New Orleans Saints quarterback Derek Carr (4) hands the ball to New Orleans Saints running back Jamaal Williams during the first half of the game against the Tennessee Titans at the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023. (Staff photo by David Grunfeld, The Times-Picayune |

The Saints started the 2023 season with a 16-15 victory over the Tennessee Titans in the Caesars Superdome. Now they hit the road for the first time this season to play the Carolina Panthers in an NFC South showdown. Here are four things to watch when the Saints and Panthers clash at Bank of America Stadium.?

A fast start

Winning the first game of the season hasn’t been a problem for the Saints. They won their fifth straight season opener when they beat the Tennessee Titans last Sunday. Now comes the hard part: winning the second one. The Saints haven’t started a season 2-0 since 2013, when they opened with victories over the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They went on to win their first five games that year. The Saints should be plenty motivated after getting swept by the Panthers last season, the first time that has happened since 2015. The next few games after this one won’t be easy, beginning with a trip to Lambeau Field to play the Green Bay Packers next on the schedule. Stealing a win in Charlotte over a division opponent would be a good start to a season filled with lofty expectations.

Protecting Carr

Saints quarterback Derek Carr was sacked four times in the season opener. All four of those sacks came in the first half. The Saints made adjustments in the second half, giving second-year left tackle Trevor Penning more help protecting Carr’s blind side. There’s no doubt the Panthers will try their best to exploit Penning’s inexperience with the pass rush led by Brian Burns and Derrick Brown. Carolina sacked Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder four times last week while hitting him six more times. Saints head coach Dennis Allen knows Penning will have growing pains after missing most of last season with an injury. How fast Penning grows up will go a long way in determining just how good the Saints’ offense will be. Carr showed last week what he can be when the offensive line gives him time to operate.

Establishing the run

The Saints’ run game averaged just 2.6 yards per carry in the opener. You can attribute some of that to facing the NFL’s No. 1 run defense from a season ago. But when you go back to the three preseason games, the Saints struggled then, too. The running game was so non-existent last week that the Saints had to rely mostly on their passing game to put together a late drive to keep the ball away from the Titans. It would make things so much easier for Carr and the offense if the running game could make the attack more balanced. The good news is Alvin Kamara will be back in two weeks. But until then, expect Jamaal Williams (18 carries for 45 yards last week) to get the bulk of the carries. Kendre Miller was back at practice this week after battling a hamstring injury, but was limited and is listed as questionable.

Bryce’s home debut

Much of the hype surrounding Monday’s game will center on it being the first home game for Bryce Young, the rookie quarterback the Panthers traded up to get with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. It’ll be up to the Saints defense to make things as uncomfortable as they possibly can for the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner. “You can see he’s a smart quarterback, very patient in the pocket and he’s an accurate thrower when he gets time,” said Saints defensive coordinator Joe Woods. “… He’s young, so you can see he’s still learning. But you can see the talent is there.” Young played his college ball at Alabama, so playing under the bright lights of Monday Night Football won’t be too big for him. But the Saints defense must do its part to make it harder.

Email Rod Walker at [email protected].