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Saints prepare for improved Panthers

Posted Dec 27, 2012

When Carolina and New Orleans played in Week 2, Saints interim head coach Joe Vitt was a mere spectator.

"I wasn't there for the first week," Vitt said in a conference call. "The only thing I know is the film."

Vitt was serving a six-game suspension to start the season, so as the Panthers and Saints prepare to meet again in the season finale, Vitt has relied on the tape of the game to evaluate what took place in Carolina's 35-27 victory.

Offensively, the Panthers put together a balanced, explosive attack, passing for 244 yards and rushing for 219.

"They moved the ball in Week Two against us. The quarterback (Cam Newton) killed us with his arm and his legs, and the running backs ran for some yards. I'm still seeing that on film," Vitt said. "We know we're playing a big-play offense."

"(Newton) is playing with a lot of confidence. His teammates are playing with a lot of confidence."

But Vitt's major takeaway from the film review came when analyzing the other side of the ball.

"Defensively, I think they're probably the most improved defense in the National Football League right now," Vitt said.

The stats certainly support Vitt's claim.

Carolina ranks eighth in total defense (325.9) and 13th in points allowed per game (21.7).

Last year, Carolina ranked 28th in total defense (377.6) and 27th in points allowed (26.8).

"They're getting real good pass rush from their front four. (Greg) Hardy and (Charles) Johnson are playing lights out, and the Boston College linebacker (Luke Kuechly) has made a big difference in their scheme," Vitt said. "They're playing more base coverages now and dropping people in to coverage, and whenever you get pressure on the quarterback with a four-man rush that presents a lot of challenges to your offense."

Hardy and Johnson have combined for 21.5 sacks, and the first round draft pick from Boston College leads the league in tackles with 151.

"(Kuechly's) instincts are outstanding. His ability to track the ball and not overrun perimeter plays for a young player is very, very impressive," Vitt said. "And then when you take a guy like that, that can make plays in the running game but also be a good space player and understand pattern recognition, I think this kid's going to have an outstanding career in the National Football League."