Panthers employ "ball-control defense"

CHARLOTTE – In the first half of the Panthers' game earlier this season against New Orleans, the Saints marched up and down the field against Carolina's defense.

What the Saints didn't do much of, however, was score.

"That's called ball-control defense," Panthers head coach John Fox said. "I don't know that you ever really stop this offense, but you try to slow it down and create turnovers.

"The teams that have beaten them have done that."

The Panthers didn't beat them in their Week 4 meeting but they nearly did, falling 16-14 to the reigning Super Bowl champions on their home field.

The Panthers have, however, beaten the Saints more than most, and they'll get another opportunity Sunday when New Orleans visits Bank of America Stadium.

Since Sean Payton took over as New Orleans head coach in 2006, the Panthers are 6-3 against the Saints. The other two teams in the NFC South have combined to beat the Saints just six times, going 6-12.

Payton has turned the Saints into the most prolific offensive team in the NFC during his tenure. The Panthers, however, have held New Orleans to 19.7 points per game with Payton at the helm. In the rest of the Saints' games over that time, they've put up 27.9 points per game.

"You'd prefer to keep them on the field and your offense have those 15-play drives," Fox said. "But it's a game of points, and if you can hold an explosive team like that to field goals, that's one way to defend them."

The Panthers' bend-but-don't break approach was at its best in the first meeting between the teams. New Orleans racked up 17 first downs in the first half, advancing into field goal range on every single first-half drive, but they came away with only 10 points.

Then in the second half, Carolina's defense didn't really bend – much less break – and the Panthers fell just short of a stunning road victory when their last-minute drive stalled just shy of field goal range.

"We had our opportunities in that game. Unfortunately, we ended up on the wrong side of it," Fox said. "But the length of the drive, as long as it doesn't result in scores and you take away the big plays, can actually be beneficial playing a team like that."

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees has torched the NFL with long plays the last few years, but the Panthers want to make Brees beat them over and over again with short plays.

"He's a good quarterback," Panthers rookie defensive end Greg Hardy said. "He's going to get out there and make a lot of good plays and complete a lot of passes. We've got to weather those storms.

"He's one of those players that you can't really stop but you hope to slow down enough to win."

Carolina's defense will enter Sunday's game feeling confident, ranking No. 4 in the NFL in total defense. New Orleans actually ranks No. 3, but even with Carolina's offense coming off a subpar showing at St. Louis, defensive tackle Ed Johnson believes that another 16-point day for the Saints would be a good day for the Panthers.

"Our offense has shown they're capable of putting up some points," Johnson said. "I think that should be enough, and if we can sustain some drives on offense, that should be more than enough."

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