The Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints last met in week two. A time where Panthers' fans hoped their disappointing start to the season didn't foreshadow failure, while Saints' fans hoped their week one loss to the Redskins didn't show what their team would be without Sean Payton. Unfortunately for both teams their fears were realized, and now Sunday's game holds importance only in deciding who finishes second in the NFC South.
With a Panthers win, and a Tampa Bay loss -- Carolina would finish at 7-9, tied with the Saints, but second in the NFC South due to their head-to-head with New Orleans. Impossible to imagine when the team sat at 2-8, but given the last six weeks anything is possible. If the Panthers hope to stay in this game it will be on their offense to remain in step, and today we look at how they'll fair.
X-Factor: Offensive line
When Amini Silatolu left last week's game against the Oakland Raiders the offensive line fell apart. The second-round rookie had been up and down over the first portion of the season, but in the last two months has really found his stride. Without Silatolu, Hangartner, and Kalil, the offensive line could be the worst in the NFL. This is a unit who are starting UDFA's and cast offs.
Luckily for Carolina the New Orleans' pass rush is only good in one area. Their 29 sacks rank 25th in the NFL, and outside of defensive ends Cameron Jordan (8.0 sacks), Will Smith (6.0 sacks), and Junior Galette (5.0 sacks) there's not much to fear. The only area the Panthers' offensive line is still strong is at tackle, where Jordan Gross and Byron Bell are still solid. Without a signature interior pass rusher to give them problems, the Panthers should be able to give Cam time, even with the line banged up.
Carolina pass offense vs. New Orleans pass defense
Words cannot adequately describe how bad the Saints' pass defense is, so we'll let numbers do it.
- 295 yards per game (31st in the NFL)
- 8.1 yards per attempt (31st)
- 95.7 QB rating against (28th)
- 31 passing TDs against (32nd)
- 4424 total passing yards against (31st)
What this means is that teams know that all they need to do is throw against the Saints, the Saints know teams will throw against them -- and there's nothing they can do about it.
Last week Cam Newton lost his cool with rough play, and pass rushers in his face, but the pressure came up the middle -- where Cam has always struggled. This week he should have more time in the pocket, with Brandon LaFell a week healthier, paired with Steve Smith and Greg Olsen who are still rolling.
Carolina run offense vs. New Orleans run defense
Here we go again. Let's just get inside the numbers:
- 139.2 yards per game (29th in the NFL)
- 5.0 yards per attempt (30th)
- 13 rushing TDs allowed (21st)
- 2088 total rushing yards against (29th)
The song remains the same -- can't stop the run.
Largely because of Cam Newton, and the late-season emergence of DeAngelo Williams has now given the Panthers a top-fifteen rushing attack. This game will be a purely offensive battle, and Carolina will dominate on their side of the ball.