Carolina Panthers

Panthers at Saints: Joseph Person’s three things to watch

Can Carolina keep it close?

The Panthers haven’t won in two months, and the seven-game winless streak convinced GM Dave Gettleman to begin the rebuilding process now. Ron Rivera and his players say they’re not giving up, but it will be worth watching their energy level against a Saints team that has dropped three in a row at home. Linebacker Thomas Davis tried to light a fire under teammates with his claims the Saints sought to run up the score by throwing deep late in their 31-13 win vs. Carolina last December. If the Panthers come out flat and lack focus, things could get out of hand early.

Will the kids be all right?

If there were any doubts about the Panthers’ intentions over the final four games, they made them clear last week by releasing two more veterans, including starting cornerback Antoine Cason. Carolina will have a month to evaluate a number of young players, including two rookie defensive backs who will be tested by Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Bené Benwikere, who replaces Cason, is ranked sixth among rookie corners in coverage by Pro Football Focus, despite missing six games with a high ankle sprain. Former UNC safety Tre Boston has yet to miss a tackle against the run, according to PFF.

Can Cam Newton snap out of his funk?

The Panthers’ fourth-year quarterback hasn’t played well since a Week 5 tie at Cincinnati. Getting spotty pass protection from a mostly makeshift line, Newton has taken a lot of hits in the pocket. But he’s also made a lot of back-foot throws and poor decisions. Newton had the worst game of his career in a 28-10 loss to New Orleans in October, finishing with career lows in completions (10), completion percentage (35.7) and passer rating (39.4). Newton also lost two turnovers and was sacked four times. It’s hard to imagine Newton – or his young line – being any better in the din of the Superdome.

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