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The Case for an Upset: Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 11:  (L-R) Thomas Davis #58, Chris Gamble #20, Charles Johnson #95 and James Anderson #59 of the Carolina Panthers celebrate after a turnover against the Arizona Cardinals during the NFL season opening game at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 11, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.The Carindals defeated the Panthers 28-21.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Tyler EverettContributor IIOctober 7, 2011

At a quick glance, it appears as though Carolina doesn’t stand a chance against New Orleans Sunday.

The Saints are 3-1 and very nearly knocked off undefeated Green Bay already this season. Carolina is 1-3 and has given up at least 28 points in three of its first four games. That obviously doesn’t bode well for the Panthers in a battle with a Drew Brees-led offense that’s as explosive as any in the league.

But Carolina has a much more favorable match up against the Saints than most might think.

The Panthers’ greatest strength—passing offense—will square off with New Orleans’ biggest weakness, which is...stopping the pass.

On the other side of the ball, Carolina is perhaps as well-suited as anybody in the league for the undeniably tall task of slowing down the Saints’ prolific passing attack.

The Saints allowed Aaron Rodgers to go 27-for-35 for 296 yards in Week 1, and encountered similar difficulty against the Texans’ Matt Schaub, who hung up 373 passing yards and three passing touchdowns against what is certainly a porous secondary.

Those who have seen the two defensive nightmares by New Orleans and/or Cam Newton’s red-hot start shouldn’t be surprised if the rookie, who has surprised many with his fast start, makes it three 400-plus yard passing performance in his first five games.

Defensively, with the exception of some mental lapses that have resulted in long touchdowns, Carolina is playing extremely well. The unit is sixth-best in the league in opponent’s passing yards, and is playing even better than that ranking would indicate.

The Panthers have surrendered passing touchdowns of 36, 49, 84, 48 and 70 yards this season. While giving up a season’s worth of long-scoring plays through four games is rather more inexcusable than encouraging, it’s notable that despite so many costly breakdowns, Carolina’s pass D is still among the league’s best in passing yards allowed.

Even a pessimist would probably assume that Carolina will not be slipping up and allowing touchdowns of 40 or more yards with such regularity all season long. Should that notion prove accurate, this pass defense just might go from adequate to outstanding.

Granted, part of Carolina’s statistical success against the pass—particularly against Chicago and Jacksonville—was more a result of terrible run defense than any superb play in the secondary.

But based on the effort against Green Bay in Week 2, it would be foolish to say that the only thing stopping the pass is the understandable attraction between opposing offensive coordinators and the gaping holes in Carolina’s run D.

The Packers’ Rodgers has had his way with each of his team’s first four opponents—and his team’s victory over the Panthers in Week 2 was no exception.

But while Carolina certainly didn’t shut him down, the Panthers did a nice job containing him, especially considering his early dominance. Green Bay’s star signal caller is completing 73 percent of his passes, but was held to 63 percent in the win over Carolina.

The Panthers are the only team to hold him to less than three touchdowns and also had limited him to fewer than 250 yards passing before an 84-yard hookup with Jordy Nelson in the closing minutes pushed him over the 300-yard mark.

That by no means that Drew Brees should be shaking in his cleats at the prospect of Carolina’s pass defense. But it is a sign that a field day for the veteran Saints star isn't exactly a foregone conclusion at this juncture.

If I had my own house, I probably wouldn’t bet it that Carolina pulls off the upset­­—the difficulties stopping the run probably aren’t going anywhere any time soon and I don’t expect Newton and Co. to quite keep pace with the Saints, who are loaded on offense.

But if any 1-3 team in the league has a good shot at upsetting a conference favorite this weekend, it’s Carolina against New Orleans.  

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