Patriots – Panthers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
September 29, 2017 at 10:17 am ET

The New England Patriots will meet the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m.

This week’s game will be televised by WFXT Channel 25. Joe Buck will handle play-by-play duties with Troy Aikman as the color analyst. Erin Andrews will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (2-1) came back from a late 4th quarter deficit with Tom Brady leading the Patriots to a touchdown drive with 23 seconds to go on a 25-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks for a 36-33 win.

The Panthers (2-1) dropped a 34-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints. Cam Newton struggled, throwing for just 167 yards with three interceptions.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Panthers will be meeting for just the 7th time with just the third game coming in Foxboro. The teams are evenly split 3-3 all-time and 1-1 in Foxboro. The last time the teams met was in 2013, with the Panthers taking home a come-from-behind 24-20 win. The ending was a controversial one, where Tom Brady drove the Patriots down the field in the final seconds and Rob Gronkowski was interfered with in the end zone. The officials threw a flag on the play and then picked it up saying the pass was uncatchable preserving a Carolina win.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Panthers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Carolina

The Patriots running game has yet to get untracked this season and while the Patriots running backs have come under a bit of criticism, the running lanes haven’t been there created by the offensive line. The backs are constantly getting hit in the backfield and the Patriots OL needs to do better.

Carolina has a very good front seven and in their first two games completely stuffed the running game of the 49ers (51 yards), and the Bills (69 yards), 55 of which were Tyrod Taylor scrambling out of the pocket. LeSean McCoy was held to just 9 yards on 12 carries as they completely took away the Bills running game.

Last week they had an anomaly all around as the Saints gashed them for 149 yards on the ground. But don’t look for another version of that. The front seven is very solid with a trio of linebackers (Luke Keuchly, Shaq Thompson, and Thomas Davis) that fly all over the field and make plays. One key to watch on Sunday if Star Lotulelei is able to go this week. But for the Patriots, they’re going to have to pass to run, once again.

Patriots WRs vs Panthers Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game has been clicking the past two weeks. Tom Brady has thrown for 855 yards and eight touchdowns in the past two games and despite a wide receiver corps that is banged up and missing some pieces has enough weapons that they can test anyone.

Tom Brady will look to Brandin Cooks and Rob Gronkowski to continue their strong play again this week. The Panthers will be looking to stop those two first and take away their two biggest targets in the passing game. But Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Phillip Dorsett as well as James White and Dion Lewis out of the backfield gives him plenty of options.

Carolina has a good pass rush and it is led by Julius Peppers who has returned for a second tilt with the Panthers and is off to a very good start with 2.5 sacks already. They’ll chip and blanket Gronkowski underneath and try to throw off the timing of the short/intermediate routes and take away the middle of the field.

The key here is, as always… time. If the Panthers get to Brady before he can get thru his progressions, then they’ll be successful, if Brady gets the time to throw, then the Patriots will find room to work. Look for Amendola and Hogan to get a lot of looks in this one. Curious if the team decides to use more of Dorsett in this one.

Next up the Carolina offense:

Panthers RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

Carolina’s running game, like New England, has yet to take off yet. They have the talented Jonathan Stewart and the impressive rookie Christian McCaffrey as well as the scrambling ability of Newton, although he hasn’t run much yet, probably because his shoulder isn’t 100 percent yet.

The Patriots run defense hasn’t been consistent at all yet this season. And was run on for 125 yards by the Texans with a suspect offensive line last week. It will be interesting if Dont’a Hightower returns from an injury this week, where he’ll play. It may be beneficial for the Patriots to put him back in the middle and allow Kyle Van Noy to move back outside where he was more comfortable.

The Patriots will try to slow the running game down enough and force the game into Newton’s hands. Carolina’s backs haven’t had a breakout game…yet and they may push guys into the box.

Panthers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Carolina

Since Newton’s surgery on his shoulder this offseason, he hasn’t thrown the ball exceptionally well yet. He barely played in the preseason, and still, has quite a bit of rust still to work out. He’s missing his best, most reliable target in Greg Olsen who’ll be out until November. Kelvin Benjamin hurt his knee last week but is expected to start on Sunday. He and Devin Funchess give Newton bookend big receivers (6’4 and 6’5 respectively).

The Patriots pass defense is, to put it politically correct struggling right now. To put it another way, they’re close to being a sieve. The team is last in the league in yards allowed, last in points and last in pass yardage allowed. And they always struggle against mobile QBs. Throw in Christian McCaffrey out of the backfield and this is going to be a tough matchup again.

The Patriots always get passive defensively against mobile QBs, afraid of giving up the big run and play in a zone which doesn’t fit the strength of their defensive backs. I look for Carolina to split out McCaffrey wide and put him on the linebackers who have struggled to cover backs this year. I see McCaffrey having a big game on Sunday.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski was solid on Sunday including his kickoffs as he continues to pin teams deep. Ryan Allen is solid with excellent directional kicking and hang time. The Panthers counter with Graham Gano and Michael Palardy. McCaffrey hasn’t had a big game on STs yet and the Patriots coverage units are getting better every week. Carolina has solid coverage teams as well. But New England gets the slight nod here as they’re at home and Danny Amendola who had two big returns last week has reignited the return game a bit.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one has all the makings to be a barn-burner. Forget about the Panthers struggling passing game where Newton has had trouble hitting water out of a boat. He has right what the doctor ordered, a defense that is searching for answers and can’t stop anyone right now. And until they show signs of fixing their issues, they’re going to struggle.

The Patriots offense is the opposite side of the equation, they haven’t even hit their stride yet and have been averaging 33 points per game. I see Brady and Newton trading touchdown drives this week. McCaffrey will find the end zone twice but it won’t be enough as Brady will spread the ball around to his receivers to keep the Panthers pass rush at bay. Hold onto your seats again, this one goes right down to the wire.   Patriots 35-31

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.



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