For the fourth consecutive season, the New Orleans Saints are 0-2. In order to avoid going 0-3 for the third consecutive year, and to begin the climb to .500, they face the difficult task of winning a divisional game on the road, against an opponent (Carolina) that's 2-0 and which represented the NFC in the Super Bowl two seasons ago. But the Saints know exactly what must be done in order to beat the Panthers, a list which includes:
- Generally, Carolina isn't a spectacular passing offense even when the Panthers are clicking. Now, the Panthers are missing a substantial piece with tight end Greg Olsen sidelined by a broken foot. That means Carolina may lean even more on its running game, which means the Saints' front seven – led by linebacker A.J. Klein – had better be prepared for a bruising game. Klein and defensive tackles Tyeler Davison and David Onyemata will attempt to help stifle the inside power runs, and linebackers Alex Anzalone and Craig Robertson, along with safeties Kenny Vaccaro, Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams, will look to supply support on the edges. If Carolina is running the ball and controlling the clock, it's going to be a long day. And based on the fact that the Saints' first two opponents combined to run for 248 yards on 61 carries, the Panthers have every reason to try to run the ball, early and often.
- When the Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton do pass, the Saints may have to dial up a few more blitzes in order to get home. Defensive end Cam Jordan is going to cause his usual amount of stress to an offense; hopefully, his defensive mates will supply ample support. Newton is a huge target and even though he was banged up in the previous game, in past seasons he has given the Saints (and everyone else) fits as a scrambler and runner. Staying disciplined in the pass rush and keeping him in the pocket will help. Panthers receiver Kelvin Benjamin is a huge target (6-5, 245), and Newton heavily could lean on him.
- The Saints' offensive line – left tackle Andrus Peat, left guard Senio Kelemete, center Max Unger, right guard Larry Warford and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk – received a stern test against New England at home. It'll be even tougher on the road, against a formidable Carolina defensive line that's capable of supplying plenty of pressure. Drew Brees has good numbers through the first two games (66 percent completions, 324 yards per game, three touchdowns and no interceptions), but the offense has been stop-and-go and it hasn't reached the end zone often enough. It's going to be difficult to keep Brees clean, but there will be opportunities for big plays, as always is the case. The Saints need to pop a few of them against a Carolina defense that only has allowed six points this season, and hasn't yet surrendered a touchdown.
- So far this season, early deficits have contributed to the Saints' lack of a running game. They only have 141 yards on 38 carries, and 28 of those yards came on a final-snap-of-the-game run by Mark Ingram against New England in a 36-20 loss. Ingram, a 1,000-yard rusher last season, has been sharing the snaps with Zach Line and Alvin Kamara and so far, none have been very productive. It's been difficult to establish a rhythm with the rotation, and the running game has to disappear at times given the deficits in the first two games. The Saints need to keep it close or maintain a lead in order for the running game to be a factor; this could be a game where Ingram re-emerges as the Saints' No. 1 back.
- The Saints still are waiting for a complimentary game – offense, defense and special teams executing well on an even plane. This could be a grind-it-out game, but the Saints need to force a turnover, and produce a few explosive plays on offense, and pop a return or create some havoc on special teams. They need to produce a tone-changer or two.