A few high points from Coach Sean Payton's Thursday morning teleconference with local media:
BETTER WITH AGE:Receiver Ted Ginn is on pace to have the best statistical season of his 11-year career. Ginn has 42 catches for 641 yards and three touchdowns. He had a career-high 54 catches for 752 yards last year for Carolina and two years ago, also with the Panthers, he caught 44 passes for 739 yards.
"I tell him he's like wine," Payton said. "I would say, I don't know that anything has changed. I think he's found himself in offenses that have had a vision more correctly as opposed to in certain offenses that haven't had the same (vision). I think he's a pretty savvy player and he understands coverages and he understands leverage.
"And I would say, I think at Carolina and (Panthers offensive coordinator) Mike Shula and their offensive staff did a good job and they had a vision for, 'Hey, here are the things he does well, and let's do those things and keep mixing up where he's at.' And hopefully when this year's done, we can say we've done the same thing. So I can't speak to the prior years, whether it was in Arizona or Miami. I haven't studied that film or paid much attention to it; I was aware of the player, obviously, when he came out. But I know he's played well at Carolina and I know what he's capable of doing for us."
THIRD'S THE WORD:The Saints' third-down conversion percentage numbers are down this season, compared to past years. New Orleans is converting 38.8 percent on third down; the lowest conversion rate the Saints have had since Payton became head coach in 2006 is 43.9 percent, in '13. Third-down conversions likely will be critical in Sunday's game against Carolina in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Panthers lead the league in time of possession (33:32) and if the Saints can't convert on third down, it'll play right into Carolina's hands.
"We're close to middle of the pack this season, relative to where we've been in other years," Payton said of the Saints' conversion rate. "And yet, this is a different team and something we've got to work on. It's an area that's going to be important in this game.
"I think the other thing is looking closely at, 'Where are the receptions and plays not coming from that came a year ago? We just finished meeting last night til pretty late, and it's something that has to be better. It's just the standard we're used to and it affords you more opportunities in the game, more plays. Now, there are times where you may be playing a certain type of game and you decide, hey, I'm going to throw a screen or hand it off here and punt. There's nothing wrong with that, depending on where you're at field-position wise. But overall, it's an area that hasn't been as good."
ON THE MOVE:Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, perhaps because his recovery from offseason surgery totally wasn't complete, wasn't much of a running threat the first time the Saints played Carolina this season. He is now. Newton ran three times for 16 yards, and the Saints sacked him four times and intercepted him three times in a 34-13 victory. In the eight games since, Newton has run 69 times for 418 yards and four touchdowns.
"It's a whole different dimension," Payton said. "I think it's really improved a few areas (for Carolina's offense). It's improved their time of possession, because I would say the one thing you see with this offense is they're getting into favorable third downs – let's say, third-and-5 or less as opposed to third-and-6 or more. Secondly with the offense now, they lead the league in third-down rushing attempts, they lead the league in third-down conversions rushing the football.
"Conversely, their time of possession numbers have gone up in the last month-and-a-half, their time of possession is first in the league. Their defense isn't on the field as long. It's the same formula that we always talk about to win games and I think you're seeing that. When the quarterback can run, there's the equalizer, if you will, offensively."