As the Carolina Panthers (5-5) travel to New Orleans for the week 12, NFC South match-up against the Saint (8-2), there are a lot unanswered questions on both sides of the ball for head coach Ron Rivera.
The first piece is getting back to the passing attempt/rushing attempts balance the team had during their 4-game win streak. It is the most critical part of the puzzle for Carolina. Christian McCaffrey is average 157.6 scrimmage yards per game, leads the league with 1,059 rush yards and is tied for the lead with 11 touchdowns. But they'll also need Kyle Allen to manage where is supposed to be in the offense at critical times. In some cases, the tipping point has been when Allen is doing things such as taking a 5-step drop when should be further up in the pocket - something Rivera has stressed to the young quarterback. Additionally, they have to get more out of the quick-hitting plays that are shorter in gain but get Allen out of his usual positions on the field.
Returning to The Balanced Attack
at AZ 31 Rushes 26 Pass attempts W 38-20
at HOU 28 Rushes 34 Pass attempts W 16-10
vs. JAX 31 Rushes 44 Pass attempts W 34-27
vs TB 29 Rushes 32 Pass attempts W 37-26 (London)
The second high-priority item on the list for the Panthers will be their protection of Allen. With expectations running high and their playoffs hopes in jeopardy, protecting him is essential if they want to mount an effective passing attack. With recent movement at the tackle position, including Daryl Williams replacing Taylor Moton for a short stretch and Greg Little being worked back into the offense after returning from concussion protocol, the Panthers have struggled with consistency at the position.
"We would have like to have worked him (Greg Little) in a little bit more gradually, but Dennis ...it's been disruptive," Rivera said.
Lastly, in the three losses out of the last four games, the defense has been able to consistently get off the field on third-down (.450). Despite Drew Brees still trying to shake off some of the rust from his time away from the field, the Panthers will have their hands full with RB Alvin Kamara (103/472 YDS, 1TD) and Michael Thomas (94 REC, 1,141 YDS, 5 TD). But it is shaping up to be a battle in the trenches as the Panthers head into this week's game tied for the lead in sacks with 39, and third in the NFL with 12 interceptions. "The key for us is pretty simple ...put pressure on him (Drew Brees), create takeaways," Ross Cockrell said.
The Third down Breakdown
at SF 5/10
at GB 4/9
vs. ATL 6/14
The Panthers are 2 1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot which makes every game essential. But if you're trying to compare this game to last season's victory piloted by Allen - don't. This one counts for both organizations this go-round and it is unlikely to see Saints head coach Sean Payton rest any starters late in the game this week.