This weeks Monday Night Football match up between the Patriots and the Panthers could prove to be a crucial win for either team. The Patriots come into the game looking to prove once again they are still an elite team, while the Panthers are looking for a statement win to show they are for real. Here's what to watch for in this weeks matchup
The Patriot's Run Defense --- The Run defense has been incredibly soft since Wilfork and Kelly went out with injury ranking in the bottom portion of the league in yards allowed. How effective will Spikes be blitzing the A Gap? Can Velanno and Jones hold their ground? Can Hightower make tackles at the second level? Also can the Patriots minimize holes for Jonathan Stewart and keep Deangelo Williams contained? The Patriots may have trouble keeping the run contained against a solid RB grouping and the bruising Cam Newton.
Patriots Gameplan Post Bye --- The Patriots are 10 and 2 coming off of the regular season bye week since 2001.With the extra week of preparation, look for Belichick, McDaniels, and Patricia to have an in depth game plan.Most notably watch the offensive game plan as Mcdaniels tends to struggle getting the offense opportunities against good D-lines (EX. Bengals, Giants)
Alfonzo Dennard's Replacement --- With Aqib Talib coming back this week it is fairly safe to say Steve Smith will be under wraps, but with Dennard being ruled out the matchup between either Kyle Arrington or Logan Ryan and Panther's wide out Brandon Lafell becomes very important. Arrington has shown great ability as a slot corner this year but has struggled against outside receivers, while Logan Ryan has made some great plays and showed play maker potential but struggles with consistency in coverage. Lafell could be seeing a lot of balls thrown his way, if he can get open and make plays it could be trouble for the Patriots.
The Offensive Lines --- The Patriot offensive line has been inconsistent this year at best. Solder has been solid but with Volmer out the Panther's defensive ends will try to exploit Marcus Cannon. The match up the Panthers will want to take advantage of the most is Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short vs the week interior line of the Patriots. The entire interior line for the Patriots has struggled especially Ryan Wendell and Dan Connelly. Look for the Panthers to try and collapse the pocket and bring pressure right in Brady's face. When the Panthers have the ball look for a fresh effort from Chandler Jones and Chris Jones. The Patriots D-line will have to sacrifice some pass rush to contain Newton but either Jones could shoot in quickly and make a play before Newton can scramble.
Containing Superman --- Bill Belichick always tries to neutralize the other teams best player and he will try and do that this week by keeping Cam Newton in the pocket and making him be on time and accurate with his throws. The Patriots are known for their discipline but also play a lot of man coverage this year. If the D-line allows Newton to break contain it will be a big gain and a difficult tackle for any Patriot defensive back.
The Patriot's Passing Game ---- The Patriot offense has been atrocious this year at times but the offense recently put up 55 against the Steelers and coming off a bye week expect the Patriots to be sharp. Brady's connection with rookie Aaron Dobson will be huge because the Patriots will need him to challenge the Panthers deep so they don't load the box and completely stop the run. Also Brady needs to be on time and accurate with his passes to the smaller receivers if the Patriots are to succeed against the Panthers top tier defense. Lastly, will Kembrell Thompkins get any targets this week? He has flashed talent but has moved so far down the depth chart he was a healthy scratch against the Steelers.
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