A Big Game in the Big Easy for the Panthers

Sharon Thorsland
December 03, 2017 - 7:38 am

USA Today Images

It's a matchup of the NFL's 2nd ranked defense against its number two offense when the Panthers take on the Saints in New Orleans on Sunday.  It's also an NFL South showdown, with first place in the division on the line.  Both teams are 8-3 on the season - the Panthers are coming off a 35-27 win over the Jets, while the Saints lost for the first time after eight straight wins, falling to the Rams in L.A.    

These teams last played in week three, a Saints win that started their eight-game win streak.  And they look even better now – the Saint’s defense has improved from last in the NFL to 15th overall and the running attack has gone from 28th to 3rd in the league, piling up 142 yards a game behind the 1-2 punch of Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara.  Ingram has a league leading eight touchdowns, while Kamara has nearly 1100 combined rushing and receiving yards with nine touchdowns.  “That’s a dynamic duo,” says Panther linebacker Shaq Thompson.  “They do a little bit of everything – they run the ball well, they’re both great out of the backfield, you see them on tape breaking tackles.  I think they’re the best two backs in the game that we’ve seen so far.”

Of course, the Saints also feature one of the best quarterbacks in the game in 10-time Pro Bowler Drew Brees.  He’s got plenty of talented receivers, starting with Ted Ginn, Junior.  The former Panther remains one of the fastest players in the league and is averaging over 15 yards per catch.  Second year receiver Michael Thomas is Brees' top target with 70 catches and a pair of scores.  Brandon Coleman and veteran Willie Snead are also in the mix. 

After years of dwelling at the bottom of the NFL rankings, the Saint’s defense has come to life this season, going from last to 15th in total defense.  They give up just 20 points a game, that's 12th in the league.  It starts with the front seven, which is anchored by Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan; he has 10 of the Saint’s 31 sacks this season, as well as two forced fumbles and an interception.  The Saints feature a former Panther at outside linebacker in A.J. Klein; he's second on the team in tackles.   Hard-hitting safety Kenny Vaccaro anchors a young safety that features a pair of rookie starters in safety Marcus Williams and cornerback Marshon Lattimore.  The first round pick has two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. 

Everyone knows just how big this game is.  The Panthers know much is riding on it, starting with first place in the division.  But as usual, they’re treating it like any other game.  “We’re aware of what’s at stake,” says safety Mike Adams.  “But at the end of the day, when the ball is kicked off it’s another game.  Another game that we plan on winning.” 




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