The Carolina Panthers’ passing offense isn’t exactly “high-powered”. They are ranked 28th in the league in passing yards, largely due to the simple lack of talented weapons on the outside. Aside from Steve Smith and Greg Olsen (who is a tight end), there is nobody that can give quarterback Cam Newton opportunities to move the ball through the air, which is why they resort to the ground game for the basis of their offensive game-plan.
What makes the Panthers offense dangerous, is their ability to run the football with three (maybe even four) different players. DeAngelo Williams is their main guy, but they can also roll out Mike Tolbert, Cam Newton, and sometimes Jonathan Stewart. Between these four guys, they always have a fresh runner on the field, which allows them to chew up the clock, and let their defense win the game.
In order for New England to win this football game, they must slow down the Panthers 10th ranked running attack. If they allow Carolina to control the clock, and slowly move up and down the field, then they will lose by a decent margin. There is no way that the Patriots offense will be able to score in rapid succession towards the end of the game versus a defense like the Panthers. If New England keeps it close, they will have a chance, which places a lot of pressure on the middle of the Pats defense. Luckily, they have acquired some reinforcements on the inside, in the form of defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga. Sopoaga made his debut with the Patriots two weeks ago against Pittsburgh, and it is already clear that he will be a big impact for this unit’s 30th ranked run defense. His ability to take on blockers and control the line of scrimmage is Wilfork-like, and on multiple occasions in week nine, he was the guy that helped the Pats stuff the Steelers in short yardage situations. Of course, if the Patriots wants to stop the Panthers rushing attack, they will need some help from other players as well. Chris Jones and Joe Vellano have played their hearts out this season, giving all they have in an effort to replace Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. This past week of rest will hopefully give them some energy to put their best foot forward in this game, because the Patriots will need everything they can get from the middle of their defensive line. We can’t forget the linebackers either. Despite being an extreme liability in pass coverage, Brandon Spikes is about as good as they get in run defense. Spikes lives for games like this, and I expect him to put on a dominant prime-time performance.
Simply put, if Carolina is allowed to run all over the Patriots, then our beloved Pats will lose. I was extremely encouraged by the performance that Tom Brady and the offense put on against Pittsburgh, but you cannot rely on them to do that again, when facing a defense as talented as the Panthers is. If New England is able to slow down that running game, Cam Newton will then be forced to make some plays with his arm, and that is where Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, and the improving secondary of the Patriots will take over. Newton is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the league, but he makes a lot of bad decisions, which will kill you when you face a Bill Belichick coached defense. I hope that Sopoaga and company come to play this week, because if they don’t, things could get ugly for the Patriots, as they make a rare visit to the deep south.