Next Monday, the New England Patriots will be traveling to Charlotte, North Carolina to take on the streaking Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have won their last five games, including their biggest win of the season last Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. The Carolina defense shut down a 49ers offense that has been coming into its own, catching NFL aficionados off guard.
Cam Newton, the biggest reason for the Panthers’ recent success, has been playing effectively, finding the reliable Steve Smith again in the past few weeks. He is a dual threat quarterback that any opposing defensive coordinator has to stay up and worry about. Newton possesses a Ben Roethlisberger-style of play. He shrugs off linemen with his 6’-foot-5, 250-pound frame while having the speed to go the distance on any play. With his new-found ability to keep the ball from the opposing team, Newton has become a complete player. How will the Patriots slow him down?
The New England defense has been the team’s calling card for the majority of the 2013 season. Regardless of the injuries that have been affecting the team, the Patriots have clamped down when it has mattered most. Next Monday we will all get to witness if the Patriots defense can contend with a special playmaker at the quarterback position.
New England’s edge rushers, Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, cannot get caught up in the gimmicks of the Panthers offense. These two must make sure to never break contain or Carolina is going to pound the ball right down the Patriots’ throat. New England’s linebackers have been a liability in the play-action passing game. Dane Fletcher, Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower are fantastic run-stuffers, but when an opposing quarterback really fakes the pass, the Patriots’ linebackers bite hard. In order for New England to survive Monday night’s game, these linebackers must not fall victim to run fakes as much and just simply trust their instincts.
If all else fails, the one person that could tool a game plan to slow down Newton would be Bill Belichick. He will have something up his sleeve in order to combat the diverse formations the Panthers love to utilize, even if it’s running the read option out of the pistol and shotgun formations. In my mind the best way to slow down Newton is to confuse him. The Patriots need to line up players all over the field and blitz at unexpected times in order to come up with the win.