WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
The Panthers have a very good defensive group. Last week, New England got a ton of snaps early against the Eagles and moved the ball with relative ease. But there were some key third-down conversions in there that extended drives. The Panthers pass rush with ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy is top tier. Nate Solder will get a challenge at one tackle spot. With Sebastian Vollmer missing time this week, it could be Marcus Cannon toiling at right tackle. He’ll need to answer the bell. The Panthers linebacker level has the well-regarded Luke Kuechly and the underrated Thomas Davis, a player Tom Brady thinks was one of the best the Patriots played against in 2013. That will be a good challenge for the running game which got great execution early from Stevan Ridley last week and from Jonas Gray and Brandon Bolden later. Rookie James White has so far seemed to go down very often on first contact. It would be good to see a little more finish from him. We’ll also watch to see if Ridley’s snaps or role is altered this week after a ball squirted out at the end of a carry against the Eagles. The offensive line was a revolving door against the Eagles as the Patriots played people all over the place and at tight end because of the shortage there. Expect a more consistent rotation this week. Justin Jones was re-signed to take off some of the heat on Steve Maneri who was the only tight end on the roster last week. I might be the only one who feels this way, but the Patriots wideout deployment with Kenbrell Thompkins and Julian Edelman as the top two and Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola coming on for the four-wide sets looks like a tough cover. They have such complementary abilities and the quickness of Edelman, Thompkins and Amendola in particular are going to make them tough covers if DBs can’t lay hands on them. Lastly, it will be interesting to see who comes in for relief of Brady. Last week it was Jimmy Garoppolo after two Brady series. Ryan Mallett got the second half.
The Patriots started sluggishly in their first two possessions before getting a Mallett-led field goal drive that was aided by a DPI on a fourth-and-3 incompletion. It was Mallett’s only work and hints at his perhaps becoming an expendable player. Brady came back on after that and went surgical. He went 17-for-21 for 204 yards and had two scores. One of his drives (starting the third quarter) was penalty-aided as well with a DPI on a third-and-15. Overall, though, the wideouts are settling into established roles. Edelman’s the prime guy, Amendola’s the one to hit when the defense falls asleep and Thompkins is the downfield 15-to-25-yard target. Brandon LaFell could have had a better night. Nice job by a shuffling offensive line with Marcus Cannon at right tackle for Sebastian Vollmer, Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly shuffling in-and-out at center and Jordan Devey (who is not an inspiring player at this point) at right guard. The New England running game was effective, not spectacular. Josh Boyce came in late and wasn’t targeted.