Monday Night Football returns to Carolina in a matchup that looks to be the most exciting of the season for ESPN to showcase. In a Superbowl rematch, Tom Brady faces the toughest defense in the NFL. Whats not to love?
Before their bye week, the Patriots dropped 55 points on the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers at the time of the game had the eighth ranked defense in the league.
That said, facing the Panthers defense is a whole different animal, according to New England Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels...
"They get an incredible amount of pressure on the quarterback without having to blitz, which is, I would say, a luxury that some teams have and some teams don't. They don't give up a lot of big plays, (they are) really good in situational football. It's all the things that you would want in a defense, and they have them and they are obviously playing as well as any group that we've played all year. This will be a great challenge for us on Monday night."
Stopping the Patriots offense will come down to containing... you guessed it... Tom Brady.
Brady is as savvy a NFL QB as you will find in the history of the game. Whether unpressured or under pressure, his numbers remain constant. And if the game against Pittsburgh is any indication, he finally has found a rhythm with his offensive weapons.
The good news for the Panthers is that Brady is a pure pocket passer. He will not beat you with his legs. Brady has scampered 23 times this season, gaining only 16 yards.
Because they will not be concerned with a running QB like last week in San Francisco, look for the Panthers to line up in a man defense frequently. Luke Kuechly is becoming very adept at covering tight ends across the middle which will pay dividends against Brady's favorite target TE Gronkowski. Across the board, player to player, the Panthers match up very well against the offense of the Patriots.
New England's running game is also hitting its stride. Stevan Ridley is averaging over 4 yards per carry. His main threat comes from running behind the right side of the Patriots line, where he is averaging over 6 yards per carry. The Panthers linebackers will have their hands full all night with this 220lb bruiser of a running back. If they can repeat their strong tackling performance they had against Frank Gore last week, this matchup should also be favorable for the Panthers.
Lastly, crowd noise will be a factor for the Patriots on Monday Night. Panthers fans at The Bank will be the loudest that they have been in over five years. If they can help with a few Patriots false starts on Monday night, it may be the difference in the game.