New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m. Sunday, FOX

Saints at Panthers: Joseph Person’s three things to watch

December 20, 2013 

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The St. Louis Rams’ pass rush kept Saints quarterback Drew Brees from getting comfortable in the pocket in an upset win a week ago. The Panthers would be wise to learn from that strategy, but can’t blitz too much.

DILIP VISHWANAT — Getty Images

  • Saints at Panthers

    Where:

    Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte

    When:

    1 p.m.

    Watch:

    FOX (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver)

Will rain slow the Saints?

The Panthers saw how explosive the Saints are in the Superdome during New Orleans’ 31-13 win two weeks ago, when Drew Brees led a 21-point, second-quarter outburst. While weather forecasts have continued to vary, if heavy rain were to strike during the game, it might disrupt the Saints’ timing-based passing offense more than the Panthers’ more balanced attack. Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott can’t wait until the second half to dial up the pressure on Brees. And defensive end Greg Hardy has to be a factor vs. rookie left tackle Terron Armstead, making his first NFL start.

Finish drives in the end zone

The Panthers started their past two games the same way – putting together two drives before bogging down in the red zone and settling for Graham Gano field goals. That was OK last week against the Jets, but it wasn’t enough two weeks ago against the Saints and it won’t be enough Sunday. Part of the red zone issues stemmed from Cam Newton’s lack of touch on screen and fade passes. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula might be better served keeping the ball on the ground with Newton and/or fullback Mike Tolbert against a Saints defense ranked in the lower half of the league in red zone defense.

Knock it off

Lack of pressure was the biggest factor in Brees’ 313-yard, four-touchdown performance in the Saints’ Week 14 win. But the so-called Legion of Whom secondary didn’t help by allowing receivers Marques Colston, Kenny Still and Lance Moore and tight end Jimmy Graham too many free releases off the line. That allowed them to settle into the soft spots between the linebackers and safeties and kept Brees in a rhythm. Cornerbacks Captain Munnerlyn and Melvin White have to be better jamming the receivers to throw off the Saints’ timing. The same goes for the linebackers and safeties lined up against Graham.

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