The Carolina Panthers already know that their NFL-leading defense is going to face its biggest test of the season on Sunday Night in the Superdome against the New Orleans Saints. Not only are the Panthers going to be facing a raucous crowd on the road in a dome, but they will have to do so while going up against one of the best offenses in the league.
While the running game of the Saints doesn’t present a huge threat to Carolina’s vaunted run defense and front-seven, Drew Brees and the Saints’ passing attack certainly will be an area of focus. As I wrote earlier, Brees and the Saints will be the biggest challenge the Panthers’ secondary has faced all season. More importantly, though, the Panthers’ linebackers will also be put to the test in coverage.
The most obvious guy on Carolina’s defense that is going to be put to the test is reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year, Luke Kuechly. Though he surely won’t have to go at it alone, one of his primary responsibilities is going to be to try and slow down Jimmy Graham. Graham is a physical freak blessed with size and athleticism, which means Kuechly, even with some help, will have his hands full.
Possibly just as important as Kuechly on Graham, though is going to be Thomas Davis covering Darren Sproles when New Orleans uses him as a receiver out of the backfield. Sproles hasn’t been incredibly productive as of late, but the Saints continually get him work and like to look for him in third-down type situations where they need a first down. Davis is going to have to stay home and not bite on any delay, as well as staying in front of him so that he can’t break a big play, for Sproles not to burn the Panthers.
The Panthers’ have proven that they are no joke this season and this game on Sunday night is just another chance to prove how good they are this season. You have to expect Cam Newton and the offense to remain consistent, but their defense is going to be interesting to watch to see if they can remain elite against an elite offense. Whatever happens, though, it’s going to be one enthralling piece of NFL action in primetime.