CHARLOTTE – Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn's interception return for a touchdown in Carolina's victory Sunday over the New York Jets was a game-changer to be sure, but Munnerlyn's two sacks and repeated pressure from all angles on the quarterback were momentum-changers in the view of defensive coordinator Sean McDermott.
Lack of pressure on the quarterback also played a big role in the disappointing outcome of Carolina's first meeting against New Orleans the week before and should again when the Saints visit Bank of America Stadium this week.
WHEN THE SAINTS HAVE THE BALL: The Panthers sacked Drew Brees twice in the teams' Week 14 meeting, but Brees mostly had time and his way, completing 30-of-42 passes for 313 yards and four touchdowns.
"We didn't play our game down there," McDermott said. "We didn't respond and play the way we normally play. That also goes back to my calls and the game plan. There is a lot we can improve on. We've got our work cut out for us.
"We've got to make sure we play our style of football when they come in here."
The Panthers blitzed Brees more after halftime with some effectiveness, but it can be a catch-22 with a quarterback of his caliber.
"Statistically, you know that he's pretty darn good against the blitz. Most great quarterbacks are better when you blitz them because they want to get the ball out into the receivers' hands," McDermott said. "Drew is no different, so we'll have to be smart. We'll have to cover well if and when we do blitz.
"But as we also know, to let a great quarterback sit back there and pick you apart, that's not the way to go either. It's a real slippery slope."
The best way to attack Brees is to get to him without blitzing, allowing for the best combination of pass coverage and pressure. The St. Louis Rams did a good job of that while sacking Brees four times in a Week 16 victory, and the Panthers certainly are capable of doing that.
"Their front four did a great job," McDermott said. "One of the strengths of our defense is our front four. I'm hoping we can get off the rock and play some good defense upfront. That's the spearhead of our defense."
WHEN THE PANTHERS HAVE THE BALL: The Saints defense did what the Panthers hope to do in the rematch. New Orleans sacked quarterback Cam Newton five times, and Newton escaped just once for a run of any significant length.
"We all need to adjust as an offense to make sure we're on the right page with who's blocking who, with getting the ball out on time and receivers getting open," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. "It also helps to stay out of long-yardage situations where people think you're going to pass so they can tee off a little bit more."
Shula said the Saints pass rush – like all pass rushes – should be a touch slower to the ball away from the artificial turf of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
"But they're going to be fast here, too, so we have to be on point," Shula said. "They're good."
The Panthers did a nice job of neutralizing an aggressive pass rush against the Jets, highlighted by a screen pass that turned into a 72-yard touchdown for running back DeAngelo Williams.
"You've got to mix in those screens. It helps our offensive line and hopefully slows down the pass rush," Shula said. "Misdirection-type things can keep guys off-balance. Defenses are so athletic and can get to the ball fast, so sometimes you can use that aggressiveness against them.
"But you have to pick and choose because they're well-coached and can redirect real quick, and then you can suddenly have a negative play, too."