Key Thoughts: Patriots Loss to Panthers

The New England Patriots made the trip south to Charlotte and took on the Carolina Panthers this past Sunday. The Patriots looked like anything but defending Super Bowl champions as they shot themselves in the foot against a very talented and unforgiving Carolina team. PI shares some key thoughts about the game and some of the problems the team is facing.

PHOTO: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) is sacked by Carolina Panthers' Thomas Davis (47) during the second quarter in Charlotte, N.C. Sunday Sept. 18, 2005. (AP Photo/Rick Havner)

Key Thoughts: Patriots 17-27 loss to the Panthers
By Patriots Insider Staff

Boxscore:

Team
1st
2nd
3rd
4th
Total
Patriots
7
0
10
0
17
Panthers
7
10
3
7
27

 

Key Thoughts:

OL: The offensive line play was offensive to watch. Last week rookie Nick Kaczur substituted into the game at both right and left tackle positions. We can see why now. With the Panthers able to get pressure from both sides, the Patriots need to do something to improve the results for next week. Kaczur continued to fill in on both sides at Carolina and fortunately, wasn't one of the linemen who committed a false start. Matt Light began the cycle with a false start on the first play of the Patriots first series. The epidemic then spread to Logan Mankins next series, then on to TE Daniel Graham and then to G Russ Hochstein, who was substituting for an injured Stephen Neal. This unit looked lackluster blocking for Dillon against Oakland, and looked downright awful against a supposedly weakened Carolina front four. If line coach Dante Scharneccia isn't sick about his unit headed into Pittsburgh, he's sure to be afterwards, as the Steelers will bring their top-5 defense to bear on Brady and Dillon.

WR: Troy Brown was running on fumes at the end of his 71-yard scamper, which setup the Patriots' first score. Brown turned a blown coverage into a big play when he took a 3-yard out and ran upfield along the sideline as fast as his 34-year old legs could carry him. It looked like he would have made it to the end zone if he dove from the three, but a shoestring hand slap by one defender caused him to stumble as a diving Ken Lucas sideswiped him out of bounds at the one. Brown led all Patriots receivers with 3 catches for 87 yards. It was Brown's second longest catch of his career, the first being an 82-yarder against Miami in 2003.

Not-so Special Teams: Whatever Matt Chatham had in mind during camp when he talked about being a bigger contributor on special teams doesn't appear to have helped his teammates so far. The LB who missed a major portion of the season in 2004 with a hamstring injury was determined to help the team improve on special teams in 2005. While Chatham seems to be close to the ball on most of the coverages, his teammates are letting him down. With the exception of Wesly Mallard, the former Giant's special teams ace, the Patriots coverage unit's are letting the unthinkable happen - opposing teams returning the ball for big plays. The Patriots currently rank 24th in the league in average kickoff return yardage allowed and 28th overall in average punt return yardage allowed as of Sunday's conclusion.

QB: Tom Brady, after posting 306 yards and a 105.8 passer rating against the Raiders last week, turned in a decent 270 yards but paltry 69.3 QB rating. The Patriots only losses in the last couple years have come when Brady has a rating of 80 or under. The streak continues.

Officials: Last week it was the Roy Williams rule that we wondered about. This week it's the calls at the goal line. Stephen Davis' 1-yard plunge that wasn't all there is raising questions as to why there's no camera on the goal line to prevent missed calls? Davis, stretching the ball toward the goal, appeared to have lost it on the ground as the defense knocked the ball out of his hands before it touched the plane of the goal. Whether Davis was down or not at that point is secondary to the observation that the ball never appeared to cross the line. Belichick talked about not challenging the play because there wouldn't be enough evidence to overturn the call. Maybe it's coincidence, but that's the second week in a row where the guys in zebra stripes have made a call considered questionable at best when they could have used technology to help them get it right.

DBs: Last week, Patriots Insider pointed out three things the Panthers needed to do to win. Number two on the list was Throw Deep. Our exact words were "A receiver with speed can get open before the safety can get over to cover." That's exactly what the Panthers did with a streaking Ricky Proehl who split the Patriots' deep coverage and hauled in a 41-yard strike putting the Panthers back into the game with first and goal on the one. It was the Panthers' only deep completion, but it was enough. The Patriots' secondary, which is showing signs of weakness due to injuries and communication breakdowns, appears to be a real cause for concern when the team plays against talented receivers.

DBs Part 2: Randall Gay is out, Tyrone Poole is out, Chad Scott is out, It's a good thing the Patriots focused on building depth in the secondary for 2005, or Troy Brown would be back in on Nickel or Dime coverage. Duane Starks showed up in his first game as a Patriot. On one of the first balls thrown his direction, Starks stepped in front of the receiver, reached for the ball and picked off Jake Delhomme. The interception was Starks first as a Patriot, but was nullified due to a hands-to-the-face penalty on LB Rosevelt Colvin. Starks figures to be a big contributor to this defense once the coverage responsibilities are sorted out.

Missing Coordinators: Last week they went unnoticed. This week was a different story. Under an assortment of heavy blitzes and constant pressure by an aggressive Panthers defense, it bewilders us why the Patriots didn't call more screen plays or draw plays to take some pressure off the line. One of the biggest gains of the day was a screen pass to a wide-open Kevin Faulk midway threw the third quarter. Faulk took it and rumbled down the sideline for 22 yards. The more Carolina blitzed, the more the Patriots should have done something to burn them for doing so. This raises the question of what Charlie would have done had he still been here. The Patriots are going to have to do a lot more than the minor adjustments and max protect they went to against the Panthers if they expect to utilize their offensive weapons and prevent Brady from getting sprawled out by blitz-happy teams like the Steelers.

Rush Defense: The Patriots rush defense, which concerned us in the preseason, bears watching. When lined up in a 3-4 scheme opponents are attacking the gaps with success, driving the Patriots linebackers and linemen 4, 5 even 7 yards downfield before the ball carrier is stopped. With the Panthers, Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster had success early until the Patriots adjusted. The adjustments worked well at times with the Patriots defense holding Davis to a 3 yard per carry average, but Foster managed 5 yards per carry. Pittsburgh is going to exploit this hole in the Patriots defense unless New England manages to do something about closing the gaps. Willie Parker is averaging 5.8 yards per carry and the Steelers have one of the best offensive lines in the league.

More thoughts on the game and the implications to follow.

Related: What the Panthers have to do to Win Sunday : : What the Patriots have to do to win Sunday : : Patriots vs Panthers 5 Questions : : Game Recap


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