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Carolina Panthers

What to watch: Panthers at Saints


The Carolina Panthers haven't really threatened anybody over their struggling start to the season, but defensive end Everette Brown believes the Panthers remain a threat.

"We're just a dangerous team right now," Brown said. "We have a big chip on our shoulder. We're hungry, and we haven't played to the best of our ability. We haven't played Panther football in all three phases.

"We're working real hard to get that together, and when we do, we're a dangerous team. We're a good team."

While the Panthers are keeping the faith following an 0-3 start and facing a trip Sunday to the reigning Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints (2-1), they wouldn't mind it if the Saints viewed them as harmless.

That, however, is unlikely in this longstanding NFC South rivalry. The Panthers beat the Saints the last time they played and hold a 17-13 edge in the series.

Regardless of how the Saints approach the game, it's important for the Panthers that they approach it with the right attitude – much like they did last season when an 0-3 start gave way to an 8-5 finish.

"We're 0-3, and guys can see that we have 13 games left and get frustrated. I don't think we have that in here," left tackle Jordan Gross said. "It's a young team, and there are growing pains for the young guys. But the older guys have been through it, and there's only one way to get out of it – just keep working.

"I don't think anybody will abandon ship."

Maintaining a positive outlook in the face of adversity will be crucial for Carolina. Here are some other things to look for against the Saints.

TURNOVER TURNAROUND: When asked what issues have faced the Panthers offense early on, head coach John Fox zeroed in on one area.

"We're turning the ball over too much," he said. "That gives a short field to the opponent, and that doesn't really work to our favor."

The Panthers have turned the ball over an NFL-high 12 times. Both the Saints and Panthers have forced six turnovers, but Carolina has a minus-6 ratio while New Orleans – with just three turnovers committed – is plus-3.

The Saints are notorious for producing takeaways and likely are licking their chops at the prospect of adding to that reputation against a rookie quarterback in Jimmy Clausen.

If the Panthers have any shot at pulling off an upset, ball security is critical.


IN THE RUNNING: The Panthers have shown flashes of the running game that carried them last season but haven't been able to sustain.

Take DeAngelo Williams' line last week against Cincinnati as an example: He averaged an impressive 6.4 yards per carry, but he only got 10 carries.

Against the Saints, the running game must do more.

There's certainly reason for optimism along those lines, as New Orleans ranks 30th in the NFL against the run, yielding 145 yards a game.

While such stats are encouraging, it's going to take a helping hand from the passing game for the running game to thrive. If the Saints don't at least feel threatened by Clausen and Co., they'll be able to sell out against the run.

OUT OF THE RUNNING: If the Panthers hope to win, they can't allow quarterback Drew Brees an abundance of opportunities to pick them apart.

First and foremost, that responsibility lies with the Panthers defense.

"You'll see a better defense out of us," safety Charles Godfrey vowed. "We're playing OK, but we have room to improve. I don't think we've played to my expectations. They're very high."

The effort to contain Brees falls to the Panthers offense as well. Carolina ranks 30th in the NFL in time of possession, which won't fly if the goal is to keep Brees off the field.

The best countmeasure? A reliable running game to churn up clock.

DOME REMEDY? Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith said the Louisiana Superdome can be a difficult place to play.

"It's a toughie," Smith said. "It's interesting sometimes trying to hear the calls."

Just imagine how a young player might feel.

The Panthers have plenty of players making their first trip to the Superdome, so adjusting to the atmosphere will be of paramount importance.

Carolina has done just fine in the past, however, going 8-6 at the Superdome, where the Saints have actually lost three of their last four games overall.

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