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Saints vs. Panthers first look: Scouting Carolina on offense, defense, special teams | Saints

New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers, Week 15

When: 7:15 p.m. Monday

Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.

TV: ESPN

Radio: WWL-AM, 870; WWL-FM, 105.3 in New Orleans; KMDL-FM, 97.3 in Lafayette; WDGL-FM, 98.1 in Baton Rouge; en español: WGSO-AM, 990; WVDU-FM, 97.9

Records: Saints 11-2; Panthers 6-7

Coaches: Saints, Sean Payton (116-73), 12th season; Panthers, Ron Rivera (70-54-1), 8th season

Offense: Despite now riding a 5-game losing streak, the Panthers’ offense still is one of the league’s best. They rank ninth in yards per game (389). It all starts with QB Cam Newton, whose 68.8 percent completion percentage this season is the best of his career. The 2015 league MVP has thrown for 3,264 yards and has 24 touchdowns to go with his 12 interceptions. Eight of those interceptions have come in the current losing streak. His 36.4 rushing yards per game is also a big reason the Panthers are the league’s second best running team. They average 137.4 yards per game on the ground. The versatile Christian McCaffrey has rushed for 926 yards, 11th best in the league and he averages 5.2 yards per carry. He’s capable of the big play, with six runs of 20 or more yards and three runs of 40 or more yards this season. He’s especially dangerous because of his ability to catch passes. He leads the team in receptions (86) and yards receiving (701). … There are plenty more viable weapons for Newton. Rookie TE Ian Thomas made his first start last week, filling in for Greg Olsen who was placed on injured reserve last week and is out for the season with a foot injury. Thomas caught a career-best 9 passes for 77 yards in Sunday’s loss to the Browns. D.J. Moore (47 receptions, 676 yards) and Devin Funchess (42 receptions, 526 yards) are also playmakers for the Panthers. Funchess, though, hasn’t been quite himself of late. He has caught just three passes for 49 yards over the past three weeks. …  The Panthers’ last four losses have all come by a touchdown or less. It hasn’t helped that they have been held scoreless in the fourth quarter in the past two games. …  The offensive line has done a good job of paving the way for the run, but also protecting Newton. They have allowed 25 sacks and Newton has been hit 58 times, the seventh best in the league in both categories. The Panthers are one of the league’s best in not putting the ball on the ground. They’ve lost just 4 fumbles all year, second best in the league.

Defense: The Panthers shook up their defensive staff after a loss to the Buccaneers two weeks ago. Defensive line coach Brady Hoke and a secondary coach were both fired, while defensive coordinator Eric Washington was removed of his play calling duties. Head coach Ron Rivera handles those duties now, but it didn’t help in Sunday’s loss to the Browns. The Panthers continue give up the big plays. In the current five game losing streak, they have given up 15 plays that went for 20 or more yards. The Browns had three plays that went for 50 or more yards. … The defense is led by linebacker Luke Kuechly, who ranks fourth in the league in tackles with 111. The ball-hawking Kuechly forced two fumbles on Sunday and also had a pair of tackles for loss. … LB Shaq Thompson is second in tackles (77). … DE Mario Addison leads the team in sacks (8) and has help up front in one of the the game’s best pass rushers ever. DE Julius Peppers is fourth all-time on the NFL sacks (158.5) and is just 1 1/2 away from tying Kevin Greene for third on the list. But the Panthers have struggled getting much pressure on the quarterback in recent weeks. … Rookie CB Donte Jackson, a New Orleans native who played at Riverdale High School and then LSU, has 4 interceptions, tied for sixth in the league. Free safety Mike Adams has 3 of the team’s 11 interceptions. Safety Eric Reid, who also played at LSU has recorded 57 tackles to go with an interception and a sack. … The Panthers are allowing 25.5 points per game, tied for the 8th best mark in the NFL. But they gave up 52 points in the loss to the Steelers that started the current 5-game skid.

Special teams: Graham Gano handled the kicking duties all season, but missed Sunday’s game after suffering a knee injury in practice last week. To replace him, they signed Chandler Catanzaro, who started the season playing with Tampa Bay. Catanzaro missed a field goal vs. the Saints in the season opener when he was playing with the Bucs. He made both kicks in his Panthers’ debut on Sunday. Gano had been consistent before his injury, making 14 of 16 field goals this season. His 63-yarder against the Giants is the longest kick in the NFL this season. …  Michael Palardy’s 41 yard net average on punts is 11th best in the league. .. The Panthers have fumbled twice on punt returns this season.

Follow Rod Walker on Twitter @rwalkeradvocate

Follow Rod Walker on Twitter, @rwalkeradvocate.

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