NFL Week 11 Preview: MNF – Patriots @ Panthers
After meeting in Superbowl XXXVIII a decade ago, the stage is set for a primetime matchup between Cam Newton and Tom Brady on Monday Night Football. Carolina (6-3) has won 5 games in a row fueled by their impressive defense lead by stud LB Luke Kuechly. Ranked 2nd in the NFL, this unit is limiting running backs to 82 YPG and QBs to 201.3 YPG. Over the Panthers’ last 5 games, they have limited opponents to 57 points in comparison to the 55 spot New England dropped on the Steelers in Week 9. It’s been extremely difficult to gauge exactly how “good” the Patriots are this season; however, it’s all about momentum down the stretch. The aforementioned dominating performance illuminated the familiar high-powered offense Brady has been orchestrating for years. Belichick and crew will have had 15 days in total to get healthy and prepare for their trip to Carolina coming off the bye. Superman Cam is always a threat to make something out of nothing and is the most talented quarterback the Pats have faced aside from Drew Brees. Although Geno Smith, E.J. Manuel and Big Ben are mobile, Newton is another breed. This game will not disappoint, check out these three keys to victory for New England on Monday Night Football:
1) Win in the trenches: What stuck out to me in Carolina’s 10-9 victory over San Francisco was how they limited Colin Kaepernick to an 11/22, 91 YDS, 0 TD, 1 INT performance. How did the Panthers execute this gameplan? Sacking the elusive QB 6 times certainly helps. DE Charles Johnson leads the team with 8.5 sacks on the year, followed by 5.0 from DE Greg Hardy and LB Thomas Davis with 3.0. Two weeks ago, Brady looked flawless in the pocket against the Steelers despite being sacked 3 times. In my midseason review, the offensive line protection issues were discussed in-depth. Combining that with Brady’s lack of athleticism puts him on pace to be sacked the most times in one season for his career. Getting off to a fast start on offense will be imperative on Monday, through the air and on the ground. We can not play from behind against this impressive defense who is tied for 2nd in the NFC in Give/Take ratio with +8, the Patriots are 2nd in the AFC behind the +15 Chiefs at +9. Considering the Patriots had over 600 total yards in that Pittsburgh game, you can bet the Panthers are drawing up some interesting schemes to confuse Brady’s decision-making. If New England can get it going on the ground with Ridley, keep Tom upright and protect the football the Pats will not lose. It all starts with the offensive line.
2) Contain Newton in the Pocket: If you had the pleasure of listening to Bill Belichick “mic’d up” against the Steelers you may have noticed how much he stressed keeping Big Ben inside the hashmarks. Rush lane integrity often gets overlooked but Belichick will make it an area of focus again this week. Cam is a different animal but the same principal applies. He has only eclipsing 250 yards through the air once this season (308) and his largest rushing total is surprisingly only 50 yards. These statistics emphasize how well Carolina’s defense is playing, their offense is 28th in the NFL in passing at 195.8 YPG but 10th in rushing with 127.8 YPG. Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams and Greg Olsen remain the go-to weapons for Carolina. RB Mike Tolbert has been a nice complimentary power back and WRs Brandon Lafell and Ted Ginn need to be respected for their size and speed, respectively. The Panthers have a lot of weapons to say the least, making Cam beat the Patriots defense with his arm, inside the pocket is the goal.
3) Stay on the field: A vague phrase that is two-fold in meaning. New England got into some serious early-season trouble after being manhandled on the time-of-possession front. The high tempo no-huddle offense breeds this trend but as of late Ridley, Bolden and Blount have been getting it done on the ground, providing a balanced attack. The week has finally arrived in which Shane Vereen is eligible to return off IR after breaking his wrist in Week 1. After releasing WR Laquan Williams, an open roster spot leads the media to believe the Patriots will activate Vereen. CB Aqib Talib was the biggest beneficiary from the bye week, receiving additional time to rest that hip. As the Patriots approach the back end of the season and make their playoff run, health is obviously crucial considering who we’ve lost thus far. Tom Brady needs to execute a few methodical double digit play drives that leave the Panthers defense demoralized and tired. Stay on the field.
The return of Gronk has made the Patriots offense that much more intricate. New England will take care of business on Monday Night but it won’t be easy. 28-24 Pats, Brady has a game-winning drive late in the 4th.