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What to watch: Panthers vs. Saints

Posted Sep 15, 2012



Throughout the offseason, the Panthers made no bones about their intention of contending for a playoff spot.

Even though it's just Week 2, Sunday's showdown with the New Orleans Saints could be a preview of what playoff football is all about.

"We're 0-1 and they're 0-1, so I think it's going to be similar to a playoff game because both teams are trying to come out of a hole," Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams. "They're battling through a lot of things. We're battling through a lot of things. So it's definitely going to be a good one."

Over the last three NFL seasons, none of the 24 teams to start 0-2 recovered to make the playoffs. The 2009 Panthers are one of just two teams to even finish 8-8.

In 2008, however, three teams that started 0-2 rallied not only make the playoffs but also win their division. None of those teams, however, lost more than two division games. Sunday, the Panthers will face their second NFC South foe out of the gate.

Carolina, of course, has no intention of putting itself in any deeper of a hole. Then again, neither does New Orleans.

If the Panthers are to prevail in this battle of wills, here are some keys.



RARING TO RUN: Clearly, the Panthers aren't going to win many games while rushing for 10 yards like they did in the season opener.

The good news is that the Saints are vulnerable in an area in which the Panthers have been vaunted in the past.

New Orleans yielded 153 rushing yards to Washington a week ago, and the Panthers averaged 163 yards against the Saints a year ago (though they lost both games).

Establishing the run will establish a physical edge that the Panthers need in order to succeed, and sustained success on the ground will keep the ball away from the Saints' explosive offense.



COOL (DOWN) BREES: Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw for 326 yards in a season-opening loss to the Washington Redskins, but he needed 52 passes to do it (completing less than half) and tossed a pair of interceptions.

The elusive Brees officially was sacked just two times, but the Redskins continually pressured him into doing things he didn't want to do.

"They put some pressure on him, made him throw the ball to the ground a little bit," Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson said. "We're going to have to get a lot of pressure on him because we know he gets the ball out quick. They have of good wide receivers, and a lot of good playmakers. He can make plays anytime, so you've got to put him on the ground."

Over the teams' last four meetings, the Panthers have only sacked Brees a total of four times, and he's averaged 319 passing yards in those meetings.

Carolina showed some ability to pressure the passer from the interior in the opener with defensive tackle Dwan Edwards producing both of the team's sacks in his Panthers debut, but it will need all hands on deck against Brees – and particularly Johnson.

LITTLE BIG MAN: At 5-foot-6, Saints running back Darren Sproles is among the smallest players in the NFL, but he stands tall in opponents' minds.

"You've got to get him down as fast as you can," Johnson said. "He's a fast guy, and they use him on all types of plays, try to isolate him on linebackers. They do a good job of getting him the ball."

The Panthers contained the versatile Sproles relative to some other teams last year, "holding" him to a combined 160 yards in the rushing and passing game and to 96 yards on kickoff and punt returns over the teams' two meetings.

He's a game-changing home run waiting to happen, a player the Panthers must be aware of at all times.



HOME SWEET HOME: The Panthers want to work toward building an intimidating homefield advantage, but wide receiver Steve Smith believes the first step is up to the players.

"Playing at home is an advantage only if you win, only if you're moving the ball down the field and making plays," Smith said. "Your home field is not going to cheer for you punting the ball and fumbling the ball and giving up big plays."

Since the start of the 2008 season, the Panthers are 7-5 at home against NFC South opponents but just 3-10 on the road. With a return trip to New Orleans looming at the end of the season, the Panthers have to hold serve at home.


STUFF THE BUS: The Panthers and Classroom Central will hold the annual "Stuff the Bus" school supply collection before the game.

Fans are encouraged to bring school supplies that are in high demand - such as pencils, markers glue sticks and highlighters - to help equip underserved children for the new school year. Volunteers from Classroom Central will be at each gate when Bank of America Stadium opens at 11 a.m. to help collect the supplies.


GAME DAY HAPPENINGS
EVENT DESCRIPTION
Fuel Up To Play 60 Kids Combine Located on the Panthers' practice field adjacent to Bank of America Stadium and open from 10:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Free, interactive area promotes youth fitness through a variety of football skills and drills for children and their families. Activities include 40-yard dash, vertical jump, wide receiver/quarterback challenge, TopCats dance studio and inflatable obstacle course.
Panthers Lair Located on the corner of Mint Street and Morehead Street and open from 10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., with TopCats signing autographs and posing for photos at the 107.9 The Link booth from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. and Sir Purr appearing throughout the morning. Enjoy doughnuts at the Krispy Kreme mobile kitchen and a scrambled egg and sausage bun from the North Carolina Egg Association. Visit the Ford vehicle display and kick virtual field goals, and see the Raptor sport utility vehicle presented by the U.S. Air Force. Download ooVoo’s mobile app and play interactive games.
Catwalk Located outside Bank of America Stadium's North Gate on Graham Street and open from 10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., with TopCats signing autographs and posing for pictures from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the WBT 1110-AM booth. Throw a virtual football with Verizon, and learn about protecting your home from CPI Security. Show your support for Thomas Davis’ charity - Defending Dreams Foundation.
Invocation Rev. Lisa Saunders - Christ Episcopal Church, Charlotte, N.C.
Presentation
Of Colors
United States Marine Corps 4th Maintenance Battalion and Charlotte Fire Department
National Anthem Jordis Unga
Flyover North Carolina Air National Guard 145th Airlift Wing
Halftime Chairmen of the Board performance