Nov 3, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) reacts after a pass interference call against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
Every year there seems to be a “defining” game for a successful NFL team. Last year when the New England Patriots beat the Texans by a score of 42-14, it looked it would be a win that would propel them throughout the remainder of that season, and into playoffs. I think that this this coming game against the Panthers has the potential to be that type of game for the Patriots. Yes, most would say that next week’s tilt with the Broncos is bigger, but when you combine the ferocious defense that Carolina brings to the table, and the incredible hot streak that they are currently on, I think that this one presents a better opportunity for the Pats. Tom Brady and company could really make a statement to the rest of the league with a win, showing that New England is for real, and are a force to be reckoned with in the AFC.
As I previously mentioned, the Panthers defense is the unit that will really give the Pats trouble, as they come into this game ranked second in total defense, as well as scoring defense. It will be tough for Brady to make a dent in this group’s armor, but it can be done. Here are three things that if done, will allow the Pats to have success on that side of the ball.
1. Attempt To Run The Football
When you look at the Panthers three losses this season, there is once common tactic that can be drawn from the winning teams. Balance. All three teams that beat Carolina made an effort to run the football, even if they did not do it successfully. The combined pass-run ration between these three teams was 54% pass, and 46% run. That is pretty damn balanced for today’s NFL, and it is a big reason why they were able to beat the Panthers. It kept Carolina’s talented front seven at bay, not allowing them to simply tee off at the quarterback. You probably won’t have much success on the ground, because of the Panthers second ranked run defense, but just having the threat there will dramatically improve your chances, and give Brady an opportunity to take advantage of some matchups in the back end.
2. Isolate Gronkowski
While the Carolina front seven is absolutely dominant, the back end can be exploited with the appropriate players. One particular player that is primed for success is tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronk is a matchup nightmare, and is simply an impossible cover for just about any defender in the league. Now, second year linebacker Luke Kuechly is an extremely talented young player, but do I think that he has the skills to shut down Gronkowski? I just don’t see it happening. The same can be said for the safeties of Carolina. Quintin Mikell and Mike Mitchell are solid football players, but there is no way that one on one, they will be able to slow down big number 87. If New England can get Gronk isolated in the slot, or on the outside, there will be yards to have, which will be important, as when facing a defense like this, yards and points will be at a premium.
3. Nate Solder And Marcus Cannon Better Come Ready To Play
Two of the most dominant players on this defense are the two defensive ends. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy lead the team in sacks, at eight and a half and six apiece. Johnson had a big game last week in San Francisco, recording one and a half sacks on Colin Kaepernick, as well as two quarterback hits. These two, along with the rest of the Carolina defensive line, can blow up your offense in a hurry, which puts a lot of pressure on the two offensive tackles in New England. Nate Solder has had a terrific year, putting down pass rusher after pass rusher through nine games. Cannon has also had a good season, especially considering the fact that he was forced into action, after Sebastian Vollmer went down in week eight versus Miami. If these two guys are able to keep the pass rushers of Carolina in check, then the Pats have a good chance of moving the ball against them. If they don’t, well let’s just say that Tom Brady better be prepared to ice his body after this one is over.