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Panthers, Saints battle along the Bayou

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; http://www.sportsnetwork.com/default...ABN2861007.htm Panthers, Saints battle along the Bayou (Sports Network) - With their dreams of a undefeated season dashed, the Carolina Panthers return to the field to take on the NFC South rival New Orleans Saints in their final meeting of ...

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Old 10-23-2003, 05:59 PM   #1
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Panthers, Saints battle along the Bayou

http://www.sportsnetwork.com/default...ABN2861007.htm


Panthers, Saints battle along the Bayou
(Sports Network) - With their dreams of a undefeated season dashed, the Carolina Panthers return to the field to take on the NFC South rival New Orleans Saints in their final meeting of the season at the Superdome on Sunday.

Carolina came out of the gates extremely slow last Sunday en route to a 37-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans. The Panthers were outscored, 27-3, in the first half of the defeat. Carolina head coach John Fox was very disappointed with his team's effort.

"As is with most high-character teams, nobody ever enjoys losing. It doesn't bode well with anybody in that room," said Fox. "The difference is you have to go on and learn from it and make the corrections and move on, much like you do after a win."

New Orleans has come alive with back-to-back wins on the heels of a three-game skid. The Saints continued their solid play last Sunday, thrashing the Atlanta Falcons 45-17 at the Georgia Dome. New Orleans' offense exploded for 507 yards, registering 35 points in the first half. Starting quarterback Aaron Brooks broke out of his funk, throwing for 352 yards and three touchdowns en route to garnering NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

"I think he has matured a lot," Saints coach Jim Haslett said of Brooks. "I said when the season started that I thought he made great strides during the offseason. I think he will continue to get better and better as we go. I think the key is for our line to protect him and for us to continue running the football."

SERIES HISTORY: Carolina has won two straight meetings between these teams to pull within 9-8 in the all-time series. The Panthers won these squads' first meeting of the year on October 5, 19-13, at Ericsson Stadium. Stephen Davis rushed 30 times for 159 yards and a touchdown in the winning effort for the Panthers.

Fox is 2-1 against the Saints in his head coaching career, while Haslett is 5-2 all-time versus Carolina.

PANTHERS OFFENSE VS. SAINTS DEFENSE

The Panthers had trouble keeping their hands on the ball in their loss to the Titans, fumbling four times. QB Jake Delhomme fumbled twice, while FB Brad Hoover and RB DeShaun Foster each put the ball on the ground. Two of the fumbles came deep in Tennessee territory, while one of them was returned 32 yards for a Titan touchdown.

"I think we made too many errors, in particularly early, to put us behind," said Fox. "Against a very good football team, you can't do that."

With their 24-point deficit at the half, the Panthers were forced to abandon the running game. It resulted in Carolina posting a season-low 44 yards on the ground in the contest. Davis carried the ball 11 times for 20 yards, while Foster rushed twice for 10 yards. Davis has four 100-yard rushing games and needs 100 yards to tie Anthony Johnson for the most in a season in team history.

Carolina will need to go back to the basics this week and keep the running game involved. Prior to running the ball just 17 times against Tennessee, the Panthers had been averaging 37.2 rushing attempts per game. Look for Carolina to attempt to grind out this game on the ground.

New Orleans has had a tendency to be victimized by opposing runners this year, as it is surrendering 126.6 yards per contest (13th-NFC). The Saints allowed the Falcons to rush for 130 yards on 22 attempts (5.9 ypc) in the winning effort. New Orleans has surrendered 100 or more yards rushing in six of seven games this season.

The Saints will likely stack the box with eight or nine defenders in an attempt to corral the Carolina running game. Strong safety Jay Bellamy, the Saints' leading tackler with 44 on the year, will be crucial to slowing down Davis and Foster as he will likely be the extra man in the box. Bellamy, a 5-11, 200-pounder, could be put in one-on-one tackling situations with the much-bigger Davis.

New Orleans will need plenty of effective pursuit from its linebackers, including LOLB Darrin Smith. The 33-year-old, who is third on the team with 34 tackles, must shadow Davis in this contest.

The Saints can't afford to focus too much on the Panthers' running attack or Delhomme will beat them with his arm. Delhomme looked solid in desperation last week, completing 31-of-49 passes for a season-high 362 yards and two touchdowns. The Breaux Bridge, LA native and former Saint will be playing in front of his friends and family this week.

Wideout Steve Smith exploded against the Titans, hauling in a career-high 10 balls for career-best 151 yards and a touchdown. Despite his excellent effort, Smith was upset with the result of the game.

"Discouraged is not even close," said Smith of his mood. "It's not a setback, though. It's just a loss. We look at it as something to build on and go [to the next game] and play well."

The Titans attempted to put single coverage on Smith and Mushin Muhammad in the contest and it didn't work. Look for New Orleans to implement some cover- two defenses to keep the duo in front of it. The Saints surrendered just 108 passing yards last week, but that was against Atlanta's third-stringer Kurt Kittner.

New Orleans is second in the NFC in pass defense (192.7 ypg), but it is 12th in the conference in yards per attempt (6.95) and passing touchdowns allowed (12). The Saints' secondary, which has registered just one interception this year, must step up and cause some turnovers this week.

The one saving grace for the Saints is their pass rush, which has tallied 15 sacks (4th-NFC) on the year. Young defensive end Charles Grant has team-high five sacks, while DT Grady Jackson has added 3 1/2. Grant and Jackson will need to get a good push against the Carolina line, which has given up 13 sacks (8th-NFC) this season.

SAINTS OFFENSE VS. PANTHERS DEFENSE

The Saints' offense finally clicked on all cylinders last week, as Brooks found a passing groove. The University of Virginia product was on target nearly all night, hitting on short and long passes alike. In fact, Brooks averaged 10.1 yards per completion on his way to a personal best 148.2 passer rating. The Saints are 7-0 when Brooks has a rating of 111.5 or better in a game.

"The game was really dictated to us," Brooks said. "We had to step up our game and we did. We made a lot of big plays."

Brooks and favorite target Joe Horn hooked up eight times for 133 yards and a touchdown in the win. The duo has connected 21 times for touchdowns all-time, which is second-most in club history for a QB-WR combination. QB Bobby Hebert and WR Eric Martin hold the record with 24 TD hookups. The Saints are 15-2 when Horn gets 100 or more yards receiving.

The biggest play of the game went to speedy wideout Donte Stallworth, who reeled in a 69-yard touchdown reception from Brooks. Stallworth ended up leaving the game with a strained quadriceps and is listed as doubtful for this contest. If Stallworth sits, the Saints will need more receiving help from KR/WR Michael Lewis. Tight end Ernie Conwell is hurting with a back injury as well, leaving the door open for backup Boo Williams to make an impact.

Carolina surrendered too many big passing plays to the Titans and must improve its coverage this week. The Panthers allowed touchdown passes of 22 and 50 yards in the loss, while surrendering a meaty 7.6 yards per attempt. Carolina has slipped to 14th in the NFC against the pass (247.5 ypg).

The Panthers have registered 14 sacks (6th-NFC) led by defensive end Mike Rucker's six (2nd-NFC), but they have intercepted just four passes. Similar to New Orleans, Carolina needs more big plays from its secondary in this contest. Veteran corners Terry Cousin and Reggie Howard must step up their play against Horn and Jerome Pathon.

New Orleans got its running game going against the Falcons, as RB Deuce McAllister rushed 21 times for 116 yards (5.5 ypc) and two touchdowns. McAllister tallied his fourth consecutive 100-yard rushing effort, tying for the second-longest in club history. The Saints record is five straight by Ricky Williams in 2000.

McAllister's 12 career 100-yard games are tied for second in club history with Ricky Williams (1999-2001). The franchise record is 16, held by RB George Rogers (1981-84).

Carolina has been decent against the run, holding opponents to 107.3 yards per game (8th-NFC). A big reason for the Panthers' solid run defense is hulking defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, who does an excellent job of holding up blockers to allow the linebackers to make plays. WLB Will Witherspoon has taken advantage of his chances, as he has tallied a team-high 39 stops.

The Panthers will need to use specific run blitzes to beat McAllister to the punch and get him for losses. Carolina can't afford to allow McAllister to get into the open field, where he is extremely dangerous. Covering McAllister in pass defense will be very important as well.

Carolina may be a bit short along the defensive line with tackle Brentson Buckner hurting with a hip injury. Buckner is listed as questionable for this contest.

"I'm just real sore," Buckner said. "I've been having hip problems and no matter where I'm at on the field I keep landing on my right hip. The joint is kind of sore. We felt like we would rest it today and go on from there."

This is a crucial game for the Saints as they must win this one to stay in the race for the South crown. A loss would put New Orleans in a huge hole for the stretch run. Meanwhile, Carolina is looking to make amends for its disappointing effort against the Titans. This game should come down to the final minutes with New Orleans escaping with a narrow victory.

10/23 15:05:20 ET
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