost.

--LB Dan Morgan (concussion) will not play this week.

--LB Vinny Ciurciu will start for Dan Morgan again this week.

--K John Kasay will handle kickoffs and extra points for the Panthers this week against the Saints.

--DT Brentson Buckner could be held out of this week's game if the swelling in his knee doesn't subside. Buckner has not practiced the last two days.

Saints:
--WLB Derrick Rodgers was put on injured reserve Thursday with a bulging disc in his lower back that forced him to miss the last two games. Rodgers will likely undergo surgery to correct the problem.

--SLB Sedrick Hodge has a second-degree sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee and will be sidelined for Sunday's game with the Carolina Panthers. He'll likely be out for at least one more game after that.

--RG Montrae Holland tore the plantar fascia tendon in his right foot Sunday and is expected to be out 2-to-3 weeks.

--LG Kendyl Jacox did not play in Sunday's game with the Falcons because of a knee injury and has missed practice time again this week. He is listed as questionable for the Panthers.

--WLB Colby Bockwoldt, a rookie seventh-round draft pick who made his second straight start for Rodgers against the Falcons, is questionable for Sunday with a strained neck muscle.

--WR/KR Michael Lewis did not play last week because of an ankle injury and has missed practice time this week. He is questionable for the Panthers' game.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

Panthers:
The Panthers are tightening the clamps in the running game.

They have allowed just 81.5 yards per game on the ground over the last four weeks, which is a vast improvement from the 152.5 yards per game they allowed on the ground the previous seven weeks.

"Guys are in their right spots now," Panthers defensive tackle Brentson Buckner said. "If everybody is where they are supposed to be, then there's nowhere for a running back to go."

But this Sunday will be the defense's toughest test in recent weeks when the Panthers meet nemesis Deuce McAllister and New Orleans Saints. McAllister has run for at least 100 yards in each of his last three games against the Panthers, including twice last season. He's averaging 114 yards per game against the Panthers in the past three meetings.

Earlier this year Denver's Reuben Droughns ran for 193 yards against the Panthers and Seattle's Shaun Alexander 195.

However, in recent weeks the Panthers have held Tampa Bay's Michael Pittman to 26 yards, Arizona's Emmitt Smith to 26, San Francisco's Kevan Barlow to 47 and Oakland's Tyrone Wheatley to 54.

Panthers coach John Fox is more interested in how his team has lowered its yards per carry from 4.5 to 2.8 over the last four weeks.

"Early on in the season, we were getting an inordinate amount of runs, so those yards go up," Fox said. "We had a couple of lapses when we were trying to get our tackle situation squared away. I've seen us play the run a lot better over the last four or five games."

Saints:
The Saints did a pretty good job dodging the injury bug for most of the season, but it's beginning to catch up with them.

In the last three weeks alone, they've lost four starters -- two on each side of the ball -- and are hurting going into Sunday's crucial game with the Carolina Panthers in the Superdome.

The Saints are hurting where they can least afford to be ailing -- along the offensive line and at linebacker. They were thin at both spots for the second half of Sunday's game with the Atlanta Falcons, and while they've adjusted for this week's matchup with the Panthers, they're still going to be thin.

It all started when weak-side linebacker Derrick Rodgers injured his lower back in a Nov. 14 game with the Kansas City Chiefs. Rodgers missed the last two games with what was diagnosed as a bulging disc and was put on injured reserve Thursday.

Strong-side linebacker Sedrick Hodge sprained the MCL in his right knee early in Sunday's game and will be out for at least two weeks. And rookie Colby Bockwoldt, who started the last two weeks for Rodgers, strained a neck muscle against the Falcons, but should be ready Sunday.

To help fill the void at linebacker, the Saints had to re-sign 12-year veteran Darrin Smith, who had been cut on Sept. 5.

The offensive line has also taken a couple of costly hits. Left guard Kendyl Jacox missed last week's game because of a knee problem and right guard Montrae Holland tore the plantar fascia in his right foot in the second quarter.

Jacox has not practiced this week and Holland will be out at least two weeks, leaving the Saints with a starting guard tandem of Jamar Nesbit and Spencer Folau.

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