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What to Watch: Panthers vs. Saints

MCCOWN STEPS IN FOR SAINTS: With Drew Brees set to miss Sunday's game with a shoulder injury, backup quarterback Luke McCown will make his first start since 2011 when he was a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

He's got a top-flight defense waiting for him in Carolina.

The Panthers knew there was a chance McCown would be starting in place of an injured Brees, and they've been able to thoroughly scout the 12-year veteran.

"There is a lot of good tape. We've had a chance to take a look at it," head coach Ron Rivera said. "He understands that offense. He's been in that offense for a long time."

STAR'S RETURN: Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is expected to make his 2015 debut after overcoming a foot injury, and his return is a big boost to the entire defense. For the first time this season, the Panthers are expecting all of their starting defensive linemen to play.

It may take some time before Lotulelei adjusts to game speed, but we know he can single-handedly disrupt run plays between the tackles, and his ability to provide an interior push could help Carolina's edge rushers get to the quarterback more frequently.

DENYING COOKS: The Panthers are keenly aware of the explosive threat wide receiver Brandin Cooks possesses, and McCown will likely look to the speedster when he needs a play.

"He's not mighty by stature, but the way he goes out there and plays week to week – he shows up," safety Roman Harper said of Cooks. "There's a reason he was a first-round pick. With that speed, he makes a lot of plays. You can see that when he gets the ball."

Denying Cooks the ball will be a major point of emphasis for Carolina.

"Obviously, they want to try to feed (Cooks) the ball as much as they can," linebacker A.J. Klein said. "He'll be a spot we focus on this week."

RUNNING BACK BATTLE: Each team's starting running back has seen a lot of action through two games, but they haven't hit their stride just yet.

Carolina's Jonathan Stewart has carried the ball 35 times for 118 yards, grinding out tough yards in both games.

New Orleans' Mark Ingram has rushed 25 times for 77 yards and one touchdown, but he's making a bigger impact in the passing game. Ingram is the Saints' leading receiver with 11 catches for 103 yards.

As for what these two backs are up against, Carolina is allowing 3.6 yards per carry (seventh fewest in the league), while New Orleans is allowing 4.3 (25th in the league). Stewart and the Panthers will look to take advantage. And you know the Saints would like a consistent running game to help take pressure off McCown.

HOW CAROLINA COPES WITHOUT COTCHERY: Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery is out with a high ankle sprain, leaving Carolina without its savvy veteran pass-catcher but opening the door for someone else to emerge.

Who will that person be? Will Devin Funchess and Kevin Norwood see more action?

It'll be interesting to see how the Panthers' passing game is impacted.

KICKING GAME CONCERN: Two blocked field goal attempts in two weeks have frustrated Rivera, who will not stand for another one Sunday against the Saints.

When kicker Graham Gano trots onto the field, Rivera will be watching the protection closely, expecting flawless execution.

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