Monday, November 18, 2013

Four Point Stance: Patriots at Panthers


The Carolina Panthers (6-3), winners of their last five, have been rolling of late, boasting a top-tier defense and in prime position to snag a playoff spot. The New England Patriots (7-2), however, roll into Bank of America Stadium fresh off a bye and with a firm grasp on their division. They've also got a pretty respectable Monday night resume.

Quarterback Tom Brady, who threw for 432 yards and four touchdowns against Pittsburgh two weeks ago, will be up against a stout Carolina defensive front that's stifled some of the league's best signal-callers this season.

Holding opposing quarterbacks to a 74.6 rating on average so far, the Panthers pass rush has kept points off the board and games in the hands of their mobile quarterback Cam Newton, who's turned around a dreadful start and traded big numbers for a well-rounded offense.

But Brady is 13-4 in his career on Monday night, with 41 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 102 to his name. And while his numbers have been un-Brady-like this season with the upheaval of his receiving corps, the veteran has still managed a two-to-one touchdown-to-interception ratio while relying on his run game to do much of the heavy lifting.

Going against the league's second-ranked run defense, New England will need both facets of its offense clicking in order to snap Carolina's recent success and steal a key road win.

When the Patriots have the ball:
In terms of the running game, things will be business as usual for New England's by-committee system, with the exception of Shane Vereen's likely return. Expect the third-year back to jump back into his third-down role, which may prove crucial for Brady against the Carolina secondary. The Panthers have allowed the sixth-fewest passes for 20 yards or more, which will likely force the air attack to try to spread the field and execute short slants and screens to gain some open space. Brady's options have greatly expanded the past few weeks, and he looks poised to have the full gamut of receivers at his disposal come Monday.

When the Panthers have the ball:
Carolina is tied with New England for the fifth-most rushing touchdowns in the league (10), which has come from multiple contributors including fullback Mike Tolbert, who will be on the field Monday night alongside running back DeAngelo Williams. Newton has relied more on his running game and on a conservative passing attack than in year's past, which he'll need to continue Monday against a Pats secondary that's made opposing offenses pay for aggressive play calls. New England's forced only one less interception than Carolina (12), and it looks like their most effective defensive playmaker, cornerback Aqib Talib, is on track to start Monday night after an injury forced him to the sidelines in Week 6. 

Costly mistakes. It sounds cliche, but as we mentioned earlier in the week, both teams have been fairly disciplined to this point, each averaging less than five penalties a game. Moreover, each has taken full advantage of their opponents' mistakes, evidenced by their turnover differentials. With two seemingly sound systems in place, it will be interesting to see which squad blinks first, and more importantly if the other side can make them pay for it. 

New England has faced Carolina only five times total in the team's relatively short existence, winning three of those games. The Patriots won the last matchup at home back in 2009 thanks to a pair of 40-plus field goals by Stephen Gostkowski and a solid defensive performance, particularly in the second half. New England hasn't been at Bank of America Stadium since 2005 and is 1-1 against the Panthers in the Sunshine State.

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