WHEN: Noon Sunday
WHERE: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
RADIO: WWL-AM, 870; WWl-FM, 105.3 in New Orleans; KMDL-FM, 97.3 in Lafayette; WDGL-FM, 98.1 in Baton Rouge
RECORDS: New Orleans 0-2; Carolina 2-0
COACHES: Saints, Sean Payton, ninth season (80-50); Panthers, Ron Rivera, fifth season (34-31-1)
LAST WEEK: Facing off against a Texans team in the middle of a quarterback controversy, Carolina put all the pressure on Ryan Mallett, shutting down Houston’s run game and making them one-dimensional. On offense, Cam Newton had his issues in the passing game, but he picked up a team-high 76 yards in the running game, including a flip into the end zone for a touchdown.
Offense: Newton remains the same type of quarterback he’s been throughout his career in Carolina. Inaccurate at times, Newton is completing only 52.9 percent of his passes, but his mobility and ability to break the pocket could be devastating for a Saints defense that has allowed both Carson Palmer and Jameis Winston to make plays outside of the pocket in the first two weeks. Without Kelvin Benjamin, Newton’s go-to receiver is probably Greg Olsen, and running back Jonathan Stewart remains dangerous, but this game comes down to limiting Newton’s chances to escape the pocket for the New Orleans defense.
Carolina’s weak spot on offense might be the offensive line. The Panthers are playing declining veteran Michael Oher at left tackle and journeyman Mike Remmer at right tackle, and the Panthers have given up four sacks so far this year. Even so, though, Carolina has been able to protect Newton, in part because of his mobility and in part because of right guard Trai Turner, an underrated blocker.
Defense: Carolina could get two key players back this week. All-Pro middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (concussion) and defensive lineman Star Lotuleilei (foot) might be back, adding even more power to a defense that has limited opponents to just 157 rushing yards and 3.6 yards per carry through the first two weeks. New Orleans has had trouble establishing the run, and if the Saints can’t get it going on Sunday, Carolina will be able to unleash a rush that can bring accomplished blitzers like Kuechly and Thomas Davis to bear, in addition to Mario Addison and Charles Johnson on the outside.
If Carolina has a weakness, it’s in a secondary that is full of veterans but short on high-impact players. Behind that front seven, though, the Panthers are holding opponents to 50 percent completions, 4.4 yards per attempt and three interceptions.
Special teams: Carolina’s place kicking has been shaky through the first two weeks. Veteran kicker Graham Gano is just 3-of-6 so far, and he’s struggled on longer kicks. The rest of the Panthers’ special teams, though, are solid. Punter Brad Nortman has a huge leg, and the Panthers have two return men — Fozzy Whitaker on kicks and Ted Ginn Jr. on punts — who can test Saints coverage units that were shaky against the Buccaneers last week.