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Kalil: Greg Olsen could be game-changer vs. Saints

The Carolina Panthers lost twice by double digits to the New Orleans Saints this season. In both games, Cam Newton struggled to put up passing numbers, tossing for fewer than 185 yards in each. The Panthers as a team averaged just 283.5 in the two matchups (they earned 323.7 for the season).

The Panthers hope one key player who missed both games could transform the offense for Newton in the third tilt: Greg Olsen.

"He's a huge difference," center Ryan Kalil said of the tight end, via the Charlotte Observer. "He's a guy you've got to account for. He's an every-down player, too.

"I know Greg's status as a player in this league is a lot of what he does catching the ball and running routes. But he's a huge part of our run game, and time and time again I see him come down and collapse pretty impressive defensive ends.

"Also, too, his smarts. He does a lot of directing out on the field. ... He's somebody that is a game-changing type player, especially for our offense."

Olsen missed nine games this season with a foot injury, including both tilts versus the Saints. Without his security blanket, Newton struggled to move the ball against New Orleans. Carolina hopes having the tight end on the field Sunday will take pressure off a depleted wide receiver corps.

"Greg, man, he opens it up for everybody," receiver Russell Shepard said. "It enables the rest of the offense to kind of have one-on-one matchups, and being able to win those matchups."

This is the part of the story where we note the Saints did not have Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Marshon Lattimore on the field in both games either and still shut down the Panthers' passing game.

Olsen and Newton struggled to find their connection this season outside of one game. In Week 15 versus Green Bay, Olsen earned nine catches for 116 yards and a TD. In six other games, he has eight catches for 75 yards. Last week's loss to Atlanta was particularly brutal for the Olsen-Newton connection: 10 targets, 1 catch, 10 yards, 1 INT.

Both Olsen and the team brushed aside last week's anomaly and believe he could be the difference in Sunday's playoff showdown in New Orleans.

"Well, I think they'll be OK," coach Ron Rivera said Thursday. "They've worked a lot the last few weeks just to get on the same page. Again, Greg was out for a while and hadn't really had an opportunity to work, and they've got to get that familiarity back."

If Newton finds his connection with Olsen, it will provide a chain-moving option the Panthers lacked as their offense stagnated down the stretch.

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