Tale Of The Tape: New England Patriots At Carolina Panthers
- QuarterbackTom Brady has endured a difficult season and touchdowns were hard to come by until the Patriots put 55 points on the board against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week Nine. While that game allowed Brady a chance to spread the ball around more than he had done previously, the Carolina defense may be able to keep Brady from following up with another memorable performance.There are no questions about Cam Newton’s physical gifts. He has size, strength, athletic ability, a powerful arm and accuracy. Despite all those assets, Newton was painfully inconsistent until going on a five-game winning streak. He appears to have turned a corner and has learned how to take what the defense gives him.
- OffenseThe Patriots don’t want Brady to have to carry the team all by himself. They want Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden to run the ball to keep opposing defenses honest. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is a special talent who can get open on nearly every play. Julian Edelman can make tough catches in traffic, while Danny Amendola is also helpful when he can stay healthy.The Panthers have a two-pronged running attack with explosive DeAngelo Williams and powerful fullback Mike Tolbert. The speed and toughness of wide receiver Steve Smith can make a huge difference in this game. While he is short at 5'-9", he will stand up to any defensive back and make plays under duress. Tight end Greg Olsen has the size and skills to get open on key third-down plays.
- DefenseThe Patriots' defense has been torn apart by injuries and Bill Belichick’s team does not have the quality depth to make up for those losses. Without Vince Wilfork in the middle of the defensive line and Jerod Mayo at the outside linebacker spot, the Pats have been vulnerable to the run. The return of Aqib Talib (hip) will improve the pass defense, but there are some weak spots in the secondary.The Panthers have shown their mettle on several occasions this season, including their Week 10 victory over the 49ers. They kept San Francisco out of the endzone and limited them to three Phil Dawson field goals. Defensive end Charles Johnson has a team-high 8.5 sacks, while middle linebacker Luke Kuechly has a team-high 75 tackles and eight passes defended.
- Special TeamsThe Patriots have done an outstanding job of covering kickoffs and punts, and they believe that Julian Edelman can bust a big return at any time. Stephen Gostkowski has been superb, connecting on 22-of-23 FG attempts this season.The Panthers have not allowed a punt or kickoff return longer than 34 yards this season. Ted Ginn is one of the fastest players in the league and capable of busting a long return. Placekicker Graham Gano has made 13-of-14 FG attempts, and has made 5-of-5 from 50 yards or longer.
The Panthers have reeled off five straight wins and they have the look of a juggernaut right now. The Patriots have struggled on offense before their Week Nine blowout win over the Steelers. Unless that game is the start of a trend, the Pats appear to be in for a long night. -Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports contributor