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Panthers at Saints: Five things to watch

Kenny Stills has stepped up

  1. No need for anyone to continue wondering who would pick up the slack for the New Orleans Saints in Brandin Cooks'absence. Kenny Stillshas done that, and then some, with 13 catches for 260 yards and a touchdown in the two games since the rookie receiver was placed on injured reserve. Stills, no doubt, is benefiting from the extra attention being paid to tight end Jimmy Graham. But give him props for taking advantage of the situation and giving opposing defenses reason to consider affording special attention to him, which would benefit Graham and the rest of the receiving corps. Stills burned the Ravens and Steelers in back-to-back games, and he had a big game against the Panthers (five catches for 72 yards) on Oct. 30. He could have another one against them Sunday.
  1. Speaking of Graham, he was held without a catch by the Steelers, the second time that has happened this season. The first time, against Detroit, he was nursing a shoulder injury. It's unlikely a shutout will happen again, especially against Carolina. In Graham's last seven games against the Panthers, he has 50 catches for 626 yards and seven touchdowns, an average of seven catches for 89 yards and a touchdown each game.
  1. Carolina quarterback Cam Newtonis one of the biggest, strongest and fastest players ever to play the position in NFL history. But Saints outside linebacker Junior Galetteand defensive end Cam Jordanhave had some of their most successful pass-rushing days against Newton. In the last three games against Carolina, including the Saints' 28-10 victory earlier this season at Bank of America Stadium, Galette has six sacks and a forced fumble and Jordan has four sacks. In the Panthers' last six games – all losses – Newton has been sacked 25 times. Defensively, the Saints will have to stop the run and put themselves in position to rush the quarterback. But when they do, they've proven to be successful against the Panthers and Newton.
  1. For the first time since Oct. 19, the Saints will have their full complement of running backs. Khiry Robinsonreturned this week, joining Mark Ingramand Pierre Thomas. However, there may not be a significant alteration of the workload because, frankly, Ingram (767 yards and six touchdowns on 172 carries, in nine games) has been good enough to earn the lion's share of the carries. He was especially effective in the four (Thomas) and six (Robinson) games that the others missed, when he posted 623 yards and three scores on 148 carries. But the more available, fresh bodies at the position, the better – especially this late in the season. So if Ingram is ineffective for whatever reason, Coach Sean Paytonhas admirable options in Thomas and Robinson.
  1. If the Saints jump on the Panthers early, it could be a rout for the home team. True, divisional opponents especially are difficult to blow out; no one has more familiarity than a foe that's a twice-a-year, every-year foe. But the Panthers have lost six straight and have had a world of trouble scoring, averaging just 14.5 points per game during their losing streak, 17 per game in the three road losses. They're reeling and a few quick strikes by the Saints could give Carolina a here-we-go-again feeling that the Saints can take advantage of. Plus, the Saints need to stack together as many victories as they can as they battle Atlanta for the NFC South Division lead. They only have had one two-game winning streak this season, so this would be a nice time to do it twice.
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