Carolina (0-3) at New Orleans (2-1)

By NOEY KUPCHAN, STATS Writer Thursday, Sep 30, 2010 Kickoff: 1:00 pm EDT Sun Oct 3, 2010

Garrett Hartley’s(notes) missed field goal in overtime last week kept the New Orleans Saints from starting 3-0 for the second consecutive season. That prompted them to add some familiar insurance as they look to avoid similar fates in the future.

New Orleans has brought back 22-year veteran John Carney(notes), and he could replace Hartley as kicker starting Sunday when the Saints host the winless Carolina Panthers.

Hartley sent the Saints (2-1) to the Super Bowl last season with a 40-yard field goal in overtime against Minnesota, but he has struggled this year, missing three of his seven field-goal attempts. A shanked 29-yarder in overtime against Atlanta last Sunday led to a 27-24 defeat, and resulted in New Orleans signing the 46-year-old Carney on Tuesday.

Hartley, who has the stronger leg, will remain with the club, but the more accurate Carney - the Saints’ kicker for most of last season - may keep him on the sidelines during field goals.

Drew Brees(notes) sought to take some of the attention off the kicking problems this week, saying the team needs to play better as a whole.

“It’s a lot of things. It’s not just about missing the field goal at the end,” he said. “There were a lot of things prior to that had we executed better we wouldn’t have even been in that situation …”

Brees was 30 of 38 for a season-high 365 yards and three touchdowns last week, but also committed his first turnovers of the year with two interceptions.

While the Saints were able to move the ball through the air, they had trouble on the ground. They rushed for a season-low 43 yards, their lowest output since being held to the same total Nov. 11, 2007, by St. Louis.

With Reggie Bush(notes) out with a fractured right fibula, the run game has been left to Pierre Thomas(notes) and rookie Christopher Ivory(notes). Thomas is averaging 3.2 yards a carry, 2.2 less than what he averaged in 2009.

He left in the fourth quarter Sunday with a sprained ankle missed a second straight practice Thursday, leaving Thomas as a game-time decision this week.

“We are going to need to be able to run the ball more efficiently to have the success we hope to have,” coach Sean Payton said. “We are going to need to defend the run more efficiently, too. Those are two important components to winning.”

Payton’s team is allowing 145 rushing yards per game, third most in the NFL.

“It’s an execution problem,” linebacker Jonathan Vilma(notes) said. “I wouldn’t say it’s been mental breakdowns because that means you’re not on the right guy or something else. We are calling the right plays. We’re just not executing.”

Vilma and his teammates will need to step up quickly against Carolina’s talented running back duo.

DeAngelo Williams(notes) and Jonathan Stewart(notes) have started off slowly, but a breakout game may be on the horizon against a Saints team that allowed 202 rushing yards to the Falcons.

After combining for 2,250 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground last season, the players have totaled 248 yards and one TD in three games.

Williams’ last two games against the Saints were big ones, as he ran for 327 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 7.1 yards per carry in those contests last season and in 2008.

While the running game has yet to get going, Carolina (0-3) is also dealing with issues at quarterback.

Matt Moore(notes) started the season under center, but was knocked out in Week 2 with a concussion and later benched in favor of Jimmy Clausen(notes).

Clausen made his first career start last Sunday, going 16 of 33 for 188 yards with one interception and two lost fumbles in a 20-7 loss to Cincinnati.

He will look to bounce back when he starts again Sunday.

“They’re obviously a really good team, the defending world champions,” he told New Orleans’ official website. “The thing we have to do is eliminate mistakes and turnovers and we have to play a perfect game to have a chance to beat the Saints.”

Carolina has lost its first three games for the second year in a row and will look to avoid going 0-4 for the third time in its 16-year history.

The Panthers defeated the Saints 23-10 on Jan. 3 as New Orleans rested most of its starters in its final game before the playoffs. Carolina has won 11 of the last 15 matchups and had won seven home games in a row in the series before a 30-20 loss Nov. 8.

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