1. Luke McCownwill start at quarterback, but the offensive success likely won't heavily be on his shoulders. The New Orleans Saints need to run the ball better, having totaled 158 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 47 carries in the first two games. We saw flashes of an emerging running game in the second half against Tampa Bay (13 carries for 79 yards). More of that will take the pressure off McCown, who will be making his first start since 2011 and throwing his first pass since making an attempt on a fake punt in 2013. The Saints would've wanted to be more productive on the ground even if Drew Breeshad been able to play, but it takes on a higher priority now for Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinsonand C.J. Spiller to give New Orleans some juice against a stingy Carolina defense.
- The Saints offensive line sprang a few leaks against Tampa Bay. Brees was sacked four times and routinely was harassed, and the Saints won't get any relief this week against the Panthers. Carolina's front seven is one of the best in the league, especially if all-everything linebacker Luke Kuechly is available. He missed last week's game with a concussion, but is a play-making middle linebacker who is the heart and soul of Carolina's defense. Panthers defensive end Charles Johnsonprobably is looking forward to his matchup against New Orleans' offensive line, after watching Tampa Bay defensive end Jacquies Smithring up three sacks against the Saints, and have another one voided because he lined up in the neutral zone. Again, it won't much matter who is playing quarterback if he spends an inordinate amount of time picking himself up off the turf.
- We got a small sample of Spilleragainst Tampa Bay – three carries for seven yards, 1 catch for 19. He could be ready to advance to a more prominent role offensively, and the flashes he showed against the Bucs made it evident the kind of play-maker he can be in the offense. Especially, he could be critical in terms of occupying Kuechly and Thomas Davis on third down, and forcing the standout linebackers to be aware of his presence in the passing game. If the Saints have difficulty throwing the ball deep, they'll need someone to take a short pass and make something special happen and Spiller has that ability.
- So far this season, starting cornerbacks Brandon Brownerand Delvin Breauxhave combined to commit six penalties that have been accepted (three each). Bottom line: That pace, obviously, can't continue. Yes, the two – and their teammates in the secondary – are expected to be physical with opposing receivers and to play tight, man-to-man coverage. But they too often have been guilty of committing drive-prolonging penalties that have hurt New Orleans defensively. Carolina doesn't possess an elite fleet of receivers (quarterback Cam Newtononly has thrown for 370 yards this season), so this could be a day when the secondary shines. But only if it cuts down on the penalties.
- Speaking of Newton – the Panthers' offense begins and ends with him. He's the team's second-leading rusher (24 carries, 111 yards and a touchdown) and he has accounted for all four of Carolina's touchdowns on offense (three passing). He's big, fast, athletic – pretty much a nightmare. However, the Saints have had success against him in the past, including in the game they won at Carolina last season, when Newton was held to 10 completions in 28 attempts for 151 yards and an interception, and was sacked four times. It'd be optimistic to similarly hope to smother him again today, but, again, the Saints have been able to get to him the last couple of seasons (they sacked him a combined nine times while splitting the two games in 2013) and disrupt Carolina's offense. He's an X-factor for an offense that appears to lack big-play explosiveness.
Photos of Luke McCown from 2015 Training Camp and 2015 preseason games. New Orleans Saints photos.