By: Derek Havens
The New England Patriots go on the road to face the Carolina Panthers in week eleven.
The Patriots (7-2) are coming off a week 10 bye after defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 55-31 in week nine. On the other side, the Panthers (6-3) look to extend their win streak to six games after defeating the San Fransisco 49ers 10-9 in week 10.
The two teams last met in 2009 when the Patriots beat the Panthers, 20-10 on Dec. 13 at Gillette Stadium. Bill Belichick is 10-3 coming off a bye and is 15-5 overall on Monday Night Football as New England’s head coach.
Here’s a look at how both teams can come away with a victory Monday. —
How the Panthers win:
Run It Up The Gut: Since Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo have been sidelined for the season, the Patriots have struggled stopping the run. As impressive as undrafted rookies Chris Jones and Joe Vellano have been in a pass rushing role, they have been over-powered at the point of attack far too often. DeAngelo Williams and the Panthers rushing attack ranks 10th in the NFL and Carolina loves taking a balanced approach. Establishing the run will be key for the Panthers, potentially opening up plays downfield.
Get Off The Field: The Panthers rank sixth in third-down defense (33.9 percent) this season. In their two losses, the Patriots have gone a combined 2-for-24 on third down. New England has struggled to be consistent and efficient offensively throughout the year. Carolina needs to focus on getting off the field and keeping Tom Brady on the sidelines. If the Panthers can keep the Patriots offense stagnant, not only could they control the time of possession, but they can play the style of football that suits them the best. Third down success — Patriots offense versus the Panthers defense — should decide who comes out with a victory.
Pressure Brady: The Patriots have allowed 26 sacks this season, after giving up only 27 in 2012. New England has struggled against physical defensive fronts this year, which Carolina certainly possesses. The Panthers don’t blitz often, but look for them to pressure the Pats offensive line in the middle and get into Brady’s face. Panthers defenders Star Lotulelei, Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy, Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly have the ability to take over a ball game. If the Panthers are successful up front, it could be a long night for the Patriots.
How The Patriots Win:
Contain Newton: The Patriots have to keep Panthers quarterback Cam Newton in the pocket. Newton is a big, physical, gifted runner that can effortlessly throw the ball downfield and make plays. Bill Belichick was dead-set on keeping Steelers signal-caller Ben Roethlisberger in the pocket in week nine and I believe a similar game plan will be in place this week. Harassing Newton with a relentless pursuit and containing him in the pocket will give the Patriots defense an advantage. If they allow Newton to make plays with his legs consistently, the Panthers will hand New England their third loss of the season.
Stay Balanced: When the Patriots have been at their best offensively this season, they have had a balanced attack. They are averaging 129.1 yards-per-game on the ground through eleven weeks. New England executes the play-action passing game to perfection. Expect the same this Monday if they can establish the run. Easier said than done, however, as the Panthers defense has only allowed 82 yards-per-game this season; third in the NFL.
Spread Them Out: Carolina’s biggest weakness is their seconday. Tom Brady and the Patriots could pick them apart if Brady is given time to operate. New England’s best bet is to spread the Panthers defense out, use quick passes and take advantage of the defenders aggression. The Patriots need to get the ball out quickly to not only negate the Panthers pass-rush, but also get their offense in rhythm. This will also slow down Carolina’s front seven from moving into New England’s backfield too fast. A spread offense will provide a trickle down effect favoring the Pats throughout the contest.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Panthers 17.
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