Preseason Game 2: Patriots @ Carolina Panthers
August 18 at Ericsson Stadium
This is a preview of a preview since these teams will meet again for real when the second week of the season (September 16) arrives. The teams have several similarities and are both in the process of significant personnel changes in the hopes of returning to their last golden run in 1996.
Preseason games remain little more than practice sessions. The confident and capable NFL players are attempting to find their season rhythm in short work as they avoid significant playing time. The roster competition heats up dramatically as the younger players are running short on time to impress the coaching staffs before cuts in fact cut short their NFL careers. The intensity is high for these players but the preparation is not sufficiently extensive to provide too valuable a game preview. In this instance you can be certain neither team intends to tip much of their hand. Neither wishes to give too much film to an opponent they will face in so short a time.
Tony George spent little time unemployed after the Pats released him this week. Carolina quickly grabbed the promising young safety and he’ll be eager to prove something to his former employers. He joined another familiar name in New England as Jimmy Hitchcock is a starting corner.
The Panthers had a similar problem to the Patriots. They had a woeful offensive line last season. Their most significant move in the offseason was to attempt a fix by signing three free agent lineman: Tackle Todd Steussie, Guard Kevin Donnalley and Center Jeff Mitchell. How long it takes for this unit to gel is anyone’s guess as is always the case with a new group. Unlike New England, they have all remained healthy enough to make strides as a unit. Old Line Coach Paul Boudreau is pleased with their progress. The Line did give up four sacks in their first practice against the Jaguars.
Unfortunately for the Panthers the Quarterback behind that line isn’t looking quite as promising. Steve Beuerlein was surprisingly released to make way for Jeff Lewis. Loaded with potential, Lewis has yet to live up to his promise. While openly given the top spot, many feel Chris Weinke is making a serious bid for the position. Unspectacular QB play is a significant concern for the Panthers who boast a rather competent receiving corps. Muhammad is one of the best in the league with good size (6’2″) and speed he matched the league lead in receptions last season. Patrick Jeffers is struggling with his knee injury but rookie Jermale Kelly looked good in his opening practice and in much of camp as has speedster Steve Smith. Tight End Wessley Walls is watching free agent Luther Broughton demonstrate solid receiving skills at that position.
The Panthers are eager to establish a running game behind their offensive line and to protect their Quarterbacks. The oft injured Tim Biakabutuka still claims some lingering effect from last year’s turf toe. Promising free agent Richard Huntley will challenge and push him.
Defensively the Panthers made some changes as the elder formidable had-beens of Reggie White, Chuck Smith and Eric Swann all departed. Sean Gilbert, Brenston Buckner and rookie Kris Jenkins will man the tackle position with good run stuffing size. Chris Slade will attempt his Willie McGinest impersonation for the Panthers along with another near Patriot in Jason Peter. Rookie Dan Morgan was added to the linebackers to help shut down the run which was a team problem last season with a 26th rating in rushing yards allowed.
Their secondary has Michael Minter (Safety) as their strongest performer. Hitchcock is a talented corner with speed but frequently can be overmatched by the premier receivers in the league. Evans is a larger corner opposite him who can be burned by a speedster. They were sixth worst in the league in this area (as well) last season.
Our Matchup Strength
As always preseason does not truly showcase match-up strengths because so many bodies will constantly be in substitution. It is difficult to predict whom will face whom. Given the first units, New England’s offense would likely have an edge in the passing game. The Panthers do not look to be a high QB pressure team which plays into the hands of Bledsoe and his array of decent, not exceptional receivers. A pair of speedsters in Patten and Emmanuel could challenge the coverage of the corners. Yielding Bledsoe time has yielded the Patriots receptions in points for most of his career in New England.
Defensively the Patriots improved secondary would have an advantage over the one star Panthers. Doubling Muhammed and using their new cover linebacker for the Tight Ends might enable them to limit the unspectacular Quarterback position. Their complex defensive scheme will be especially difficult for the lower experience QBs of Carorlina.
Our Matchup Weakness
While the defensive line of New England passed their first test in stopping the Giants rushing attack, they didn’t get a very realistic look. They will certainly be challenged by the Panthers who want to show they can establish a ground game and have added the lineman to aid their backs in that cause. Huntley is a powerful back who will make New England prove they can match the challenge. At this point is seems a clear Carolina advantage.
New England’s Offensive Line hasn’t stablized in manpower due to injuries. The group is laden with inexperienced players and under talented veterans fighting to fill in while the line of the future awaits. Redmond and Smith are battling for the starting position currently but neither will have the best line tools to give them their chance. Running in the middle will be especially challenging and New England may find themselves in too many third and longs as a result.
Neither side will unveil any true strategy this game. They have too much at stake in just a few weeks. Each will stay true to their camp goals. New England will work on the run but will get Bledsoe his reps with his many receivers. He’ll likely see more time this week than when the pass rushing dirvish descends upon their line next week (Tampa Bay). A solid test of life without Terry Glenn.
The Panthers made a strong emphasis on the run last week and will likely continue. Ineffective running hurt them last week and forced more passing than they prefer. New England is a prime foe to get them some productive running work. They would at least like to reverse the trend of their QBs having as many rushing attempts as their backs and a receiver having more rushing yards than all the rest of the team combined. So that isn’t quite true – but take away one QBs rushing efforts and it becomes true. This will not be their goal this game.
Why to Watch:
1) Pats likely to give Bledsoe longest look of preseason
2) Panthers are going to give the Pats DL a rushing challenge/test
3) Excellent preparation for the week 2 regular season tilt
4) Pats will have 4 of their 5 expected starting OL available – finally
5) Pats concentrated on Red Zone offense – did it work?
6) Have you actually seen a Red Sox scorebox lately?
Both teams would certainly rather win the game but more importantly both teams need to see key progress at their vital weak points. Carolina’s rushing game against New England’s seemingly under powerred rushing defense will be the determining factor in the competition. Drew’s early work and the redzone attention yield a few early scores while Carolina controls the clock via their ground game but settles for Kasey (Welcome Back!) Field Goals. Carolina, like New England, has had good success from their back-up QBs who are likely to have an impressive duel over the lesser defences of both teams. New England keeps pace to keep the early margin intact for a 27-20 victory.
Posted Under: 2001 Patriots Preseason
Tags: 2001 Patriots Preseason Carolina Panthers New England Patriots