From the first time I viewed the Panthers 2009 schedule up until a couple weeks ago I had this game marked as a loss for the Panthers. Certainly even a strong Panther team would succumb to the Patriots machine in Foxboro. Yet as we approach the eve of this game I'm feeling about as optimistic as I could possibly be. Unfortunately it has little to do with the Panthers and their 5-7 record.
No, I think I feel optimistic because it appears the Patriots come into this game not feeling too good about themselves. Bill Billichik it feeling grumpy, so grumpy he felt the need to send a grade-school message to his team bout being punctual to team meetings. Regardless of how much of impact you may think Late-Gate has on this game (if any), we really won't know until Sunday.
There is the Patriots 7-5 record and two game losing streak.That certainly indicates they are vulnerable, until you look at their losses: Jets, Broncos, Colts, Saints and Dolphins. None have losing records.
Okay, I have no other reason to think the Patriots will play anything other than at a high level on Sunday...
Or do I? Here's my keys to the game (and a Panther win)
After twelve games a teams strengths and weaknesses become well known making this type of post an exercise in redundancy to a degree. But I'm going to give it my best shot in hopes that I hit on at least a couple points.
In no particular order:
Key #1: The Panthers O-line versus the Patriots D-line
We have seen that when the Panthers o-line doesn't execute with authority they can be pushed around. If the Panthers run the ball, it forces the Patriots to bring a safety up, it takes pressure off Matt Moore and ultimately allows him to throw down field. The Patriots had had trouble getting pressure on the QB so this is a good bell weather for the revamped line. If Moore stays clean and protects the ball the Panthers have a real shot to win this game.
Key #2: Randy Moss vs. the Panthers Secondary
Every team focuses on stopping WR Randy Moss. Many fail. The Panthers cannot give up many big plays to Moss and stay with the Patriots. FS Charles Godfrey returned from injury last week and played fairly well. He'll need to do better though as he will surely be targeted.
It's been a while since Peppers impacted the outcome of a game. Something tells me the Patriots concern for Peppers might be justified. If Peppers can get an early lick on Brady it might give the Panther defense some confidence and allow them to make some aggressive calls. It will also prevent deep throws if the Patriots feel they need to get rid of the ball quickly. Let's hope the Panthers front four can bring some early heat and set the tone for the afternoon.
Key #4: The weather
The Panthers don't practice in windy, near freezing conditions. Logic would say a greound based attack plays to the Panthers strengths. But if the wind and weather subtract from an alreadu anemic passing game then it could give that slight advantage to the Patriots run defense.
Key #5: Control Wes Welker on 3rd down
Honestly Wes Welker worries me more than Moss. When the Panthers have trouble covering the short middle they allow easy 3rd down conversions. Welker is a master at the drag play from the slot. If he runs wild in the middle of field the defense will have trouble getting off the field and it will be a long afternoon. If the Panthers can instead force the short underneath pass and avoid missed tackles they can limit the red zone opportunities.
So what do you think Panther fans? Another other golden keys to this game? Is my optimism unjustified?