Patriots’ Zone Defense Allowing Open Receivers Among Five Takeaways From Panthers Game

Rob Gronkowski, Tom BradyThe Patriots played well and lost.

Unfortunately, sometimes that happens. Tom Brady and the offense moved the ball well against a tough Panthers defense, and the secondary limited Cam Newton despite missing some key pieces. The game came down to some key mistakes on defense and, of course, one blown call at the end of the game.

New England is still trying to learn how to stop athletic quarterbacks, though. The Patriots’ defense looked lost at times, allowing Newton far too much room to run downfield.

Check out this week’s charting stats and takeaways below.

1. Aqib Talib has a tough time against Steve Smith.

Talib’s return to the field wasn’t overly triumphant. Talib gave up 69 yards and had a tough time sticking with Smith down the field. Talib left the game late after tweaking his hip injury.

The Patriots allowed 51 yards on five receptions and six targets when Panthers were left uncovered. With more zone coverages, running backs and receivers were left open often.

Many will remember Kyle Arrington‘s final target, a 25-yard touchdown to Ted Ginn, but the Patriots cornerback played well before that final defensive play.

Check out this week’s charting stats below.

Aqib Talib: 4-6, 69 yards, 2 PBUs, holding penalty
Kyle Arrington: 2-3, 24 yards, TD, PBU
Devin McCourty: 1-2, 15 yards, TD, holding penalty
Duron Harmon: 1-2, 11 yards
Logan Ryan: 1-2, 9 yards, TD, PBU
Dont’a Hightower: 1-1, 8 yards
Chandler Jones: 1-1, 7 yards
Marquice Cole: 1-1, 6 yards
Brandon Spikes: 1-1, 5 yards
Rob Ninkovich: 1-3, 4 yards

Here’s how the Patriots stand for the season:

Dennard: 28-58, 434 yards, 2 TDs, INT
Arrington: 30-56, 398 yards, 4 TDs, INT, holding penalty
Talib: 13-35, 208 yards, 4 INTs, pass interference penalty, holding penalty
Ryan: 15-30, 191 yards, 3 TDs
Hightower: 18-32, 167 yards
Mayo: 14-27, 146 yards
Gregory: 10-22, 139 yards, TD, pass interference penalty
McCourty: 9-16, 114 yards, 2 TDs, INT, holding penalty
Spikes: 9-12, 96 yards, TD, INT
Cole: 8-13, 94 yards, TD, INT
Collins: 5-6, 53 yards
Ninkovich: 6-9, 31 yards
Harmon: 2-4, 14 yards, 2 INTs
Chandler Jones: 1-1, 7 yards
Fletcher: 1-3, 5 yards, TD

2. Patriots don’t get much interior pressure on Cam Newton.

New England was hesitant to bring too much pressure on Newton. Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones were still able to bring some heat, but Isaac Sopoaga, Chris Jones and Joe Vellano were not able to generate much pressure.

Part of that lack of pressure is that everyone in the front seven still has to fill their rushing lanes when Newton drops back, or else the signal caller will run free, either up the middle or off the edge. Ninkovich did a nice job of getting pressure while still limiting Newton’s rushing ability.

Check out this week’s pressure stats:

Rob Ninkovich: 2 sacks, 2 hurries, 1 QB hit
Chandler Jones: 1 sack, 2 hurry, 1 QB hit
Dane Fletcher: 2 hurries
Logan Ryan: 1 hurry
Isaac Sopoaga: 1 hurry
Chris Jones: 1 hurry
Joe Vellano: 1 hurry
Andre Carter: 1 hurry

Here’s the Patriots’ pressure on the season:

Chandler Jones: 9 1/2 sacks, 31 hurries, 12 QB hits (53 pressures)
Ninkovich: 5 sacks, 34 hurries, 9 QB hits (48 pressures)
Chris Jones: 5 sacks, 9 hurries, 2 QB hit (17 pressures)
Kelly: 2 1/2 sacks, 12 hurries, 2 QB hit (17 pressures)
Buchanan: 2 sacks, 10 hurries, 3 QB hits (15 pressures)
Hightower: 1 sack, 9 hurries, 3 QB hits (13 pressures)
Vellano: 1 sack, 10 hurries, 2 QB hit (13 pressures)
Carter: 1 sack, 4 hurries, 3 QB hit (8 pressure)
Spikes: 5 hurries, 1 QB hit (6 pressures)
Fletcher: 2 sacks, 3 hurries (5 pressure)
Wilfork: 4 hurries, 1 QB hit (5 pressures)
Mayo: 1 1/2 sacks, 1 hurry, 1 QB hit (4 pressures)
Collins: 3 hurries (3 pressures)
Ryan: 2 sacks, 1 hurry (3 pressures)
McCourty: 1 hurry, 1 QB hit (2 pressures)
Cole: 1 hurry (1 pressure)
Bequette: 1 QB hit (1 pressure)
Gregory: 1 QB hit (1 pressure)
Sopoaga: 1 hurry (1 pressure)

3. Tom Brady’s receivers limit drops.

Brady had 11 incompletions on the night, with eight of those coming on the final drive. Among those incompletions, three were the fault of Brady’s targets.

Shane Vereen had two drops and it appeared Aaron Dobson ran the wrong route. After that play, Kenbrell Thompkins got some opportunities in the offense.

Brady had six bad passes, including the final interception. He was bothered by pressure on three of those. He was nearly picked off on a fourth-quarter pass to Dobson that clanged off the hands of two Panthers.

Brady overthrew tight end Matthew Mulligan on the sidelines, but it was a smart throw that only Mulligan could have caught. He also threw the ball away in the end zone toward Dobson.

4. Patriots defense was effective in stopping Panthers’ running backs.

While Newton ran free for 62 yards on seven carries, Carolina’s running backs gained just 41 yards on 18 carries. Since Jerod Mayo, Tommy Kelly and Vince Wilfork went down with season-ending injuries, the Patriots have struggled to stop the run.

Against some tough running backs, New England was very effective at stopping DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert and Jonathan Stewart. That could bode well for the Patriots’ Week 12 game against Denver.

5. The Patriots’ offense is back.

It can’t be stressed enough how much better Brady and the Patriots’ offense has looked the past two weeks. And that’s all around. Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount ran well (despite Ridley’s fumble), Dobson seems more comfortable, Rob Gronkowski seems fully healthy and Danny Amendola seems to be getting open easier.

Vereen made a big impact despite his two drops. There were worries about New England’s third-down offense early in the season. Those should be cured with Gronkowski and Vereen back.

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.

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