By: Russ Goldman
The Patriots are back in action Monday Night to face the Panthers. Here are Five Things for you to look for in this match-up.
1. Can the Patriots offense play fast and feature the passing game against the Panthers? The Patriots are probably going up against the best defense they have faced this season. First, the Panthers defense is currently second in the NFL in rush defense, and they are only giving up 82 yards per game. Their front seven is aggressive, and I think establishing the running game against this team does not make sense.
The Patriots need to spread this defense out, with multiple wide receivers, and tight end Rob Gronkowski. If I were offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, this is an opponent that I would have quarterback Tom Brady back in the shot-gun most of the game, with a running back next to him.
Also, this is a defense, that the hurry up offense could really tire out, so I am hoping we see the Patriots play very fast in this game. If the Patriots can up the tempo on offense, and move the ball through the air on offense, the Pats could control this game.
2. Can the Patriots offensive line finally protect Tom Brady? The Patriots offensive line did a great job against the Steelers with protecting Brady, but they will be asked once again to step up. The Panthers have two excellent defensive ends, as Greg Hardy has five sacks this season, and on the other other side, Charles Johnson, has 8.5 sacks for the Panthers.
Two key players in this game could be Patriots tackles Nate Solder, and Marcus Cannon. If they can contain the outside rush of the Panthers, Brady could have time to do damage against an average secondary.
3. Can the Patriots step up their “red zone offense” against the Panthers? San Francisco last week against the Panthers was forced to kick several field goals instead of getting touchdowns.
The Patriots offense cannot afford to kick field goals against the Panthers. They are going to have to be aggressive in the red-zone, and do whatever they can to score touchdowns rather than settle for field goals.
Gronkowski is getting healthy, and he is your number one option in the red-zone. Also, wide receiver Danny Amendola is back, and the Patriots might have running back Shane Vereen available for this game. If Brady has all of his targets available, there should be opportunities to capitalize in the red-zone with touchdowns.
4. Can the Patriots defense stop the run? The Panthers offense is ranked number ten in the NFL in rushing. It is imperative that the Patriots defense, does not let the Panthers control the clock with the running game.
The two main running backs for the Panthers are DeAngelo Williams, and Jonathan Stewart. Plus, the Patriots have to be concerned with the running of quarterback Cam Newton. If the Patriots can stop the run, it will force Newton to throw more than he probably wants to, and possibly make a mistake.
5. Can the Patriots contain quarterback Cam Newton? What makes Newton very dangerous is he can beat you through the air, and with his legs. Honestly, I am more concerned with him getting out of the pocket, and running the ball as he is averaging 4.2 yards per carry.
The Patriots defense really should want to force Newton and his offense to work their way down the field. Newton has improved as a passer, but I still want to see if he can have long sustained drives. The job for the Patriots defense is to contain Newton, and see if they can force him to make mistakes in the passing game.
Now, on to the game, the Panthers showed me against the Niners that they have arrived, and are legitimate threat in the NFC. Their defense is really one of the best in the game, and will be a test for the Patriots. However, I just have a feeling that the Patriots offense in the passing game, could cause some problems for the Panthers defense.
This game could be fairly close, but the Patriots are coming off of the bye week, and with two weeks to prepare for the Panthers they will be ready. I see the Patriots figuring out a way to win this game in the fourth quarter.
If you are looking for more of an extensive preview of this game, please take a listen below to Patriots Fourth And Two.