Winless Saints search for answers against Panthers (Sep 24, 2017)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers made the most of their limited offense through two games.

They might need more to defeat a New Orleans Saints team that often has good production against the Panthers.

The teams will meet Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium in the first NFC South matchup for each this season.

The game is more critical for the Saints (0-2), who stumbled against the Minnesota Vikings and the New England Patriots.

“These guys are grown men, and they understand the sense of urgency we have to play with and we have to practice with now starting with two losses,” New Orleans coach Sean Payton said.

The Panthers (2-0) haven’t allowed a touchdown through two games, but they are waiting for their offense to click with more regularity. A 9-3 victory over the Buffalo Bills last Sunday was the result of three field goals.

“We’ve still given ourselves an opportunity,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “It’s tough to win in the league when all you do is kick field goals.”

The Panthers will try to pick up the production without All-Pro tight end Greg Olsen, who will be out for at least a couple of months after surgery for a broken right foot he sustained last weekend. That likely moves Ed Dickson into the role as the primary tight end.

Quarterback Cam Newton said Dickson won’t hurt the offense. Instead, Newton is calling on himself to be more efficient after two games in which he misfired toward some open receivers.

“I just have to personally challenge myself that I have to be better and I will be better,” Newton said.

The Panthers, though, are working through some snags with two victories to their credit. That makes it easier.

“I think with our veteran leadership, that is key,” Newton said. “Offensively, guys believing in the plan and trusting in this whole process. We know everything is (not going) to be a walk in the park.”

Dickson has been Olsen’s backup, making him well known to Saints linebacker A.J. Klein, who is in his first season after playing as a backup with the Panthers.

“I think Ed is overlooked when it comes to tight ends,” Klein said. “Ed is a big, strong guy and has better speed than most people think.”

Newton has been quick to endorse Dickson as well.

“He’s a diamond in the rough,” Newton said. “I don’t want to put too much on Ed, but he has been making plays for us — very subtle over the years. That’s why he has been somewhat of our unsung hero.”

The Saints could use a hero of any sorts after a ragged beginning to the season.

“(Carolina) is a team that’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said, “but we’re just waiting to break the seal. I feel like it can be this week. I hope it’s this week.”

Klein, who played behind Luke Kuechly with Carolina, said the Saints are capable of doing better. He said he can’t be distracted by the return to the stadium he previously called home.

If nothing else, it’s time for the Saints to make sure the Panthers’ offense doesn’t unload.

“Going to Carolina, we have challenge ahead of us,” Klein said. “I can’t sit here and sugarcoat stuff. We’re just a step behind. All the pieces are there. Early adversity, it’s what you do with it.”

The Saints also have former Carolina receiver Ted Ginn Jr. on their roster.

Carolina had never gone through the first two games of a season without allowing a touchdown, but keeping Brees in check won’t likely be as easy as it was subduing offenses from San Francisco and Buffalo.

Payton said part of the solution for New Orleans might be not relying so much on Brees by producing more on the ground.

“It has been an emphasis of ours,” Payton said. “There were yards left out there.”

The Panthers could be without center Ryan Kalil for a second week in a row. He was a game-day scratch from the starting lineup last week, and his practice activity has been limited at best since then because of a sore neck. He was already coming off offseason shoulder surgery.

Carolina wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin missed midweek practice with a knee injury, but there were no further indications that he would be held out of the game.