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Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints Defensive Preview

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The Panthers defense went berserk on Thanksgiving day, scoring two touchdowns of their own and holding the Cowboys to just 129 yards of offense before their garbage time touchdown. Now, they travel to New Orleans to face Drew Brees for the first time this season.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers defense showed out on the national stage last Thursday. Coming in as underdogs, the Panthers jumped on the Cowboys quickly by housing a Tony Romo interception on the Cowboys' third play from scrimmage. Things only snowballed from there, as the Panthers intercepted Romo two more times and completely stifled the Cowboys offense.

Their next test is the New Orleans Saints. The game has been flexed to 4:25 and is the national game on FOX. It's another opportunity for the Panthers to assert their dominance with most of the country watching. Trips to New Orleans usually lead to watching the scoreboard light up, as the Saints have boasted one of the league's strongest offenses over the past several years.

This season, the yards have still been there, but it hasn't let to big points. The Saints are third in total offense, but just 13th in points scored. Their league average rankings in turnovers and red zone success are holding them back to an extent, as well as a horrible defense that hasn't done them any favors in terms of field position. It's largely the same Saints team we saw in week 3, except this time, Drew Brees is the quarterback.

The Quarterback

Drew Brees is doing his Drew Brees stuff. He's completing close to 70% of his passes and has tossed 20 touchdowns, good for 9th most in the league even while missing a game. On the flip side, he's thrown 10 interceptions, which is also 9th most in the league. The 15 year vet is doing much of the same of what we've always seen, throwing over 40 times a game while relying significantly on the backs and tight ends to pick up quick gains.

The best way to stop Drew Brees is to get pressure up the middle. He's short, so he needs room to step up to see down the field. He likes to focus on the middle of the field, so if the Panthers front can obstruct his view, we could see some more interceptions from the likes of Kuechly and Coleman like we saw last week against Tony Romo.

Panthers Secondary vs. Saints Wide Receivers

The Saints' biggest weapon in their wide receiving corps is Brandin Cooks. The second year pro out of Oregon State got out of the gates a little slowly, but gained traction as the season went along. In the four games before last week's drubbing at the hands of the Texans, Cooks caught 21 balls for 338 yards and 5 touchdowns. He'd be the top candidate to get a strong dose of Josh Norman, provided the Saints line him up outside Elsewhere, undrafted rookie Willie Snead has impressed, totaling 676 yards on the season. However, he is dealing with a calf injury and he questionable for Sunday. Marques Colston is still around running seam routes, but he's on pace for under 700 yards this season. His 6'6" protege Brandon Coleman isn't a steady contributor, but his size can cause match-up problems on the back end.

The story on the Panthers side is new acquisition Cortland Finnegan. If he is able to get up to speed quickly and take slot duties from the struggling Colin Jones, the Panthers will be a nightmare for opposing passing games with Benwikere and Norman already locking up the outside and Kurt Coleman roaming the middle of the field. Roman Harper is there.

Edge: Panthers

Panthers Linebackers vs. Saints Backs and Tight Ends

Jimmy Graham has been shipped away. Soon to be 35 year old Benjamin Watson has taken over the lead duties there. He's no Jimmy Graham, but he does have an outside shot to eclipse 1000 yards receiving this season. He's had a couple huge games, so the Saints aren't afraid to target him heavily if that's what the match-up dictates.

In the backfield, Mark Ingram leads the way. He's shaken the bust label and is on his way to his first 1000 yard rushing season. He's also become a reliable receiver for Brees, catching every one of his 46 targets this season for 382 yards. He's supplemented by the likes of CJ Spiller, who functions as the team's change of pace back, especially with Khiry Robinson done for the season.

The Panthers linebackers should have the edge in this matchup. Kuechly is coming off one of his best games as a pro where he intercepted consecutive Tony Romo passes, scoring one. The four year vet is well on his way to another All Pro season and has his name in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. Running mate Thomas Davis has been quieter in recent weeks, but he and Kuehcly's speed will keep everything contained from sideline to sideline.

Edge: Panthers

Panthers Defensive Line vs. Saints Offensive Line

The Saints offensive line has been mediocre as a whole over the course of the season. Left tackle Terron Armstead has been one of the best offensive tackles in the league, but his play hasn't been matched by his compatriots. Left guard Tim Leltio has struggled mightily in pass protection, but has been solid against the run. Right guard Jahri Evans has been the total opposite. Defensive tackles Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei should be able to get the better of their opposition, as they both excel where their counterpart struggles. The ends will probably give the Panthers more trouble, though another week of a healthy Charles Johnson can only help.

Edge: Push

Overall Outlook AKA tl;dr

The Saints still have a potent offense, despite their poor record. They pick up lots and lots of yards, though that hasn't always translated to lots and lots of points. They throw the ball over 40 times a game, sprinkling in some deep shots after lots of dinking and dunking. Mark Ingram has run well and will probably go over 1000 yards for the season.

The Panthers defense is tough though. They rank top 5 in total defense (2nd), passing yards against (5th), opponent completion percentage (4th), opponent yards per pass (1st), opponent passer rating (1st), sacks (3rd), rushing yards against (3rd), and total takeaways (Distant 1st). The Saints will find it tough sledding against this defense, and a few turnovers could cause this game to get out of hand, because that Saints defense isn't going to give the offense much help.