Week 11: Patriots vs. Panthers
The final game of the Week 11 schedule, the Monday night showdown between the Patriots and Panthers, looks to more evenly matched than anticipated going into the 2013 season. The Patriots, despite their early season offensive woes, are 7-2, while the Panthers are 6-3, sitting with a better record than anyone thought they would have this far into the season. The Patriots are leading the AFC East and are looking to pad their lead with a victory, while the Panthers are hoping for a win to keep pace with the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South. Quarterbacks Tom Brady and Cam Newton naturally own the spotlight heading into the game, but here’s a look at some of the more direct matchup that could decide the edge in this contest.
Tom Brady vs. Panthers secondary
Tom Brady may not be the same statistics machine that brought him MVP awards in 2007 and 2010, but he has shown this season that he can still get the job done. Brady has thrown for 2,256 yards on the season with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. Brady is coming off a game where he shredded the secondary of the Pittsburgh Steelers for 432 yards, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. The last time Brady played the Panthers – Dec. 13, 2009 – he completed 19 passes for 192 yards, with one touchdown and one interception in the Patriots’ 20-10 win.
Carolina has given up the fourth fewest passing yards in the league, allowing 1,812 on 6.6 yards per completion. They have also allowed opposing QBs a 65.9 completion percentage. The Panthers secondary has been just as stingy at allowing scores, as they have allowed just seven passing touchdowns on the season while bringing in 13 interceptions, both of those stats tied for first in the league.
Cam Newton vs. Patriots secondary
After two seasons of Cam Newton lighting up fantasy football stats sheets while the Panthers struggled in the NFC, Carolina actually has a team that can win with their young quarterback. Newton has thrown for 1,970 yards with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions on the year, but, unlike Brady, Newton can make quick work with his legs as well, running for 266 yards on 63 attempts and four touchdowns. This will be the first time Newton has played the Patriots.
The Patriots defense has given up over 400 yards passing twice this season, but has not allowed over 300 yards any other time. The Pats have allowed 2,095 passing yards on the year, good for 11th in the league. They are tied for ninth in touchdowns allowed through the air with 13, but have brought in 12 interceptions themselves. The secondary looks to get a huge boost on Monday, as it appears as if Aqib Talib may be ready to return to the field after missing three games with a hip injury.
Patriots rushing attack vs. Panthers run defense
The Patriots have finally begun to figure out how to use their running attack to their advantage, as Stevan Ridley has recently looked more like the runner who rushed for over 1,200 yards in 2012. The Patriots running game has rushed for 1,162 yards on 267 attempts in 2013, scoring 10 touchdowns. Running back Shane Vereen, who gained 159 total yards in Week 1 against the Bills, will be returning for the Patriots after missing every game since with a broken wrist he suffered in that win.
Just as their passing coverage has been one of the best in the league, the Panthers run defense has been just as stingy. Carolina has allowed just 738 rushing yards on the year at a rate of 3.8 yards per carry for opposing backs. They have also allowed just two rushing touchdowns on the season while forcing four fumbles. In nine games on the year, the Panthers have allowed an average of 82 rushing yards per game, good for second in the league.
Panthers rushing attack vs. Patriots run defense
Carolina’s main running attack has taken a step back since Cam Newton took over, but it is still in the top-third of the NFL, running for 1,150 total yards. DeAngelo Williams has rushed for 565 yards this year, while QB Cam Newton is the team’s second leading rusher with 266 and Mike Tolbert is third with 213. The team has run for 10 rushing touchdowns, with Newton and Tolbert each accounting for four and Williams adding the last two.
The inverse of the Panthers, the Patriots run defense, severely hampered by the loss of Pro Bowl tackle Vince Wilfork, has allowed the seventh most rushing yards in the NFL with 1,154 allowed. The Pats have also allowed opponents to rush for 4.3 yards per carry, also ranking them in the bottom-third of the league. They have given up just four rushing touchdowns, however, and have forced four fumbles on the year.
Patriots O-Line vs. Panthers D-Line
The Patriots offensive line suffered a major blow Week 8 against the Dolphins, when Sebastian Vollmer was lost for the season. Marcus Cannon came in and has filled in well since then, but it is clear that the O-line needs to be better in giving Tom Brady more time to work in the pocket. This was prevalent in the second half of the Pats 55-31 win over the Steelers, when the offense put up 28 fourth quarter points to crush Pittsburgh as Brady was given more than enough time to work around the field. The O-line has allowed Brady to be sacked 26 times on the season, tied for 11th most in the league.
The Panthers defensive line has shown good pass rush with the low amount of yards the team has given up through the air, as well as protection against the run where they are ranked even higher. The Panthers have sacked opposing quarterbacks 29 times for 214 total yards lost, sixth best in the league.
Patriots D-Line vs. Panthers O-Line
The Patriots run defense took a major hit Week 4 when Vince Wilfork was lost for the season, then got more bad news prior to Week 8 when it was announced Tommy Kelly would miss the rest of the year too. Rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones have come in to try and plug the gap up the middle, but it has mostly taken two players to fill the space Wilfork used to cover by himself. The Pats have 29 sacks on the year, and have pushed opponents back a total of 199 yards on those sacks.
Cam Newton’s scrambling and running ability have made it less necessary for the Panthers to need a tight offensive line, and the young Carolina QB has been sacked 25 times on the year, tied for 15th in the league. Take away Newton’s rushes and the Panthers running game is severely hampered, as they have just one true runner who can pick up yards in DeAngelo Williams. The Patriots will need to try and lock down fullback Mike Tolbert in the red zone, who has attributed for four of Carolina’s 10 rushing touchdowns on the season.
Patriots turnovers vs. Panthers turnovers
One of the reasons why the Patriots are 7-2 coming out of the bye week is their turnover ratio. The Pats have just 10 total giveaways on offense – six interceptions and four fumbles – which is good for second fewest in the AFC. On the other hand, they have 12 interceptions of their own and have seven fumble recoveries. The Patriots +9 turnover differential is second in the AFC only to the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Pats are one of just four AFC teams with a positive differential.
The Panthers have been just as good at controlling turnovers en route to their 6-3 record. Carolina has thrown eight interceptions and lost five fumbles, but they have picked off 13 passes from opposing QBs and recovered eight fumbles. Their +8 turnover differential is tied for second in the NFC, the only team with a higher differential being the Dallas Cowboys.
Patriots return game vs. Panthers return game
The Patriots have attempted 21 kickoff returns on the season for 459 total yards; an average of just 21.9 yards per return, 24th in the league. The Pats longest kick return on the year was 30 yards. Punt returns have gone better for the Patriots, as they have gaine 299 yards on 26 attempts, good for an 11.5 yards per return average, with the longest punt return on the season going for 43 yards.
The Panthers return game has not been spectacular this season, but they haven’t gotten many opportunities, as they have only had 14 kickoff return attempts on the year, tied for fifth fewest in the league. They are averaging 22.4 yards per return on the few that they have attempted with a long of 38 with no return touchdowns. Carolina’s punt returning is not much better: they have returned 19 punts for 165 total yards, just an 8.7 yard average per return.
Patriots kicking vs. Panthers kicking
Stephen Gostkowski has been one of the most consistent performers in the NFL this year, leading the league in total points with 90. He has made 22 of 23 field goal attempts, including two of 50+ yards and seven from between 40-49 yards, the only one he missed being from 43 yards against the Jets in Week 2. Gostkowski has hit all 24 extra points he has attempted. Rookie punter Ryan Allen has been very consistent as well, averaging 44.6 yards per punt on 49 attempts this season, the seventh highest average in the NFL. He has landed 16 punts inside the 20 yard line while landing just eight for touchbacks, with opponents gaining an average of 9.3 yards per return on Allen’s punts.
Panthers kicker Graham Gano has attempted 14 field goals and missed just one, a 48-yard try in Week 10 against the 49ers. Gano has hit five field goals of over 50 yards and converted all 24 extra points he has attempted. Brad Nortman has punted 42 times on the season and has done very well, averaging 45.6 yards per punt with a long of 69 yards. He has landed nine punts inside the 20 yard line and has allowed no touchbacks on the season. Opponents have gained an average of 8.7 yards per return on Nortman’s punts.
Bill Belichick vs. Ron Rivera
Bill Belichick has faced the Panthers four times as head coach of the Patriots, going 3-1 in that span. The Patriots beat the Panthers 38-6 in 2001, the final game of the season before the Patriots went on to win their first of thre Super Bowls. The next time the Patriots faced the Panthers was in Super Bowl XXXVIII, in which Adam Vinatieri hit a last minute field goal for the second time in three years for the Patriots’ second Super Bowl title. Belichick’s only loss to the Panthers came in 2005 in Carolina, where the Panthers got revenge for their Super Bowl loss by defeating the Patriots 27-17, a game that included three Patriots turnovers, two coming from Tom Brady. The Patriots won the last meeting between these two teams, 20-10 in Week 14 of the 2009 season.
Ron Rivera has never faced the Patriots as coach of the Panthers. He took over the team in 2011 and brought the Panthers to 6-10 from a 2-14 record the previous year. After a 7-9 2012 season, Rivera has already equaled the team’s win total from 2011 through nine games this year. Rivera is a defensive minded head coach, serving as defensive coordinator with the Chicago Bears from 2004-06 and the San Diego Chargers from 2008-10. He played linebacker for the Chicago Bears’ 1985 Super Bowl winning team that demolished opposing offenses using Buddy Ryan’s “46 defense.’’ Rivera has led the Panthers defense to the top of the league, as they are currently in the top-5 in passing yards allowed, rushing yards allowed, total yards allowed, and points allowed.