Behind Enemy Lines: Carolina Panthers

Sometimes it's not about the way teams look on paper, it's about their heart. That much can be counted on with the Patriot's next opponent the Carolina Panthers. As Panthers head coach John Fox prepares his team to host the defending Super Bowl champs, one thing is on his mind -- Does his team have enough heart to overcome adversity and stop Tom Brady.

PHOTO: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) passes under pressure from Carolina Panthers Al Wallace (96) while Patriots Matt Light (72) tries to protect during first quarter preseaon NFL action in Foxboro, Mass. Friday, August 23, 2002. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Behind Enemy Lines: Carolina Panthers
By Staff

If the Carolina Panthers are to avoid a potentially devastating 0-2 start they'll need to figure out a way to stop Tom Brady's three-step drop and quick release on Sunday.

Nineteen months ago in Super Bowl XXXVIII, Brady neutralized Carolina's aggressive front four on defense by finding the hot receiver with quick throws. Brady completed 66.7 percent of his passes (32 of 48) and threw for 354 yards and three touchdowns in New England's 32-29 victory.

Carolina's defense, led by Julius Peppers, barely touched Brady, let alone record a sack.

The Panthers proved they are still susceptible to such a game plan last week when Aaron Brooks used a three-step drop and plenty of quick releases to help the New Orleans Saints ruin Carolina's home opener 23-20 at Bank of America Stadium.

"That is what you're going to see, a lot of three step drops," said defensive end Mike Rucker. "Even last week there was a lot of three step drops. As a defensive lineman you have to find yourself other ways to make plays and get yourself in the game."

And how do the Panthers do that?

"You have to try to get your hands up because the ball is going to come out fast because it's not going to be a deep ball," Rucker said. "And you have to find a way to collapse the pocket. The DBs, they will do what they have to do. But the best thing to do is get your hands up if you're on the line. Nine of out of 10 times you won't get back there (to Brady). So you get your hands up and collapse the pocket."

Panthers safety Mike Minter said he's looking forward to the opportunity that presents for Carolina's defensive backs because it gives them a chance to make more plays.

"That is how I look at it," Minter said. "We have to be aggressive on those guys and take our chances. We can't step back and wait. We have to be aggressive and when we come to get him, we've got to come to get him. It's a great opportunity on the back end to play aggressive man-to-man (coverage) and aggressive zones. We have to be tight on these guys and not give them any room to breath."

Another concern for the Panthers will be defending the Patriots tight ends.

Rookie strong safety Thomas Davis, who struggled in Carolina's 23-20 season opening loss to the New Orleans Saints, knows Brady will have a good idea where he is on the field at all times, especially after Davis struggled keeping tabs on Saints tight end Ernie Conwell this past Sunday.

"That's a given," Davis said. "I'm a rookie, the only rookie on the starting defense. It's expected for them to come after me. I've just got to be prepared this week and minimize mistakes."

Conwell had six catches for 71 yards last week, most of those coming against an out-of-position Davis.

At one point during the second half the Panthers benched Davis after he injured his knee on a kickoff and stuck with veteran safety Marlon McCree.

Despite that, it appears the Panthers give Davis another shot at strong safety this week. Davis said he worked exclusively with the first team Wednesday in practice, although that could always change. Panthers head coach John Fox would not name any starters Wednesday.

After watching the film, Davis said he didn't think he played as bad as he initially thought, but admitted he has a lot of work to do.

"(After the game) I thought I was really out of place on a lot of plays, but really it just came down to one or two plays I was out of position," Davis said. "Other than that, you have a good game if you stay in position."

But Davis' job only gets tougher this week because the Patriots have two extremely talented and athletic tight ends in Ben Watson and Daniel Graham, both former first-round draft picks. Together, they had three catches last Thursday night for 72 yards in New England's 30-20 win over the Oakland Raiders. But you can bet Patriots coach Bill Belichick has watched film on Davis and will be looking to exploit the same mistakes he made against the Saints.

SERIES HISTORY: 4th meeting. Patriots lead series 1-2. The two teams are tied in the regular season, but the Patriots won the only postseason game in Super Bowl XXXVIII 32-29 at Houston's Reliant Stadium. In that game, MVP Tom Brady threw for 354 yards and three touchdowns.

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