In Week three the New England Patriots (2-1) squeaked out a win at home over the Houston Texans (1-2) thanks, in large part, to Tom Brady (378 yards and five touchdowns) and Brandin Cooks (five receptions for 131 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winner). Both the offensive line (Brady was sacked five times) and defense will have to play better in Week four when the Patriots take on the Carolina Panthers (2-1) in Foxborough at 1:00PM this Sunday. But what are some other areas on which the Pats need focus so Bill Belichick and company come out with a win this Sunday? Below are some Week four Patriots keys to victory.
Week Four New England Patriots Keys to Victory
Limit Christian McCaffrey and Devin Funchess
Panthers rookie running back Christian McCaffrey leads the team this season with 23 targets, 18 catches and 173 yards. In the Panther’s Week three loss to the New Orleans Saints the former Stanford Cardinal was the team’s leading receiver with nine catches for 101 yards. Devin Funchess has the second most targets, receptions and receiving yards for Carolina this season. Through the first three weeks Funchess has caught 10 balls on 18 targets for 146 yards.
With Jonathan Stewart struggling as of late (12 carries for 57 yards last week and 45 rushes for 162 yards on the season), Cam Newton not nearly as productive as he was in 2015 when he was named the league’s MVP, tight end Greg Olsen out with a broken foot and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin dealing with a knee injury (and only ranking third on the team in terms of targets, receptions and receiving yards), the Panthers offense will flow largely through McCaffrey and Funchess this week. If the Patriots defense can actually step up (right now they rank dead last in yards allowed (461.0 per game) and points allowed (31.7 per game) and shut down, or at least limit, McCaffrey and Funchess on Sunday, Belichick’s squad will defeat the Panthers.
Get to Cam Newton Early
Newton is a mediocre quarterback who happens to be a tremendous athlete. He had an incredible stretch of about 12 or so games in 2015 (his MVP season) but other than that he has largely been mediocre. The former Auburn signal caller is not accurate (his career completion percentage is 58.5) and this season he has thrown two touchdowns and four interceptions through three games. And while he’s still incredibly athletic, he’s not quite as dangerous running the football as he used to be.
That being said, Newton is such a good athlete that he can all of a sudden show flashes of what earned him league MVP honors in 2015. But he can get down on himself and become sullen very easily and he’s dealing with shoulder issues. If New England can get to Newton early (he’s been sacked six times and hit 11 so far this season) they can keep him from getting into a rhythm and finding his receivers and running backs, including Funchess and McCaffrey. If the Patriots can disrupt Carolina’s signal caller, particularly early in the game, they should win on Sunday.
Drown Out the Kneeling/National Anthem Noise
Players taking a knee during the National Anthem has been a story since Colin Kaepernick started doing it last season. The situation really came to a head with President Trump’s tweets this past weekend and his comments at a rally in Alabama last Friday. Now, more than ever, fans are paying attention to what players do before and during the National Anthem. This past weekend saw numerous players taking knees, many teammates linking arms in a showing of solidarity and some teams, including the Pittsburgh Steelers, deciding to remain in the locker room until the National Anthem was over.
This shouldn’t be an issue; players should be able to exercise their rights as American citizens. They should be able to peacefully protest something that matters to them and what is important to many players is that people simply do not understand the injustice some people face in this country. The people who are shouting that these players who have taken a knee are disrespecting the flag are missing the point. The flag stands for the freedom that the players are exercising and people vilifying these players will not solve any of these issues or close the political and racial divide in this country. The people screaming about the players disrespecting the flag need to listen to why the players are taking a knee. There needs to be a dialogue, not just screaming and yelling.
While this shouldn’t be a distraction to any of the NFL 32 teams because it simply shouldn’t be an issue, it can and probably will be a distraction for certain teams, even this weekend. But the Patriots probably won’t be one of those teams. No organization shuts out the outside noise better than the Patriots. A big reason for this is Belichick. New England’s head coach keeps his team focused week in and week out and that is a large part of the reason for their success during his tenure. If it remains that way this week they will secure a victory over the Panthers.
The Patriots are favored by 9.5 and if they can do the above three things and also protect Brady (the offensive line has been less than stellar so far this season) they will move to 3-1 when the clock hits zeroes on Sunday.