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Past encounters helping to prepare secondary for Michael Thomas


CHARLOTTE -- Game plans change from week to week, but a player's tendencies usually stay the same.

Understanding those tendencies allows a defense to better prepare for an offensive threat like Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, who has played lights out all of 2018.

Cornerback James Bradberry, much like he has already done against Julio Jones of the Falcons and Mike Evans of the Buccaneers, will have the primary assignment of trying to contain another of the NFC South's best.

"He's a very physical receiver, uses his hands well off the line when you're pressing him," said Bradberry as he prepares to face Thomas for a fifth time in his career. "He's a good route runner who pretty much catches everything that's thrown his way."

To Bradberry's point, Thomas' hands have been about as sure as taxes this season. Through 13 games, Thomas has caught 102 of 118 targets for a staggering 86.4 percent catch rate, which leads the league.

By comparison, Minnesota's Adam Thielen leads the NFL in receptions (103), but has caught the ball less efficiently (73.05 percent) than Thomas despite having more targets (141).

Week 15 is the latest the Panthers have ever seen the Saints for the first time in a season, so there is plenty of film for Bradberry and the rest of the secondary to dissect.

Thanks to the benefit of a few offseason run-ins with Thomas, safety Eric Reid may be able to provide insight than goes beyond those study sessions.

"I actually trained a few times with him this offseason when I was in New Orleans, so that hard work has been paying off for him," said Reid, recalling the time he spent in his home state with Thomas.

Reid continued, "It was just some footwork sessions. We were trying to work on our agility and so he's been doing a good job with it. He's taking it to the game field.

"I'm happy for him but hopefully we can keep his success to a minimum."

A week after watching Cleveland's Jarvis Landry turn multiple short-yardage plays into big gains, the Panthers will have to make sure Thomas – with a 4.2 yards-after-catch-average - doesn't do the same.

"You got to come in between him and the ball. You got to find a way to get it out," Bradberry said. "It's going to be a tough challenge, but I'm going to go out there and give it my all."

View photos from the week of practice leading up to the Panthers' game against the Saints.