Panthers vs Patriots: 5 questions

Jon Scott of and Brad Thomas of each answer 5 key questions surrounding the Panthers vs. Patriots matchup in week 2 of the 2005 NFL Season.

Will the TE's for the Patriots have a field day with the Panthers Defense?

- Jon Scott,
The New England Patriots tight ends are grossly underrated around league circles. As part of a fantasy football roster, it's possible they won't have as much value as they do as part of the Patriots offensive attack. In order to take advantage of the Panthers aggressive defense, the Patriots will try to get Ben Watson, Dan Graham and Christian Fauria down the field in patterns designed to create mismatches.

Quick TE's with excellent hands, both Fauria and Watson give the Patriots opportunities to take advantage of mid range coverage. In week one, it was never more apparent that Ben Watson has the type of speed to disrupt a defense, including those built like Carolina's. Brady will take advantage of TE's running down the middle, until Carolina takes it away. And when they do, The Pats will go back to their wide-outs.

Expect big things out of the Patriots TE's this season. It depends on which weapons the Panthers want to take away from Brady, his receivers or his TEs. Which ever unit the Carolina defense tries to take away, expect the other to benefit.

- Brad Thomas,
The Panthers defense hasn't been able to stop anyone else's tight ends, so why should that streak stop with New England? It was thought that Thomas Davis was drafted to put an end to the trend, but he struggled through preseason and the season opener against New Orleans.

Having prolific pass catching tight ends can have its disadvantages, too. Most teams need to double, if not triple-team Panthers DE Julius Peppers. If Peppers gets in his groove, it could cause major problems for the not-so-fleet-footed Tom Brady. New England may keep their tight ends in to help block, thus negating a big advantage they could have using them as pass-catchers.

Will the Panthers be able to get to Brady with their front four?

- Jon Scott,
The Patriots have had trouble running the ball, but not pass protecting. In spite of Corey Dillon only gaining 63 yards last week, the Pats will continue to try to work the ground game against Carolina. The last thing they want is to let the Panthers pin their ears back and go all out to get to Brady.

Koppen, Mankins, and Neal have been fairly solid up the middle in their protection, it's the edges that cause concern for the Patriots. With Julius Peppers on one side and Mike Rucker on the other, the Patriots tackles will have their hands full. Peppers is the biggest threat, and the Pats will likely give T Ashworth and/or Kaczur TE help to slow down the rush from the edge.

Whether or not that will be enough to protect Brady remains the question. Brady has the innate ability to get rid of the ball quickly and will need to continue that this week.

- Brad Thomas,
There is no doubt the Panthers suffered a huge blow to their defense when Kris Jenkins was lost for the season. Jenkins was getting tremendous push the entire preseason and his impact will be sorely missed. However, last week with Jenkins out most of the game, the Carolina defense held Deuce McAllister to 64 yards on 26 carries for an average of 2.5 yards per carry.

Jenkins was the genesis of much of the disruption the Panthers defense created, and without him, things won't be the same. Peppers can be negated by using a tight end to supplement the right tackle, and LE Mike Rucker hasn't been the same since 2003.

Unless the Panthers blitz, Tom Brady should have all the time he needs to read the defense and find the holes necessary to be a productive and efficient passer.

Will the Patriots defense be able to slow down the Panthers' running game?

- Jon Scott,
The switch to the 4-3 last week for the Patriots worked well to slow down the running of LaMont Jordan and the Raiders. With Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster in the backfield for Carolina, the Pats will have their hands full again. Whether or not they play 4 defensive linemen on the front or go back to 3 will depend on how well they are able to contain the Panthers rushing attack early on.

Expect the Pats to mix their defensive packages according to down, distance and situation as Belichick and defensive coordinator Eric Mangini try to keep the big boys up front fresh. If they're able to keep the line from getting winded, expect the Pats to contain Carolina's ground game. If the front four get winded, substituting Mike Wright, Dan Klecko and Marquise Hill will not help the Pats cause.

- Brad Thomas,
It's no secret that the Panthers love to pound the ball on the ground. Stephen Davis started last week against the Saints and had 81 yards on just 13 carries. The stats are misleading, however, because Davis broke off a 39 yard run to skew his averages. Taking away that 39 yard jaunt, Davis' ypc average drops from 6.2 to 3.5. Another week of practice should do Davis well.

Against the Saints in week 1, DeShaun Foster ran 9 times for 41 yards. If there was one thing in retrospect that the Panthers should have done, it was run more sweeps and outside runs with Foster, who averaged 4.6 yards per carry. Look for the Panthers to skew the carry ratio a bit, using Foster, who is faster and a better pass-catcher, more, and Stephen Davis, who is a straight-line pounder, less.

Will the Patriots double-team Julius Peppers?

- Jon Scott,
Yes. There is no doubt the Pats will give TE or RB help to the tackle assigned to keep Peppers under wraps. That is something the Pats are used to doing against premier DEs in the league, and Peppers will no doubt get the same kind of attention.

- Brad Thomas,
If they don't, they are making a huge mistake. Peppers' size and speed are too much for many right tackles to handle by themselves. opportunities

Does size matter in the Patriots Secondary?

- Jon Scott,
The mismatch in height between the Patriots secondary and some of the receivers going up against them is a concern. The height differential between a 5'-8" Tyrone Poole and a 6'-4" Randy Moss is something New England had to deal with last week. The matchup with 5'-10" Randall Gay against the 6'-3" TO in the Super Bowl was the same issue. It's one of the reasons the Pats acquired the 6'-1" Chad Scott in the offseason. It's also why the 5'-11" Asante Samuel will get the nod over Gay against big receivers when possible.

Whether or not the Panthers activate 6'-2" Rod Gardner to take advantage of any perceived height advantage remains to be seen. Don't expect it to make that much difference as size hasn't handicapped Carolina's 5'-9" Steve Smith from hauling in 8 catches for 138 last week against the Saints.

- Brad Thomas,
The Panthers definitely have the size advantage in the matchup; Keary Colbert is 6-1, and Rod Gardner is 6-2. Last week, the Panthers only activated 4 WRs including special teams captain Karl Hankton, and declared Gardner inactive for the first time in his pro career.

There is no doubt Gardner's height would be a good advantage for the Panthers over the Patriots' smaller cornerbacks because Jake Delhomme likes to throw high fades letting his WRs go up and make plays on the ball as it's in flight. Steve Smith stands only 5-9, but has the wingspan and reach of a player over 6 feet and is a tremendous leaper.

Whether the Panthers activate Gardner this week or not is still a mystery. Coach Fox indicated that he wouldn't decide until Sunday, which clearly is a tactic to keep New England guessing. Gardner indicated that he thought he'd be active this week, as did fellow receiver Ricky Proehl.

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