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Tale of the Tape: Patriots-Panthers

Posted by Albert Breer  December 15, 2009 03:09 PM

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Two Kevin Faulk runs got the Patriots in the end zone after they set up with a first and 10 on the Panthers 11 late in the second quarter. On the first play, Connolly flattened Panther defensive tackle Nick Hayden to clear Faulk for 6 yards, and two plays later (after a penalty), he took Hayden out of the play as Faulk ran behind him to paydirt.

Nothing groundbreaking here, but for a backup, improvement is paramount. And that protects the team if something happens again with a starter.

VINCE-ABLE?: If Vince Wilfork were to be out for any period of time, it would horrific news for the Patriots. Maybe, season-ending news. Seriously. If not for him, the Panthers would’ve had a field day running the ball, with the way they were able to control the Patriots inside linebackers on the second level.

Take the way Wilfork controlled the action on a 2-yard run by Jonathan Stewart in the second quarter. Using his hands to keep both Ryan Kalil and Keydrick Vincent at bay, he waited for Stewart to make his move, then split the double team and blew Stewart up. There probably aren’t 10 defensive linemen in the league capable of doing that.

After he left the game with the foot injury, Titus Adams faced a tough situation, replacing Wilfork just days after coming off the practice squad. Predictably, Carolina exploited the change. Adams was controlled by Vincent on the first play of his first full series, allowing the guards to get to Jerod Mayo and Gary Guyton quickly, and leaving DeAngelo Williams free to pick up 22 yards, nearly untouched.

MALIGNED IN THE MIDDLE: Not Mayo and Guyton’s best effort, playing against the Panthers’ vaunted running game. Both were consistently blown off the ball and struggled getting off blocks. It’s OK to finish with one assist as a defensive lineman. Not for someone playing Guyton’s position. Mayo had seven tackles, but too many were downfield.

The play of Wilfork (before he got hurt) and a seemingly re-energized Jarvis Green and Ty Warren seemed to make up for it. Green was consistent in the run game, and has been a different player the last two weeks. Warren made plays before going down himself. On both of D'Angelo Williams’s big runs, both inside linebackers were singled up and taken out of the play, showing that when the Panthers got past the line of scrimmage, there were additional yards to be had.

Mayo may have come back from his injury early. Guyton’s carrying a very heavy load for the first time as a pro, and could be hitting a wall. Either way, it’s worth examining both guys. Remember – Carolina ran for 126 yards and a 5.3-yard average, and that’s without much of a threat of a passing game.

: There was a little too much evidence of players seeming to be caught out of position. Tully Banta-Cain has been steady in this regard most of the year, but had problems on Sunday.

In the second quarter, an 11-yard run by Williams was there because Banta-Cain pursued from the back side, and the tailback cut back. On the next play, Banta-Cain came hard to the inside of a Brad Hoover block on a Steve Smith end-around, and Smith beat him to corner, leaving extra yards for the wideout to chew up. On the same drive, Pierre Woods looked like he lost contain twice.

Now, they cleaned the problems up as the game went on. But add those, to Brandon Meriweather biting up and hanging Shawn Springs out to dry on Smith’s touchdown, and you see what could be a frustrated defense.

ON THE SAME PAGE: Maybe the problems above explain why the Patriots were fairly conservative defensively. Yes, New England brought extra pressure on 15 of Matt Moore’s 32 pass drops. But …

It seemed like the pattern was when the Patriots were in the 3-4, they brought the five guys on the line (three down guys, plus the OLBs) of scrimmage, and when they were in the nickel, they brought four. Not exclusively. But most of the time.

Anyway, we mentioned here on Sunday that James Sanders’s presence in the secondary might’ve been an effort to fix communication issues on defense. This would be another element of simplifying, allowing younger players to play faster, and also to eliminate costly breakdowns.

QUICK COUNTS: Another look showed the same thing – Wes Welker’s effort was consistent, Randy Moss’ wasn’t. On some plays, Moss blocked well, primarily on a flare screen that got Welker 9 yards. On others, he walked lazily off the line. … Derrick Burgess actually brought heat, and not just late. But most encouraging might have been his hustle on the Panthers’ last offensive play, coming off his rush and chasing down Williams from behind in the open field. … Where there were issues tackling up front, the defensive backs seemed to do a nice job in that department.
News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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