The New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers are both ready for the much anticipated Monday Night Football clash, as this game presents both teams with great opportunities to show the world that they are legit contenders in their respective leagues. The Panthers defense has proven themselves over the first nine games of the season, including a lock-down performance last week against the 49ers. The offense isn’t dominant like their defense is, but they are moving in the right direction. The Patriots are 7-2, but the only real solid win they have, is the remarkable 30-27 win over the Saints back in week six. Whoever wins this game will come out of it knowing that they are a team to be reckoned with come playoff time.
Here are a few matchups to keep an eye on, as this contest unfolds.
1. Steve Smith vs. Aqib Talib
The Panthers don’t throw the ball very often, but when they do, more often than not it is to veteran Steve Smith. Through nine games he has hauled in 42 receptions, which have gone for 450 yards and three touchdowns. Smith has been doing this for 13 years, and it doesn’t appear that he is slowing down. However he will be covered by fellow veteran Aqib Talib for most of the night, who has shown that he deserves to be in the conversation for top cornerback in the NFL. Talib plays an aggressive style of football, which is something that occasionally works against him. It will be fun to watch these two go at it tonight, as I am sure that multiple explosive plays will be found between Smith and Talib.
2. Marcus Cannon vs. Charles Johnson
Johnson has racked up 8.5 sacks thus far in 2013, leading the Panthers talented defensive front. He will most likely be matched up with second year man Marcus Cannon in this game, which on paper, appears to be a mismatch in favor of Carolina. But Cannon has played well since he was forced to start on the right side, giving the Pats some stability in an area that has struggled this year. While he certainly is no Sebastian Vollmer, he has the ability to stymie talented pass rushers, and he will need to bring his ‘A game’ if he wants to slow down the monster that is Charles Johnson.
3. Cam Newton vs. New England Front Four
We all know that Cam Newton can beat you on the ground, as well as through the air. In his short two and a half year career, he has run for 1,713 yards and 26 touchdowns. If permitted, he will absolutely destroy your defense, which makes containing him a top priority. I don’t necessarily think that the Patriots have to put a spy on him (it wouldn’t hurt), but their front four will have to keep him in the pocket, in an effort to control the damage he does on the ground. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich can’t go flying by off of the edges, as that would leave a giant hole on the outside for him to take advantage of. Joe Vellano, Chris Jones, and Isaac Sopoaga may have to sacrifice some of their efforts as a pass rusher, to keep an eye on ‘Superman’ in the middle of the defense. If the Patriots are able to keep Newton at bay, then their chances of winning this ball-game skyrocket. If not, then Brady and company will be forced to put up a lot of points on a defense that has surrendered a mere 57 points, over their last five games.