It's no secret that New Orleans boasts one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL. In Week 3, quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints put up 34 points on the Panthers' defense – the most Carolina has surrendered all season.
"They're good," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "There's a reason they're like that. There's a reason Drew has been slinging the ball as long as he has – because he's good. He's good in that system and they're good in the dome.
"We've got our work cut out for us."
Since the last meeting with the Saints, their offense has only improved. New Orleans ranks second in total offense with 409 yards per game and has scored 98 points in the fourth quarter, third best in the NFL. Two weeks ago against the Redskins, Brees threw two touchdown passes in the final 2:53 to overcome a 15-point deficit and steal a dramatic victory. Carolina ranks 21st in fourth quarter defense, allowing 72 points in the final stanza this season.
Tremendous two-pronged rushing attack
The last time the Saints' rushing attack ranked in the top 10 - in 2011 - they won the NFC South. This season New Orleans possesses the third-best rushing offense in the NFL, averaging nearly five yards per carry.
Since Week 3, the Saints have failed to tally 100 rushing yards only once. The dynamic duo of running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara typically surpass the century mark in rushing week to week with ease. In fact, since the Saints' first meeting with the Panthers, New Orleans averaged 158 rushing yards per game.
"We talk about it each and every week, we have to stop the run first," defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said. "Ingram is running the ball well. They're doing a great job of trying to get positive yards on first and second down. The biggest thing we need to do is create some negative plays."
Defense no longer in disarray
The last time the Panthers and the Saints squared off, New Orleans entered Bank of America Stadium with the worst defense in the NFL. At the time they were allowing 512.5 yards per game. It was the second highest through two weeks in the modern era.
That defense is nowhere to be found now. Beginning with the Saints' 34-13 victory over the Panthers, they've boasted the fourth-best unit in the NFL. In that span, New Orleans has only allowed 295 yards per game. To put those numbers into perspective, the Panthers' highly touted defense has only conceded 288 yards per game on average this season.
"These guys are growing at a rapid pace and they're making plays they hadn't made in previous years. This year they're playing lights out across the board," Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said. "And it's motivating and inspiring to be part of the defense. ... The passion is infectious."
With that said, the Saints could be without starting cornerback Marshon Lattimore this weekend.
The 11th overall pick injured his ankle in the first quarter against the Redskins in Week 11, and the Saints went on to concede more than 300 yards and three touchdowns to Kirk Cousins. Lattimore, a frontrunner for the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award, didn't practice last week and was absent in his team's loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Without him, Jared Goff threw for 327 passing yards – the most allowed by New Orleans since Week 2 against the Patriots.
"[Lattimore] has played really well all year. He definitely affects our team. But at the same time, we have to operate," Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "The good teams, the good defenses see stars go down all over the league now, from [Richard] Sherman, J.J. Watt, and the backups come in and play well. That's the thing we need to understand."
For what it's worth, Lattimore didn't play against the Panthers in Week 3, and the Saints still held Cam Newton to 167 passing yards.
LAST TIME THEY PLAYED
View the top photos from Panthers vs. Saints by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez.