Come get your inside look at why Pats fans aren’t worried about the Carolina Panthers.
The Carolina Panthers take on the New England Patriots at home this weekend in what is promising to be an unpredictable affair. The Patriots haven’t beaten the Panthers in living memory (don’t look that up), while the Panthers have a big question mark at quarterback heading into Sunday.
The story of this game is going to lie between the Patriots offensive line and the Panthers myriad pressure packages. To learn more about that match-up and the 2021 Patriots in general I spoke to Bernd Buchmasser of Pats Pulpit. Read on for his optimism on Mac Jones and the reason he isn’t worried about the Patriots lengthy injury report.
Panthers defensive coordinator Phil Snow has thrived scheming against lesser and/or injured offensive lines this season. How are the Pats doing upfront on offense and what, if anything, are they doing to try to ease in rookie Mac Jones in terms of protections?
Entering the season everybody thought that the Patriots would have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, but when right tackle Trent Brown left the opening week game against Miami just seven snaps in the operation went downhill fast. Brown’s injury was not the only issue, though, as left tackle Isaiah Wynn – fresh off his fifth-year option being exercised – also had his fair share of struggles playing extended snaps alongside a guard not named Joe Thuney for the first time in his career.
As a result, Mac Jones was pressured a combined 58 times over the first four weeks of the season, with the running game also struggling to consistently put some pressure off of him (look no further than the Patriots’ game against Tampa where they gained a grand total of -1 yard). Things did not get any better after Wynn and left guard Michael Onwenu were sent to the Covid-19 list and right guard Shaq Mason missed time due to an abdominal injury.
Entering their Week 7 game against the Jets, the Patriots prepared to use their fifth different starting combination — and this one seems to work. Using Wynn and Onwenu at left and right tackle, with guards Ted Karras and Shaq Mason flanking center David Andrews, the Patriots have played some quality football as of late. Granted, the sample size of two games is rather small, but the signs were encouraging compared to the early-season struggles.
What changed for the unit? The improved continuity in combination with the experience of new starting guard Ted Karras played a big role. Likewise, Wynn played a lot better recently, while Onwenu finally gave the Patriots a reliable right tackle with Brown still out on injured reserve.
So, what are they doing to help out Jones? Well, Bill Belichick would be the first to tell you: their jobs. It’s a bit more complex than that because the blocking – Carolina will see both man and zone concepts – goes hand-in-hand with the overall design of the plays. New England runs plenty of screens or quick passing concepts to get the ball out of Jones’ hands quickly, which in turn also puts some pressure off the pass protection; they also are not afraid to rely on the run game: whether it is stretch runs, simple smash-mouth i-formation with a fullback, duo or pull-block concepts, the Patriots have a deep playbook and they are not afraid to use it. This, in turn, speaks about the trust the coaches have in their players.
Speaking of, Panthers fans kept something ranging between a casual eye and a rabid stare on the quarterback competition in Foxboro this offseason. How are Patriots fans feeling about Mac Jones over Cam Newton at this point? Or, for that matter, Jones over anybody else?
When Jones was drafted 15th overall, the initial belief was that he would get a fair chance to compete for the job. When training camp came around and he was the number two guy in the rotation behind Newton – something that also did not change in preseason – it seemed like a certainty that he would open the year as QB2.
That said, Jones did have some solid performances and you could see his potential playing in the Patriots’ system. Then, of course, cutdown day came around and Newton was released. Personally, I did not see that one coming even though it makes sense: New England wanted a clear cut, and apparently felt confident enough in Jones to pull of the Newton-sized bandaid they slapped onto their offense in 2020.
So, to get to your questions: Eight games in, I think Patriots fans are feeling very good about where Jones currently stands. Has he been perfect? Certainly not (he has nine touchdowns and six interceptions, including a pair of pick-sixes), but he has come as advertised and appears to be picking up a notoriously complex offense very well.
We recently ran a Reacts poll over at Pats Pulpit, asking participants to grade Jones’ performance so far: 93 percent gave him either an A or a B.
As for Jones versus other passers. I think it is too early in his or the other rookie QBs’ careers to make definitive judgments. But I think seeing the passing offense execute with Jones at the helm as opposed to Cam Newton has left a lot of fans pretty happy about New England’s decision to install him as the starter.
The Patriots injury report is longer than the Panthers so far this week, which might mark a first for a Panthers opponent this season. How much of an impact do you expect injuries to make on the Pats game day roster?
New England may have a long injury list, but it is not as bad a situation as one might think. For starters, the team had full participation during Friday’s practice, with cornerback J.C. Jackson returning after his illness.
Sure, the team has some prominent names on the list of limited participants – including tight end Jonnu Smith, guard Shaq Mason, and linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy – but unless they are suffering any setbacks between now and 1:00 p.m. ET they should be good to go.
So, from that perspective, I don’t think injuries will have too much of an impact, at least as far as the Patriots are concerned. And, to be honest, it’s Bill Belichick: dude had Tom Brady listed with a right shoulder for three straight years between 2005 and 2008 (he took him off ahead of the season opener in 2008 and Brady promptly tore his ACL… coincidence?). Anyway, I wouldn’t necessarily take New England’s practice report at face value.
Thanks for Stephon Gilmore, he seems neat. This isn’t really a question, but feel free to take the space to talk about how neat he is and how much you miss him.
I mean, who needs Stephon Gilmore when you have a… [checks notes] …Joejuan Williams?! Goodness gracious.
Seriously, though, please take care of The Gilly Lock. The guy played incredible football during his four seasons with the Patriots: He appeared in a combined 64 regular season and playoff games; he registered 13 combined interceptions including the game-winner in Super Bowl 53; he was voted to four straight Pro Bowls; he was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year; he won three division titles and two conference championships; he has that shiny Super Bowl ring — just curious: Is he the only player on Carolina’s roster to have one? — and that sixth-round draft pick in 2023 will probably turn into a Pro Bowl place kicker or something.
So, nothing to complain right here. Yep. Nothing at all. Nope nope nope nope nope.
If you’d excuse me for a moment, though, I’ll have to open a bottle of wine and drown my sorrows in alcohol. But that doesn’t have to do anything with Stephon Gilmore being traded for a sixth-round draft pick in two years. Certainly not, thanks for asking.
Rookie quarterback versus fast and multiple defense; Question mark at quarterback versus one of the greatest defensive coaching minds of all time. This game has all the makings of either pure chaos or a defensive grind, both of which are intimately familiar to Panthers fans. How do you think the game is going to play out and what’s the score?
Who doesn’t love some good old-fashioned defensive grind. Reminds me of that one Super Bowl between the Patriots and… oh look, the Panthers!
In all honesty, though, I would give the Patriots a slight edge in this one. I do believe that they will be able to limit [insert Carolina Panthers starting quarterback] by running a defense similar to the one Carolina uses. There are some differences, but New England will do a lot of the things the Panthers do as well to find success against either Sam Darnold or P.J. Walker: present multiple looks, overload pressures, blitzes, you name it.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that Darnold and Walker are bad quarterbacks — okay, maybe Jets-version Darnold is — but that I expect Belichick to be one step ahead.
On the other side of the ball, though, the job will be a lot harder. The goal for New England is to a) protect Mac Jones, and b) protect the football. I think the team will be in decent shape if both those things are done properly, but if not it could be a long day.
At the end, though, the recent development of New England’s offense leads me to believe that it will score just enough points to win. I’m thinking something like 35-3.
Just kidding. It’ll be 20-14 or some other dull score.