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Tale of the tape

Tale Of The Tape: Carolina Panthers At New Orleans Saints

(credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) (credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
(credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) (credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Carolina Panthers

New Orleans Saints

Cam Newton has certainly stepped it up this year as he appears to have grown dramatically in maturity and confidence. Newton is a spectacular athlete and when he wants to run, there appears to be no stopping him. While his deep passing is solid and his arm is powerful, there are questions about his touch on short- and medium-range passes. Quarterback Drew Brees has been one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the NFL for years, and he is more than up to a challenge from a rising young star like Newton. While he may not be as athletic as the Panthers’ quarterback, he can get away from the pass rush and buy time with his feet. He is one of the most accurate passers and he excels on short- and medium-range passes.
The Panthers want to be a diverse football team that can overpower opponents with the running game and hit big plays in the passing game. DeAngelo Williams (quadriceps) didn’t play against the Bucs but should be ready to play against the Saints. Steve Smith is one of the toughest and most competitive receivers, while Ted Ginn has game-breaking speed. Offense The Saints have struggled to put a consistent running attack on the field and Pierre Thomas is not likely to win the battle against Carolina’s hard-hitting defense. However, tight end Jimmy Graham is a gamebreaker and he is usually at his best in the biggest games. Marques Colston has been dependable and will make key third-down catches.
The Panthers rank second in overall defense and head coach Ron Rivera is certain to come up with a new wrinkle that should challenge Brees. The Panthers are big hitters and nobody plays more consistently than Luke Kuechly, who leads the team with 102 tackles and also has three interceptions. The Panthers are hoping DE Charles Johnson (sprained knee) can return here. He leads the team with 10.0 sacks. Defense The fifth-ranked Saints are the most improved defensive team in the league as they have responded well to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Middle linebacker Curtis Lofton has taken the responsibility on his shoulders and he leads the Saints in tackles. Defensive end Cameron Jordan has speed coming around the corner and is a threat to sack Newton.
The Panthers are an athletic and aggressive team and they don’t allow opponents to make big plays on special teams. Rivera is waiting for Ginn to break a long punt or kickoff return in a clutch game, and this certainly qualifies. Graham Gano has made 18-of-20 FG attempts. Special Teams The Saints have not made big mistakes with their coverage teams. They stay in their lanes and don’t allow big returns. Garrett Hartley had a few misses early in the year but he appears to have straightened out his issues. Thomas Morstead is a solid directional punter.

The winner is

(credit: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Carolina Panthers
3 out of 4

A big-time statement game here, and the Panthers have survived key games at San Francisco and at home against New England. Still, beating the Saints in the Superdome will be quite difficult and a major test for Rivera, Newton and Kuechly.
-Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports contributor

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