The Patriots take on the Carolina Panthers tomorrow afternoon at 1 p.m. and look to begin the season at 3-1 before jetting down to Tampa Bay for a Thursday Night Tilt.
These teams don’t meet very often, this will be just the seventh time they’ve played including Super Bowl XXXVIII but it should still be a competitive, hard-fought affair.
So, from a Patriots perspective, here are five players to watch tomorrow and ones who will need to play well if they look to come away with a victory.
Quarterback Tom Brady: It is always funny in a sardonic way that so many of these “hot-takes” artists in the national media jump all over the “could Brady be done?” mantra every time he has a not-so Tom Brady type of game. After struggling against the Kansas City Chiefs on opening night, we heard it again. In the past two games, Brady has thrown for 825 yards, eight touchdowns, and zero interceptions.The cliff talk has been stifled for now.
But the Patriots face another very good defense in Carolina which stuffed their first two opponents before suffering a letdown of their own last week. They’ll be looking to get back on track and the pressure will be on Brady to produce, even more so, especially with the defense struggling as badly as it has done.
Linebacker Dont’a Hightower: There seems to be every indication that the Patriots best linebacker will be back on the field after missing the last two games with a knee sprain. It couldn’t have come at a better time. The defense has been struggling and could use his hard nose back in the lineup.
While he’s not a panacea to fix everything in the defense that has been scuffling along, it will be interesting to see where the Patriots play him. This season they had him more on the edge against KC before he got hurt. One must wonder if they’d be thinking on moving him back inside and moving Kyle Van Noy outside where he is more comfortable and better suited.
With Carolina center Ryan Kalil out, Hightower could help the defense stop the running game inside and possibly bring some pressure up the A-gap. We’ll be watching closely to see how the big man is moving after that knee injury as well.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski: Gronkowski, like Brady, heard the same not-so-quiet whispering that maybe he had lost a step after a tough loss against KC. In the past two games, he’s been immense in both the passing and running games as his blocking is as good as ever. He’ll be one of the focal points of the Panthers defense.
He’ll be facing off against one of the best linebackers in the NFL in Luke Kuechly. He can cover all over the field and the matchup between these two should be a fun one to watch all afternoon as two of the best will go against one another.
When Gronkowski is on top of his game, the Patriots offense clicks as he opens up so many other avenues for Brady to utilize. He’s a true force multiplier. That’s why the Panthers will be trying to stop him and take away the middle of the field.
Defensive End Trey Flowers: One of the issues of the Patriots defense has been the pass rush, it has been inconsistent and the team could certainly use a more potent one moving forward. Flowers has been good so far this season, and the team is hoping that they can get even more from him as the season progresses.
He’ll be going against Matt Kalil the left tackle who has struggled thus far after coming over from the Vikings with a big $55 million dollar contract. Kalil has allowed 4 sacks, 11 QB pressures, and a QB hit. While experts expect that Kalil will get it all figured out in Carolina, the Patriots hope that it just isn’t this week.
Flowers could really help a unit that is struggling right now with a big day against a tackle who likewise is struggling. This is a good matchup to monitor during the game as the Patriots edge players will try to get pressure while remaining disciplined against the mobile Newton.
Wide Receiver Danny Amendola: While an argument can be made for watching the big corners of the Panthers James Bradberry and Kevon Seymour (making his first start) going against Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan on the outside, a more compelling matchup may be Amendola going against veteran Captain Munnerlyn in the slot.
Amendola returned from a concussion last week and played well, returning two punts for big gains and making three catches for 48 yards, including a huge 27-yard grab between two defenders on the Patriots final drive when facing a third and eighteen near midfield. That set up the game-winning pass to Cooks to win the game.
Munnerlyn in a surprising twist played sparingly (11 snaps) last week against the Saints. I’d expect the Panthers to play him much more this week matching the two veterans against one another. Neither one is the biggest guy on the field but their matchup will be a big one to watch as the Patriots may lean on Amendola this week a bit more in an attempt to keep the chains moving.
Check with us here on PatsFans.com immediately after the game for instant analysis and the stats that covered this contest.