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Panthers Have Something to Prove

Sharon Thorsland
December 16, 2018 - 11:46 pm

It's a prime-time showdown at Bank of America Stadium tonight, where the Panthers take on the red-hot Saints on Monday Night Football. The Saints are 11-2 on the season and have already clinched the NFC South, while the Panthers lost their fifth straight last week and at 6-7 are clinging to their playoff hopes by a thread. And with just three games left in the season, this becomes almost a must win.

Knocking off this Saints team is a tall order – as usual, they feature one of the league's most potent offenses, averaging 34 points a game. And running the show is 12-time Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees, who just seems to get better with age.

He's thrown 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions, and earlier this season became the NFL's all-time leader in passing yardage. “He's special man, he's a very smart football player,” said Panther cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. “He can make every throw on the football field. He's definitely one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.”

Brees has plenty of talent around him, including receiver Michael Thomas, who ranks 2nd in the NFL with 102 catches. But his most dangerous weapon is running back Alvin Kamara. Last year's offensive rookie of the year is a dual threat, with nearly 1400 combined yards and 15 touchdowns.

And he's got a partner in crime in Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram. Together they average 125 rushing yards per game, that ranks 9th in the league. The Panthers have been solid against the run, though, they rank 7th in the league allowing just 97 yards a contest. And slowing down this pair will be key to have any shot at beating the Saints.

Maybe one of the biggest surprises of the NFL this season is the Saints defense. After dwelling in the statistical basement for years, they've really turned things around this season. The Saints are number one in the league against the run. Yes, you read that right. The Saints allow just 77 yards per game on the ground. And they rank 3rd in the NFL with 41 sacks, thanks is larger part to their stellar defensive line.

Pro Bowl defensive end Cam Jordan and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins have combined for 20 of those sacks. Veteran linebacker Demario Davis leads the team in tackles. “They're a great defense,” said Panther running back Christian McCaffrey. “They've obviously got a good front seven, great pass rushers. They play really well with momentum and energy.”

McCaffrey and the Panthers are 2nd in the league in rushing offense, picking up 137 yards per game on the ground. But the Saints weak link is passing defense, and that's an area the Panthers would like to exploit.

The Saints are giving up 271 yards per game, that's 28th in the league, in spite of featuring last year's rookie defensive player of the year in cornerback Marshon Lattimore. He teams with former Giant Eli Apple, and former Panther Kurt Coleman starts at safety.

This is obviously a huge game for the Panthers – they're playing their division rival, one who beat them three times last season. They need a win to stay in the playoff conversation, and oh yes, they're on the Monday Night stage.

After coming up short the past five games, receiver Jarius Wright says they've got something to prove tonight. “We're really looking forward to this game. Not only a chance to beat a division team, one the world loves right now. But we get the chance to go out and show who we really are on Monday Night Football.”

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