Patriots Vs. Panthers

Super Bowl

February 01, 2004|By KEN MURRAY

Time: 6:25 p.m.

TV: Chs. 13, 9

Site: Reliant Stadium, Houston

Records: Panthers 14-5, Patriots 16-2

Line: Patriots by 7

TEAMS GRADED ON A SCALE OF 1 TO 10 IN EACH CATEGORY, WITH 10 THE BEST.

RUSHING GAME

Panthers 8, Patriots 4

The Panthers place more emphasis on the run because of personnel. They've got one of the NFL's toughest running backs in Stephen Davis -- with DeShaun Foster as a nifty changeup back -- to compensate for the relative inexperience of quarterback Jake Delhomme. Carolina likes to play smash-mouth football, but Davis and Foster have enough speed to get outside and break big plays. Getting New England's blitzers blocked will be critical. The Panthers' offensive line is more experienced, stronger and better than the Patriots' patchwork crew, although it also has performed well. Running back Antowain Smith routinely emerges late in the season for the Patriots to give them a semblance of a run game. He is more a north-south runner who sometimes tries to use finesse. The Patriots will persist in attempting to run, even if they don't have great success, because they have to keep Carolina's front four guessing as much as possible. The Panthers need to be successful in the running game to give Delhomme's play-action passes a chance to work and to limit the opportunities the Patriots have on offense.

Key matchups: For the Panthers, center Jeff Mitchell will need some help to block 365-pound nose tackle Ted Washington. For the Patriots, left guard Russ Hochstein and center Dan Koppen have the task of controlling Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kris Jenkins.

STAT TO REMEMBER

159.3

The per-game rushing average for the Panthers in the postseason, compared to 130.9 in the regular season.

PASSING GAME

Patriots 8, Panthers 5

The Patriots use the passing game in West Coast offense fashion as an alternative to the running game, with quarterback Tom Brady throwing short to intermediate routes, with a lot of screens and hitches. The Patriots have thrown more passes (78) in two playoff games than the Panthers (70) in three. Both teams have thrown just one interception. Despite their patchwork line, the Patriots have yet to allow Brady to be sacked in the postseason. He gets the ball away quickly. New England loves to spread the field and let Brady find mismatches against his receivers, something he is very adept at. That's where the Patriots have a big advantage, lining up against Carolina's fifth and sixth defensive backs. Deion Branch led the Patriots in catches during the regular season, but David Givens (12) and Troy Brown (nine) have been the most productive in the playoffs. Delhomme has made some big plays in the passing game, but the Panthers don't have any real threats after Steve Smith (23.1 yards average per catch, two touchdowns in the playoffs) and Muhsin Muhammad. The Panthers have converted 19 of 45 third downs in the postseason, though, for 42.2 percent.

Key matchups: For the Panthers, Smith will face Ty Law, probably the best cornerback in the league this season. For the Patriots, left tackle Matt Light, fresh off blanking the Indianapolis Colts' Dwight Freeney, gets defensive end Mike Rucker, the Panthers' leading sacker.

STAT TO REMEMBER

3

The Patriots have completed just three passes of 20 or more yards in the postseason.

RUN DEFENSE

Patriots 10, Panthers 8

The Patriots ranked fourth in the league in rushing defense, allowing just 89.6 yards per game. They have allowed just 96 a game in the playoffs. Washington is a major force in the middle and Richard Seymour had a Pro Bowl season. The flexibility of the Patriots' front seven is what makes it so effective. New England can switch easily from a three-man front to a four. It can move linebacker Mike Vrabel almost anywhere because of his athleticism. Safety Rodney Harrison almost certainly will come up to help defend the run, but the injury to inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi could hurt. With the best front four in the league, the Panthers were almost as hard to run on this season. They gave up 107.6 rushing yards a game. Jenkins and fellow defensive tackle Brentson Buckner set the table for middle linebacker Dan Morgan. Like the Patriots, the Panthers have quick linebackers and pursuit is a strength. Outside linebackers Greg Favors and Will Witherspoon are both playmakers.

Key matchups: For the Panthers, if Jenkins and Buckner occupy the Patriots' interior line, it should free up Morgan to get to Smith. For the Patriots, Seymour against left tackle Todd Steussie or left guard Jeno James will be a great battle to watch.

STAT TO REMEMBER

3.8

The average rush by the Patriots' opponents in the postseason.

PASS DEFENSE

Patriots 8, Panthers 7

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.