In the Numbers: Everybody Wants Some

New Orleans' game Sunday at Carolina could go a long way in determining the NFC South Tampa Bay and the Saints are tied atop the division and Atlanta is a game back.

In other words, right now, everybody wants some of Carolina.

Sunday is a game the Saints (3-1) sorely need to maintain the top pace in the division.

Carolina (1-3), meanwhile, would love to notch a victory in Cam Newton's first NFC South game.

This week's cliches: They get paid to play, too.

It's All History
Since Carolina entered the NFL in 1995, the Saints and Panthers have played twice a year every year, first as NFC West rivals and then as NFC South rivals once the league re-aligned in 2002.

The Saints are 15-17 against Carolina, but have an 8-7 record in Bank of America, formerly Ericsson, Stadium.

New Orleans has won three of the past four games and four of the past seven. Las season was the first time the Saints have swept the Panthers since 2001.

Turnover battle
During Saints coach Sean Payton's talk with the media Wednesday, he said he's pleased with where the team is at at the quarter pole but there are things that need to get better.

Namely turnovers.

When Gregg Williams came in prior to 2009, turnovers was one of the main things he was tasked with changing. A year before he arrived, the Saints were able to get only 22 takeaways, including 15 interceptions.

In his first season, the Saints jumped to 39, grabbing 26 interceptions and recovering 13 fumbles.

But New Orleans has been on a downward trend since. A season ago New Orleans had only 25 takeaways and only nine interceptions. It didn't have an interception its final three games and the turnover differential was minus-6.

This season has started out just as slowly. The Saints are minus-3, having grabbed just three turnovers while giving the ball away six times.

By comparison, the two teams still undefeated Detroit and Green Bay are at plus-8 and plus-6, respectively, having each taken the ball away 11 times.

Leading the pack:
Team leaders for the Saints heading into Jacksonville
Rushing (Total) Mark Ingram: 53 carries, 184 yards, 1 TD
Rushing (YPC) Darren Sproles: 8.9 yards per carry on 15 runs
Receiving (Total) Jimmy Graham: 24 catches for 367 yards, 3 TDs
Receiving (Catches) Darren Sproles: 26 catches, 224 yards, 1 TD
Scoring: John Kasay 39 points (12 PATs, 9 FGs)

About the Panthers:
QB Cam Newton had the best start for a Panthers rookie signal-caller in the franchise's history by far: 24-for-37 for 422 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 110.4 QB rating. The next closest? Matt Moore in 2007, who went 19 of 27 for 298 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions and a 92.8 QB rating.

WR Steve Smith is the Panthers' career receiving leader with 9,414 yards after a fast start to the season. Smith is Carolina's leading receiver through four games, catching 24 passes for 530 yards and two touchdowns.

After cutting kicker John Kasay, who since signed with the Saints, the Panthers stuck with Olindo Mare, a former Saint. He's 18th all-time with 1,451 points scored and tied for 15th with 336 field goals made.

Comparing the Teams (stats/rank)
Offense Yards/Game: Saints (454.0/2); Panthers (440.0/3)
Sacks taken: Saints (9/70 yds); Panthers (8/47)
3rd Down %: Saints (55.2%/2); Panthers (32.7%/23)
Red Zone %: Saints (42.1%/20); Panthers (43.8%/18)
Defense Yards/Game: Saints (348.0/15); Panthers (346.8.0/14)
Sacks recorded: Saints (13/109 yards); Panthers (6/46)
3rd Down %: Saints (37.7%/15t); Panthers (33.3%/7t)
Red Zone %: Saints (58.3/26); Panthers (36.4%/4t)

2011 3's Company (third-down analysis)
58 plays overall of which 12 were runs and 46 were passes. They have averaged 7.5 yards per run and 8.93 yards per pass play.
Third-and-short (1-2 yards) - 8 runs, 6 first downs; 6 passes, 3 first downs
Third-and-(3-5) - 3 run, 2 first down; 11 passes, 5 first downs
Third-and-(6-10) - 1 runs, 0 first downs; 19 passes, 11 first downs
Third-and-(11-15) - 0 run, 0 first downs; 6 passes, 5 first downs
Third-and-(16-plus) - 0 runs, 0 first downs; 4 passes, 0 first downs

By and large the Saints have figured out third down compared the rest of the league. New Orleans is second in the NFL, converting 55.2 percent of its third downs. And when it's third-and-short, the Saints are pretty darn good, going nine first downs on 14 tries. They're also god in third-and-fairly long (11-15 yards), getting five first downs on six plays.

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