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John DeShazier: Key ingredients for a Saints victory vs. Panthers

Presented by Domino's

  1. This one really doesn't change, but it bears repeating anyway: The New Orleans Saints have to protect quarterback Drew Brees. It's always easier said than done, especially against defenses as formidable as Carolina's. But the New Orleans offense, which has sputtered since scoring 21 points in the first two quarters against Tennessee, has totaled 27 points in the 10 quarters since, and against Houston failed to score a touchdown for the first time since 2005, the year before Brees and Coach Sean Paytonarrived. Yes, an effective running game will aid the cause. But the Saints' offense goes as Brees goes, and he can't go effectively if he spends half the time being hit, sacked and running to avoid being hit or sacked. The offensive line again is in the spotlight this week, hoping to keep at bay a Carolina defense that will enter with 33 sacks, third-most in the league, accumulated by 15 different players.
  1. The Saints pass defense-versus-Greg Olsen is a matchup that the Saints have to win this time. In the first game between the teams, Carolina's tight end caught eight passes for a career-high 134 yards and two touchdowns, each covering 11 yards. And Olsen also popped free for 52- and 27-yard receptions. The Saints have had some difficulties dealing with opposing tight ends this season – Tennessee's Delanie Walker(seven catches, 95 yards, two touchdowns), and Houston's Ryan Griffin(four catches, 72 yards, one touchdown) come to mind. Olsen is the primary target of quarterback Cam Newton, so he's going to have some opportunities and make some plays. But he can't be allowed to have the kind of day he had in the first meeting, and he especially needs to be controlled in the red zone.
  1. Another matchup that bears watching is Saints receiver Brandin Cooksagainst Panthers cornerback Josh Norman. Cooks (55 catches for 736 yards and six touchdowns) has become the Saints' No. 1 receiver and Norman (four interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns and one in the end zone to preserve Carolina's victory over the Saints in Week 3) has blossomed into, arguably, the best cornerback in the league. Cooks caught seven passes for 79 yards in the first meeting and while the Saints want to spread the wealth in the passing game, Cooks definitely will need to win a few of the one-on-one battles in order for the Saints the rediscover their offensive prowess.
  1. The Saints will benefit from a boost from the home crowd. The team is 4-7 and on its second three-game losing streak of the season. But it has a chance to beat the NFL's last undefeated team, which also happens to be an NFC South Division rival. The afternoon kickoff should give fans an opportunity to heat their emotions to a fever pitch by the time the Saints run onto the field, but the team is going to have to give fans a reason to be loud. New Orleans has been a prime time black hole for opponents since 2006, a place where the opposition has been sucked in and dominated. This game will have a prime time feel to it, even though it's an afternoon kickoff. Both parties – team and fans – need to do their part to enhance that feeling.
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