The New Orleans Saints defense isn't judging the book by its cover.
It can't afford to.
While the Carolina Panthers are 1-11 entering Sunday's game against the Saints (5-7) in the Caesars Superdome, with a struggling offense and a rookie quarterback (No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young) who has been sacked 44 times while completing 61 percent of his passes for 2,055 yards and nine touchdowns, with nine interceptions, the Saints defense is one that has had first-half struggles for seven consecutive games, five of which have concluded in defeat.
New Orleans beat Carolina 20-17 at Bank of America Stadium in the second game of the season on Sept. 18, and sacked Young four times in the game while limiting the Panthers to 139 net passing yards.
But the rookie ran for 34 yards on two carries and kept alive several plays with his mobility.
Since that game, Carolina's head coach, offensive coordinator and running backs coach were dismissed. Special team coach Chris Tabor is the interim coach; the Panthers were beaten 21-18 by Tampa Bay in his debut last Sunday.
"Obviously, they're going through some things within their organization, within their team," Saints defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. "I think it's probably a focus for them to get the quarterback going. So I felt like, if you look at this last game, they ran the ball a little bit more."
"Going back to when we played them, he was a lot more mobile in the pocket than we thought. So you still see him keeping plays alive, you see them doing more things getting him on the perimeter with bootlegs, some play action where they can protect him a little bit better. Or they'll spread out the formation, where he can identify things and get rid of the ball faster."
"I feel like offensively, they're kind of putting him in positions where they feel like he can have success and protect him a little bit better."
As Woods mentioned, the Panthers leaned more on the running game against the Buccaneers, totaling 133 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries. Chuba Hubbard ran for 104 yards and both touchdowns on 25 carries.
Run defense has been a sore spot this season for the Saints, particularly the last two games, where they allowed 228 yards and a touchdown on 41 carries against Atlanta, and 142 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries against Detroit.
"I think they do a lot of things well that we don't necessarily do well," Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "I think they run the ball well."
"We expect them to attack that," defensive tackle Khalen Saunders said. "Obviously, when you got a good rushing team against a struggling rushing defense, that's the game plan going in. So we're going to have to bow up and stop that."
It likely will be a significant part of the Panthers' recipe for helping Young be successful.
"Every week is an opportunity for growth. And I don't think growth necessarily has to look like great games," Saunders said of Young. "I think growth is just learning and growth is getting different looks and stuff like that."
"You're not guaranteed that you're going to have a better statistical game every single week, but you're definitely going to have more reps at the end of every single week. I think that he's learning and growing and also adapting to the system that they've got in place for him. But he's still a great athlete, obviously was a high pick for a reason."
"They have Bryce Young, who's able to not just throw the ball, but be effective with his legs," Mathieu said. "He was able to break free a few times when we played them. We've got to be sharp on that and really committed to stop the run and make things hard for him."
"I think at any given moment, Bryce Young could have that spark. I don't think we're necessarily looking at the record, we're looking at it like, we've got to get these guys this week."