Some fans say that this season’s Monday Night Football games have been boring so far but I doubt anyone saying that about tonight’s Monday Night Football match-up. Honestly you can’t say anything negative about tonight’s game, you have the 7-2 New England Patriots who are looking to remain on top of the AFC East. Then you have the 6-3 Carolina Panthers who are looking to catch up to the New Orleans Saints who are currently leading the NFC South will a 8-2 record but more importantly they are looking to secure a wild-card spot in the NFC.
Now there is no doubt that this should be a good game and there is no doubt that both teams are capable of winning this game but only if both teams follow certain keys to victory.
Patriots Keys to Victory
On the offensive side of the ball it all starts with quarterback Tom Brady and for him to perform well, he will need the offensive line to consistently protect him. The Panther defensive line is filled with some amazing players ranging from Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson, Dwan Edwards then you have Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei who are both rookies. Then you can’t forget about linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis who have performed great this year. If this offensive line is able to protect Brady, the Patriots are in good shape. However, Brady can’t afford any accuracy issues because this Panther defense is capable of making him pay. I would like to see Brady throw quick and accurate passes like quick screens and slant routes, mainly because wide receivers Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman have shown they can cause damage underneath and make things happen after the catch. Doing this forces the Panthers to make tackles in the open field, it also allows Brady to get the ball out of his hands quickly but it can also lead to big play opportunities in the air, which is where wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins become more important.
While Brady will need his receiving core to step up, he will mainly need tight end Rob Gronkowski in this game. When it comes to Gronkowski, he creates coverage problems for this Panther defense and force this defense to focus on containing him which will hopefully open up opportunities for other receivers. I would also like for Brady to target Gronkowski in the red-zone, seeing that he is nearly impossible to contain.
Which leads me to the Patriots next offensive key. They must run the ball well and give this Patriot offense some form of balance. Now keep in mind that’s easier said than done seeing that the Panthers only allow opponents to rush for 82 yards a game but the Patriots run game doesn’t need to dominate. They honestly need the running game to offer balance, take some pressure off Brady and open up things in the passing game. Running back Stevan Ridley should be able to do that especially if running back Shane Veeren returns to the line-up tonight.
Defensively, the Patriots must force Cam Newton to beat them with his arm. When you talk about Newton he has played well but mainly because he has played smart football and has had help from the running game. The Patriots need understand that and use it in their defensive plan tonight. It all starts with containing the run game and making the Panthers one-dimensional and that won’t be easy since the Patriots have struggled to stop the run this season, allowing the third most yards per game in the NFL. For this Patriot defense to slow down the run, they will need to step up and control the line of scrimmage. Doing so will allow them to collapse on the line but also opens up opportunities for the linebackers to come through and make tackles in the backfield. Slowing down the run game helps to take away their play-action opportunities and forces Newton to win the game by himself. It also stops the Panthers from controlling the clock which will be huge in this game.
When it comes to slowing down Newton, the Patriots must keep Newton in the pocket and once they have him in the pocket, they are forcing him to make the correct reads and if he doesn’t make the correct read, they can capitalize off of his mistakes. However, this Patriots secondary does need to be prepared to play well. Panthers have good receivers and tight ends in Steve Smith and Greg Olsen who do a good job of catching the ball and gaining yards after the catch. So this Patriots defense must be prepared to wrap up and finish tackles if they plan on winning this game.
Panthers Keys to Victory
When it comes to Panthers, they must remain balance. Cam Newton has played good football lately mainly because his offense finally stepped up as a whole and that needs to continue. Running backs DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert and Jonathan Stewart must continue playing at a high level and keep the offense balance. Running the ball allows the Panthers to continuously move the chains but even more important it helps the Panthers control the clock which is huge in this game. While the Panthers have faith in their defense, I’m sure their main goal is to keep Tom Brady and his offense off the field for as long as they can and running the ball helps with that. So again, it’s very important that the Panthers continue offensive balance.
Which leads me to quarterback Cam Newton, who will need to continue playing smart football in this game. Newton has done a good job of running less and playing intelligent football. I look for Newton to take what the Patriot defense gives him and make a point to not force anything. Newton has nice versatile weapons at receiver and tight end, so he should look to get them the ball and trust that they will gain yardage and make a play after the catch. Wide receivers Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell have had good seasons so far and they will be needed in this game but I would also advise Panthers to use wide receiver Ted Ginn, who has become a deep threat option. Then you have tight end Greg Olsen who can be match-up problem for those linebackers and safeties, so be sure to lookout for him, especially in the red-zone.
Defensively, it all starts with the great front seven of Greg Hardy, Dwan Edwards, Charles Johnson, Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei along with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. When it comes to the defensive line, they must pressure quarterback Tom Brady and force him out of his comfort zone. Brady isn’t the best scrambler but he does have good pocket presence, so this defensive line will need to wrap up and sack him in the backfield. The goal of this Panther defense should be to contain the running game. Containing the run game will allow the Panther defense to focus more on pressuring Brady and making plays through the air. So if the Panther defensive line is able to control the line of scrimmage, I look for Kuechly and Davis to come into the backfield and make those tackles in the backfield.
This Panther defense will also need Kuechly and Davis to play well in the passing game because the Patriots love throw underneath and they obviously have a star tight end in Rob Gronkowski. So Kuechly and Davis should be prepared to run fast, hit hard and cover well in this game along with cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Quintin Mikell.
I don’t know about you but I am really excited for this game. This game is huge for both teams and its anyone’s guess as to who will come out victorious, I guess you will just have to tune in to find out.
Written by LBeasley, Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit
Listen to LBeasley’s Radio Show, “Sports Talk with L-Beasley” every Mon, Wed & Fri from 6-8pm (ET) on LBeasley.com