The Carolina Panthers provide a unique challenge for the Patriots this week. This is a team the Patriots should beat and they are favored to win by 3 1/2 points. This is a Jekyll and Hyde team. The Panthers are also 4-4 after a quick 3-0 start, they broke a 4 game losing streak with a 19-13 win over a weak Atlanta team. They are 2-2 at home. The Panthers will be boosted by the return of Running back Christian McCaffrey. He started practicing this week and his status for the game Sunday is unknown. Last week they added Stephon Gilmore who picked off his 1st pass in his debut.
|QB||Sam Darnold Q||P.J. Walker||–||–|
|RB||Christian McCaffrey||Chuba Hubbard||Ameer Abdullah||Royce Freeman|
|WR||DJ Moore||Shi Smith|
|WR||Robby Anderson||Alex Erickson|
|WR||Terrace Marshall Jr Q||Brandon Zylstra IR||–||–|
|TE||Ian Thomas||Tommy Tremble||Colin Thompson||–|
|LT||Cameron Erving||Brady Christensen||Trent Scott|
|LG||Michael Jordan||Trent Scott||Pat Elflein||–|
|C||Matt Paradis||Pat Elflein||Sam Tecklenburg||Mike Panasiuk IR|
|RG||Trent Scott||Dennis Daley||John Miller IR||Deonte Browen IR|
|RT||Taylor Morton||Brady Christensen|
Sam Darnold would be the starter if healthy. He suffered a concussion last week and was knocked out of the game. PJ Walker came in and was a putrid 3-15 in relief. Darnold was listed as limited on Wednesday’s injury report so I expect him to start. Note: late info has Darnold as Questionable due to a shoulder injury. He is having an uneven year. It’s either great or awful. He has 166 completions in 273 attempts (60.8%), for 1814 yards, 7 TDs, and 8 INTs. Per Pro Football Focus (PFF), Darnold ranks 25th among starting QBs. Consequently, Mac Jones is 17th.
Christian McCaffrey is a game-changer at running back. He is coming off IR and is practicing this week. I expect him to play versus the Patriots. He presents all kinds of problems for the Patriots Defense. What he does well, the Patriots have a hard time defending. He is the #1 receiving back in the league. He is not just a 3rd down back and runs the ball very well. He is quick, decisive, sets up his blockers, and reacts very quickly. His change of direction is outstanding. He is also tough and durable. His backup is Chuba Hubbard, a rookie drafted in the 4th round (126) six picks after the Patriots selected Rhamondre Stevenson. He has rushed 108 times for 391 yards (3.6 avg) and 2 TDs.
The Wide Receiver group is very good. DJ Moore has emerged as a star receiver. At the unofficial middle of the year, he has 50 catches on 81 targets for 645 yards and 3 TDs. Belichick was effusive in his praise of Moore this week. He leads the Panthers in receptions and yards and is well on his way to a 100 catch / 1000 yards season if he stays healthy. Robby Anderson came over from the Jets a year ago. He has 18 catches on 50 targets. He is a great possession receiver that can get open deep. Brandon Zylstra needs to be mentioned due to his big play ability. He is 8 for 8, for 17.4 yards per catch. Rookie Terrace Marshall a 2nd round selection this year shows a lot of promise too. He has 14 receptions on 22 targets.
At TE, it’s Ian Thomas as the team leader after Dan Arnold was shipped off to Jacksonville. He has 11 catches for an 11.8 YPC. The emergence of Tommy Tremble made Arnold available for trade. Tremble is this years’ 3rd round selection. Carolina got great value in their 1st three picks.
The offensive line has been performing better than their actual talent would say they should. Cameron Erving was a 1st round selection of the Cleveland Browns in 2015. The large (6’ 5” 313lbs) Left Tackle has never been as dominant as his size indicates he should be. The Florida State product has played for the Browns, Chiefs, Cowboys, and now the Panthers. Pat Elflein has returned from IR and may move back into one of the Guard spots he left in week 2. This could be another boost to the team. Taylor Moton has been a three-year starter at Right Tackle since being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2017 draft. Moton played all of the offensive snaps last year. The Western Michigan player is huge at 6’5” 325 lbs.
|LDE||Brian Burns||Marquis Haynes Sr.||Darryl Johnson IR|
|LDT||Derrick Brown||Phil Hoskins||Daviyon Nixon IR|
|RDT||DaQuan Jones||Bravvion Roy|
|RDE||Morgan Fox||Yetur Gross-Matos|
|WLB||Shaq Thompson||Frankie Luvu||Kamal Martin|
|MLB||Jermaine Carter Jr||Clay Johnston|
|SLB||Haason Reddick||Julian Stanford|
|LCB||Donte Jackson||CJ Henderson||Stantley Thomas-Oliver Q||Jaycee Horn IR|
|SS||Sean Chandler||Kenny Robinson||Juston Burris IR|
|FS||Jeremy Chinn||Sam Franklin Jr.||Myles Hartsfield IR||–|
|RCB||Stephon Gilmore||A.J. Bouye||Keith Taylor Jr||Rashaan Melvin|
This can be and should be a formidable group of defenders. The Panthers Defense is 2nd in the league allowing less than 300 yards per game total offense. They are also 2nd in the league against the pass with 188 yards per game. They are only getting better with the addition of Stephon Gilmore. Let’s start with the D Line. They are good against the run, giving up only 106.8 yards per game. Derrick Brown clogs the middle of the defense as does DaQuan Jones. Ends with Brian Burns and Morgan Fox holding up the line. It’s the Linebackers led by Shaq Thompson that cleanup. Thompson is the new breed of LB. They are safety size (6’ 230 lbs) but can run sideline to the sideline. They are also good at dropping into coverage. Hasson Reddick leads the team in sacks with 7.5 and is 2nd in tackles. They manage to put pressure on the QB and can be very disruptive.
The secondary is good and getting better. The additions of CJ Henderson in the Arnold trade and Stephon Gilmore (for nothing from the Patriots) will make the already good secondary better. Gilmore played limited snaps in his 1st game back but had an interception. I expect more from him this week and to shut down whoever he is matched up against. Safety Jeremy Chinn leads the team in tackles with 43. Safety Sean Chandler and Reddick for 2nd place in tackles with 38. They have CJ Henderson and AJ Bouye as backups. Deonte Jackson is the other starter at CB. Star rookie 1st round selection, CB Jaycee Horn is out for the year and on IR. They have only made 6 INTs so far with Shaq Thompson making two of them.
|P||Lachlan Edwards *||Joseph Charlton IR||–|
|H||Lachlan Edwards *|
|PR||Alex Erickson||Shi Smith||DJ Moore|
|LS||J.J. Jansen||Thomas Fletcher Jr IR|
|* Not Yet Promoted from Practice Squad|
The Panthers are not a highly ranked Special Teams unit. They are ranked 18th in the league. The Patriots by comparison are #4. Punter Joe Charlton has been put on IR and Lachlan Edwards will be promoted from the Practice Squad. That may not be until Friday. Edwards will also handle the Holding duties for Zane Gonzalez. Gonzalez has been good for Carolina, making 13 of 15 FGs. The two misses were beyond 50 yards.
As I stated in the beginning I think the Panthers pose a real problem for the Patriots and I don’t think the Patriots should be favored down in Carolina. We have played Carolina 6 times in the regular season and they hold a 4-2 advantage. I think their strengths counteract our strengths. Their short passing game is outstanding and could eat up our LBs. The Patriots’ defense will need to come up big in order for the Patriots to win. Mistake-free football and Mac Jones keeping us in the game should result in a close, low-scoring win. We cannot get into a shootout with them.
The Patriots listed 11 players as limited on Wednesday. JC Jackson missed practice because of illness. The Panthers only had two players listed as limited, one being Darnold, recovering from a concussion and shoulder issue. Evan Lazar just posted that the shoulder injury is more of a concern than the concussion. He finished by stating “Get ready for PJ Walker”.
Who is PJ Walker? He is the winningest QB in Temple Owl football. He played for Matt Ruhle all 4 years at Temple and is now reunited with the 2nd year head coach with the Panthers. Walker threw for a career avg completion % of 56% at Temple. Last year he threw for 57% in limited action backing up Teddy Bridgewater. As I stated earlier, he was 3 for 15 last week. This is a major development and should be monitored closely. I don’t believe that Walker can successfully manage the Panthers to a victory.
The Patriots will have a big advantage in the coaching department!
Posted Under: 2021 NFL Season