A once-in-a-blue-moon meeting for the Patriots to prepare for this weekend. The Patriots will face the Carolina Panthers, a team they have not played in the regular season since 2013. After a Monday Night Football game in week eleven of that season, the Panthers came out on top in the waning minutes of the match to win 24-20. The game finished with controversy over the referees picking up a penalty flag for defensive pass interference on the last play of the game where Tom Brady took a shot in the end zone to Rob Gronkowski.

Since 2013 the Patriots and the Panthers have been present in a Super Bowl: the Patriots winning two and the Panthers appearing in one. The Panthers have had both successful and unfortunate seasons since this season but have learned from their mistakes. Both teams are very different from four years ago, however Tom Brady and Cam Newton still reign.

Stopping the Panthers’ West Coast Offense

Cam Newton is one of the more popular quarterbacks in the NFL, mostly because of his impressive mobility. He can turn on the burners in an instant and run with the ball himself on a split second decision. At the same time he possesses the arm strength to heave the ball downfield. The Patriots had a similar task last weekend against rookie Deshaun Watson whose pocket presence and speed kept defenders from containing him.

Cam Newton might be quicker than Watson, but the Patriots’ defense should be working on pressuring the quarterback more in this week’s practice. Heavily relying on zone coverage will not fair well against Cam Newton and his strong running back corp. Jonathan Stewart is a well-used power runner who is deadly on screens in the back field. A similar principle goes for rookie Christian McCaffrey, a quick runner and can punish on running an angle or wheel route.  To stop Cam Newton, man coverage QB containment and a few crafty blitzes will come in handy. As for the Panthers’ backs, that’s when cover 3 should be used. Dont’a Hightower, pending if he returns this week from injury, will have a big task covering Stewart and McCaffrey. Malcolm Butler will also have to size up 6’5″ wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.

Rallying on Offense

The Panthers used to boast one of the stingiest secondaries in the league two years ago under Josh Norman. Lately, they have become more centralized on building up the defensive line along with the linebacker corp: Charles Johnson, Julius Peppers, Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Mario Addison, Shaq Thompson, Luke Kuechly, and Thomas Davis. All of these powerful defenders work together on the defensive line. To beat a stacked defensive line like that, Tom Brady will have to replicate his performance last week. It is imperative that he gets the ball off quickly on short routes to receivers. The Patriots’ offensive line faces an even bigger task. Coach Dante Scarnecchia this week has more than likely hammered on his offensive line after they allowed Tom Brady to be sacked multiple times.

Quick slants will help beat a defense that will be trying to capitalize on rushing Brady. Danny Amendola is a perfect receiver for short passes and Rob Gronkowski is always a vertical threat. Chris Hogan might have a mixed role this game where he will catch short passes but at the same time run deep like he has done in the past two games. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.