NFL Week 9 Game Preview – Patriots.com

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WEEK 9 · Sun 11/07 · 1:00 PM EST
Patriots
New England Patriots
AT
Panthers
Carolina Panthers
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The New England Patriots play on the road for the second straight week, the team’s only two-game road stretch of the season, when they travel to face the Carolina Panthers on Sunday afternoon in Charlotte.
The Patriots evened their record at 4-4 after a 27-24 win last Sunday at the Los Angeles Chargers. A victory this week will give the Patriots a winning record following a 2-4 start. New England will attempt to break a two-game losing streak to Carolina following a 24-20 loss at Carolina on Nov. 18, 2013 and a 33-30 loss in their most recent meeting between the two teams on Oct. 1, 2017 at Gillette Stadium.
Points may be at a premium in Sunday’s matchup between the Patriots and Panthers.
By Paul Perillo
When the Patriots run – Edge: Panthers
The Patriots continue to try to get things going on the ground but have been rather inconsistent thus far. Damien Harris had back-to-back 100-yard games headed to Los Angeles and figured to have a big day against the worst run defense in football, but the Chargers held him largely in check (23 carries, 80 yards, 3.5-yard average). As a team the Patriots picked up 141 yards on the ground but needed 39 carries to do so and averaged only 3.6 per rush. The Panthers are much better against the run than the Chargers, ranking 13th in the league allowing 106.8 yards per game. Opponents have churned out 4.4 per carry against Carolina, which ranks 21st, but the Patriots will need to be better up front in order to take advantage. Rhamondre Stevenson came off the bench to pick up some tough yards and could be an option as well. Carolina boasts some bulk up front with Brian Burns, Derrick Brown and DaQuan Jones playing in front of an active group of linebackers led by Shaq Thompson and Jermaine Carter. The Patriots seem to have settled on an offensive line that includes Ted Karras at left guard and Mike Onwenu at right tackle and that group has stabilized things up front. That consistency will need to continue against the Panthers.
When the Patriots pass – Edge: Panthers
Carolina’s secondary has been outstanding despite losing some valuable pieces along the way. Rookie Jaycee Horn, Juston Burris and Myles Hartsfield are all on IR and C.J. Henderson missed the Falcons win with a shoulder injury. But the cupboard isn’t bare as Carolina welcomed Stephon Gilmore to the mix last week and he joins A.J. Bouye, Donte Jackson and Keith Taylor at corner for a secondary that ranks second in the league allowing 189 yards per game through the air. Safeties Jeremy Chinn and Sean Chandler are steady on the back end, and the sticky coverage has allowed the Panthers pass rush to get involved. Carolina has 21 sacks on the season, led by former Cardinals first-round pick Haason Reddick’s 7.5. Burns is second on the list with 4.5, giving the Panthers some versatility up front. The Patriots protection has been better of late as Mac Jones has been sacked just twice over the last two games. But the Chargers flashed some pressure and caused some indecision from the rookie last week, and Jones will need to deal with the rush more effectively on Sunday in Charlotte. Jones has done a nice job of spreading the ball around of late, but it would be nice to see one player emerge as a go-to threat on a more consistent basis.
When the Panthers run – Edge: Patriots
As has been the case for most of the past two seasons, Carolina has been without its leading running back Christian McCaffrey since September. The all-purpose back is eligible to return from IR this week and Panthers coach Matt Rhule said he hopes to have him back in the mix if not this week then for Week 10. So, his status remains very much up in the air, leaving the Panthers ground game in the hands of Chuba Hubbard. The rookie out of Oklahoma State has been serviceable, leading the team with 391 yards rushing on 108 carries for a 3.6-yard average, but lacks the dynamic element McCaffrey brings. The Panthers are in the middle of the pack when it comes to rushing, averaging 114.5 yards per game, but much of that has come from quarterback Sam Darnold. He had 66 yards against Atlanta before leaving with a concussion, helping Carolina pile up 203 yards on the ground in Atlanta. Carolina will also use Ameer Abdullah and Royce Freeman, but Hubbard will see the lion’s share of the carries if McCaffrey remains out. The Patriots run defense has improved as of late but has been susceptible to big plays. If the front seven can fix those issues, this is a matchup the Patriots should control on Sunday.
When the Panthers pass – Edge: Patriots
Darnold has been up and down throughout the season, getting off to a hot start before being benched during the final game of a four-game losing streak. On the season he ranks near the bottom (30th) with a 76.8 passer rating and has just seven touchdowns against eight interceptions. He was playing well in Atlanta before leaving in the second half, but even then the big plays that he was making during a three-game winning streak to open the season were lacking. And then he was knocked out of the game and will need to clear concussion protocol before returning. If he can’t go backup P.J. Walker will make the start. In limited time this year he’s completed just 3 of 20 passes, but he did post a victory in Week 11 last season, completing 24 of 34 for 238 yards and a touchdown to go with two interceptions in a win over Detroit in 2020 in his only career start. The Patriots secondary is coming off one of its strongest efforts of the season against the Chargers. J.C. Jackson could see a lot of D.J. Moore, who is far and away the Panthers top target with 50 receptions for 645 yards and three TDs. Robbie Anderson is next with just 18 grabs, so finding a way to limit Moore will go a long way toward stopping what has been a very limited Panthers passing game that ranks 28th in the league. The Patriots should be able to keep the momentum going in that regard.
Special Teams – Edge: Patriots
Gunner Olszewski probably wishes he could play every game at SoFi Stadium against the Chargers. Last season he took a punt back 70 yards for a touchdown and another 61 yards. On Sunday he set up short fields for the Patriots with returns of 21, 22 and 27 yards. His spark helped an offense that was struggling throughout the day. His resurgence has augmented the stellar work of kicker Nick Folk, who is on a short list of candidates for Patriots MVP. He made four more field goals against the Chargers, including a pair from 48 yards, and still has just one miss all season. Carolina’s Zane Gonzalez has been solid making 13 of 15 field goals including kicks of 51 and 57 yards Sunday against Atlanta. Punter Lachlan Edwards replaced the injured Joseph Charlton and averaged 43.8 yards on four attempts against the Falcons. Alex Erickson and Abdullah have handled the return duties but neither has been effective. The Panthers allow just 5.6 yards per punt return, so it’s possible that Olszewski will find things a little tougher this week than he has the last two. The Patriots tend to continue the momentum when it comes to special teams and their recent uptick gives them the edge against Carolina.
The New England Patriots and the Carolina Panthers will meet for the seventh time in the regular season and for the eighth time overall.
The team’s last played in the regular season in 2017 at Gillette stadium with Carolina leaving with a 33-30 victory on Oct. 1. It will be the Patriots first regular season visit to Carolina since a Monday Night Football game on Nov. 18, 2013 when Carolina edged the Patriots, 24-20. The Patriots have lost their last two games against Carolina.
The Panthers holds a 4-2 edge in the regular season, including a 2-1 record at Carolina.
The Patriots and Panthers met in Super Bowl XXXVIII on Feb. 2, 2004. The Patriots-Panthers Super Bowl is widely believed to be among the most entertaining Super Bowls ever played, as the Panthers took a fourth-quarter lead only to see the Patriots came up with a game-winning field goal to clinch the see-saw battle in the final seconds.
SERIES TRENDS
Overall Record (including playoffs): 3-4
Total Points in the Series: Patriots 174, Panthers 149
Patriots’ Largest Margin of Victory: 32 points (01/06/02)
Patriots’ Largest Margin of Defeat: 10 points (09/18/05)
Highest Combined Point Total: 63 points (10/01/17)
Lowest Combined Point Total: 37 points (10/29/95)
Games Decided by Seven or Fewer Points: 4
Games Decided by 21 or More Points: 1
Current Win Streak: Panthers, two games
Patriots.com’s Mike Dussault shares his players to watch ahead of the Patriots Week 9 matchup against the Carolina Panthers.
Mac Jones, QB: Jones completed just 51 percent of his passes against the Chargers but avoided any killer mistakes and that was the major difference in the Patriots’ big win. Things only get more difficult against a Panthers defense that ranks near the top of the league in just about every important category. With nine touchdowns and six interceptions on the season, Jones’ safe play has been a big part of the four wins. This will be the fourth top-10 DVOA defense he’s faced in his rookie year.
Damien Harris, RB: Harris has six touchdowns on the year, rushing for 517 yards while also catching 10 balls. While he and the Patriots rushing attack didn’t overwhelm the Chargers, they were a key part of sealing the win in the fourth quarter. The Panthers defense got off to a great start against the run, holding their first three opponents all under 50 yards, but since Dallas put up 245 yards and Minnesota got 198, they’ve fallen back to earth a bit. In an expected defensive battle, Harris could be the game-changer.
Jakobi Meyers, WR: Meyers has 45 catches on the season, needing just 14 more to top his career high that he set last season. Of course, it’s that elusive first touchdown that everyone wants for the Patriots’ leading receiver, but it won’t come easily against a tough Carolina pass defense that just added Stephon Gilmore into the mix last week. But one thing is clear, Meyers is the key piece to keep the chains moving and Mac Jones loves to look his way in the big spots.
Christian Barmore, DL: The impressive second rounder has seen his role continue to grow each week, as he’s been one of the most disruptive defensive linemen consistently throughout the season. Now, the question is how good can Barmore be? How big can his role grow to? He’s making big plays and drawing penalties as the rookie should be expected to be a factor. His development has been fun to watch.
Adrian Phillips, S: The reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week, Phillips was all over the place against his former team, netting two interceptions and returning one for a touchdown. Phillips figures to be a key piece in dealing with the balanced running back group in Carolina.┬áNow in the last year of his contract with the Patriots, every week is another reminder that he’s been among the team’s best defenders over the last two seasons.
PJ Walker, QB: With Sam Darnold’s status unknown due to a concussion suffered last weekend, it looks like Walker will get the second start of his career that includes a stint in the XFL. This season, Walker has two appearances and has completed just three of 15 passes, but last season he won his only start, knocking off Detroit 20-0 by completing 70 percent of his passes and throwing a touchdown with two interceptions.
Chuba Hubbard, RB: Christian McCaffrey is easing his way back into practice this week, but even if he plays after landing on IR with a hamstring injury, it will likely be the rookie Hubbard that carries most of the load. Hubbard broke 100 yards rushing in a loss to Philadelphia earlier this season, and while he’s not as dynamic as McCaffrey, he’s a balanced back who runs hard and can burn the Patriots whether rushing or receiving.
DJ Moore, WR: The one elite piece of Carolina’s offense that isn’t dealing with injury issues, Moore has 50 catches for 645 yards with three touchdowns, leading the team by a large margin. He’s on pace to set career highs in his fourth season as he’s a threat on every down. Still just 24, Moore is one of the emerging stars in the NFL and someone the Patriots will need to have a plan for on every down.
Shaq Thompson, LB: The speedy linebacker is all over the Panthers defense, logging two interceptions, three passes defensed and a sack to go with his 24 solo tackles and four quarterback hits. He’s in the middle of an aggressive Panthers defense, that plays with plenty of cohesion and is one of their most impactful playmakers on all three downs.
Haason Reddick, OLB: Reddick came over from Arizona this season and has been a slam-dunk addition, tied for fifth in the league with 7.5 sacks. He’s an absolute terror off the edge, where he uses his speed to blow by flat-footed offensive lineman without being touched. The Patriots tackles will need to bring their best games to deal with Reddick and Brian Burns, who plays on the opposite side of him. Both are game wreckers.
The New England Patriots own a 59-20 (.747) record vs. NFC teams since realignment in 2002, the best inter-conference record in the NFL during that time.
FORMER PATRIOTS
TELEVISION: This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4. Greg Gumbel will handle play-by-play duties with Adam Archuleta as the color analyst. AJ Ross will work from the sidelines. The game will be produced by Jonathan Segal and directed by Mark Grant.
NATIONAL RADIO: Sunday’s game will be broadcast to a national audience on Sports USA. Josh Appel will call the game with Charles Arbuckle providing analysis.
LOCAL RADIO: 98.5 The Sports Hub is the flagship station for the Patriots Radio Network. A complete listing of the network’s 35 stations can be found here. Play-by-play broadcaster Bob Socci will call the action along with former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak, who will provide color analysis. The games are produced by Marc Cappello.
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