Cam Newton looked poised and in control, and they finally got their running game back on track in the form of a 168-yard, one-touchdown performance by DeAngelo Williams. As we head into Week 16, the Panthers face their next test on their way to the playoffs.
The last time they faced the New Orleans Saints, Carolina was beaten 31-13, but things have a chance to be written differently this time around. Several things will be in favor of the Panthers, but none more important than the fact that they're playing at home.
They're a combined 6-1 at home this season and have scored at least 24 points in six out of those seven contests. Besides that, there will be many things that Carolina can exploit on New Orleans' side of the ball, and it will be important that they do.
Take advantage of Terron Armstead
The Saints will be starting rookie left tackle Terron Armstead on Sunday. Armstead will simply be a carcass for the Panthers' defensive line to feed on. Each of their four down linemen can get to the passer, but Charles Johnson will be the most favorable matchup against Armstead.
I'm honestly surprised to hear Payton will start Terron Armstead at left tackle. Completely thrown in the fire.— Larry Holder (@LarryHolder) December 18, 2013
Johnson has nine sacks on the season and is a force as a pass-rusher. He should have no problem taking advantage of Armstead and will be key in disrupting the Saints' upbeat offense, which leads into their next key to the game.
Pressure Drew Brees early
Everyone knows that Drew Brees can carve up any defense when given time in the pocket, but with Armstead taking over at left tackle, he may be running for his life more often than not.
Although Armstead has shown promise, he is being asked a lot to step in and start against the ferocious pass rush of the Panthers. If Carolina can throw Brees off rhythm early on, then it could stunt the Saints offense, giving the Panthers an opportunity to get ahead and stay ahead.
The Saints went into halftime leading 21-6 the last time these two teams met, but the Panthers will be given a great opening to shut them down and keep the passing game of New Orleans at bay.
Learn from the Rams: Rev up DeAngelo
Williams broke out against the Jets last week and is riding a good wave of momentum heading into Sunday's game. He's been playing inspired as of late and quite frankly has looked like a Jamaal Charles clone at times.
If he had played like this all season long, the Panthers might be in better shape with the playoffs looming. Better late than never.
Williams' athleticism will be of great importance in all phases of offense for Carolina, and that will open doors for Newton. The more creative Carolina can get with its play-calling the better.
The Saints are coming off of an upset loss to the St. Louis Rams, who ran wild over Rob Ryan's defense. Williams can have a similar performance if the Panthers give him the ball early and often and really break down the New Orleans defense.
Work the screen, play action
Williams was a big part of the Panthers' screen game last week and should do some more contributing come Sunday. It worked very well against the tough defense of the Jets and could do similar damage to the Saints defense.
Utilizing the general speed and athleticism of their offensive players will be huge for the Panthers in this game. The triple-option and play-action passes will work for each other and create big openings for Newton and Co. Even certain trick plays like reverses and flea flickers could catch the Saints defense with its pants down, which will give Carolina a chance to establish a lead.
Mike Tolbert has brought an extra sense of smash-mouth football to this rushing attack and will be great on swing passes on a blocker on the outside. Even with the ball in his hand, Tolbert is dangerous and brings a different dimension to Carolina's offense.
The Panthers must be careful with the ball given the versatility of the Saints defense. It is imperative that they are mistake-free if they want to win.
Which player is most important for a Panthers win on Sunday?
Turnovers are quickly and easily turned into points by New Orleans, and if the Panthers get down early because of turnovers, then they could suffer the same fate they did the last time these teams met.
They need to utilize the short-to-intermediate passing game to get Newton going early while mixing in runs with Williams and Tolbert along the way. As of right now, they are built to dominate the time of possession and as long as they don't turn the ball over, they should be able to keep up and quite possibly overthrow the Saints.
*All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference*