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Friday, December 20, 2013
Know the enemy: Saints on Johnson/Hardy

By Mike Triplett

METAIRIE, La. -- For the fourth week in a row, the New Orleans Saints will be facing a dynamic duo of pass-rushing defensive ends when they face the Carolina Panthers and ends Charles Johnson an Greg Hardy on Sunday.

Obviously the Saints didn’t hold up well in pass protection last week at St. Louis. But they did do an excellent job against this same Carolina duo in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome two weeks ago, holding them to a combined 0.5 sacks in a 31-13 Saints victory.

Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson
Carolina defensive ends Greg Hardy, left, and Charles Johnson, center, have combined to make 17 sacks on the season.
The Saints won’t be in that same comfort zone Sunday, however. Not only are they playing on the road, but they’ve inserted untested rookie left tackle Terron Armstead into the starting lineup. Armstead will mostly face Hardy, though the versatile 6-foot-4, 290-pounder often moves inside on passing downs. Hardy has eight sacks and is tied with St. Louis’ Robert Quinn for third in the NFL with 20 quarterback hits, according to Pro Football Focus.

Hardy is also a fascinating personality who introduced himself during that "Sunday Night Football" game as "Kraken" from "Hogwarts."

Johnson (6-2, 285) has nine sacks and eight quarterback hits, according to PFF. Here’s what the Saints have been saying about them this week:

Coach Sean Payton: “They’ve got very good burst and quickness. When you combine that with power … the elite rushers have that edge speed, but they also can convert it to power. Then you find yourself setting for speed and then having to deal with the transitional rush. Both of those guys do that extremely well. And so when you look at their hurry and sack totals, they combine both of those elements as well as the inside rush. It’s different when you do one of those two things well, but when they do both of them well like these guys do, it becomes problematic.”

Guard Ben Grubbs: “They each have their own game. Hardy’s tall and long, long arms. And Johnson’s a big, strong, stout rusher. He’s able to turn the corner as well. But I also think those guys in the middle occupy the guards and kind of leave the tackles 1-on-1. So they’ve got a good defense. And, you know, we were able to contain them for the most part the first time we played them. But of course they’re probably gonna bring something different to see if they can get to Drew [Brees] more. …

“I went up against (first-round draft pick defensive tackle Star Lotulelei) some. But on third downs, Hardy came in as the three technique. And that’s another thing they use to their advantage. You know, a lot of guards are not used to guys that athletic in the middle. But I think Jahri [Evans] and myself did OK. But we’ll look to correct some of the mistakes we made and hopefully come out this week, on the road, with the best road game we’ve played thus far.”

Left tackle Terron Armstead: “[Hardy is] a high-motor guy. Ability to change direction. A really good player. [When they switch to nickel packages], [Mario] Addison comes, Wes Horton comes, Frank Alexander comes. All of those guys have a high motor. They work together well. They’ve got good depth. Those other guys come in and play with the same type of motor.”