By Danny Cox
After outlasting the Houston Texans, the New England Patriots are sitting at 2-1 with an upcoming visit from the Carolina Panthers this Sunday. Through the first two games of the season, the Panthers had given up only six total points while scoring 32 en route to a 2-0 start.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, a number of injuries exposed a lot of holes on both offense and defense, which may rid the Pats of some of their concerns going into the fourth game of 2017.
Carolina Panthers Season Record: 2-1
Victories over the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills put the Panthers on the upper level of NFL teams, but they were relying far too much on their defense. In Week 3, the New Orleans Saints went into Carolina and completely exposed them with six scoring drives for 34 points and absolute domination.
Panthers On Offense
Cam Newton is the leader of this offense, but his offseason shoulder surgery is still obviously bothering him as he's struggled greatly through three games. He's thrown for 566 yards with just two touchdowns to go along with four interceptions - he's also been sacked 10 times. It's obvious that things are not working for him as he was even replaced by Derek Anderson against a Saints defense that was ranked last in the NFL.
Jonathan Stewart can't get much of anything going out of the backfield, but rookie running back Christian McCaffrey is a bright spot on a shaky offense. Not only does he have 73 yards on the ground, but he's also the leading receiver on the Panthers roster with 173 yards on 18 receptions.
New England's defense does have a few weak spots, but Carolina's offense has a lot more.
Panthers On Defense
Before the game against the Saints, the Panthers defense appeared to be one of the scariest units in the entire NFL. However, Drew Brees absolutely dissected them as if they weren't on the field, completing 22 of 29 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns.
Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are a dangerous pair, but the latter may have a rib injury that could slow him down this week. If he can't play, the Panthers will be without their top tackler and leader on defense. Tom Brady will need to have his o-line watch his back as the Panthers have a great pass rush, but with just enough time, he should be able shred Carolina's secondary.
Panthers Players To Watch: RB Christian McCaffrey, DE Mario Addison
Obviously, the rookie is turning a lot of heads and he is proving that he's a danger all over the field. McCaffrey doesn't just play with talent, but you can tell he puts every ounce of his energy and heart into each play. New England will need to keep an eye on him throughout the day, as the rookie will be gone in a heartbeat if he gets out into the open field.
On a defense full of playmakers, defensive end Mario Addison is one of the best. His career started off rather slowly as he hopped around from team to team before finally finding a home with the Panthers. Addison is coming off a career year with 9.5 sacks, and he already has two through three games this season. He poses a real threat to Brady and he could be in the backfield a lot this week.
Before the loss to the Saints, the Carolina Panthers looked rather strong with a few weaknesses here and there. After Week 3, the Panthers showed there are a lot more problems than things that are working, and New England is going to want to expose them. Bill Belichick and the rest of the Patriots simply need to have a good game plan going into this game with Carolina, which should allow them to advance to 3-1.
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