New England Patriots: 3 keys to beating the Carolina Panthers in Week 9

New England Patriots outside linebacker Matt Judon (9) and safety Adrian Phillips (21) Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots outside linebacker Matt Judon (9) and safety Adrian Phillips (21) Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

The New England Patriots have three keys to beat the Carolina Panthers away this upcoming Sunday and take their season’s record to 5-4.

Carolina currently sits at 4-4 just like New England and this is no easy takeaway for the suddenly resurgent Patriots. It’s a tough game and they’ll have to play well to beat the Panthers.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at three key factors that would behoove the New England Patriots to get right to win this one.

The New England Patriots have to play mistake-free football

The key to winning not only this game against Carolina but any game really is to play as mistake-free football as possible.

In plain terms, first, that means no fumbles and no interceptions. Getting some yourself is also a big plus as we saw in the win against the Los Angeles Chargers last week. Adrian Phillips had two huge picks last Sunday against the Chargers, and his timely pick-six was crucial in picking up a victory.

Their own turnovers were the bane of the Patriots early this season. At least two games were squandered directly because of turnovers.

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One game was against the Miami Dolphins and the other was against the Dallas Cowboys. Both games were essentially in the bag but were thrown away due to costly late turnovers.

The Patriots could be sitting pretty with at least a 6-2 record absent those two plays. Just two really terrible plays gone wrong ruined that nice situation. It’s a shame.

Mac Jones has to have a clean, as in no interceptions, day again as he did against the Chargers last Sunday. To beat Carolina, simply avoid any turnovers. It helps immeasurably.

On Sunday, if Jones and the offense play turnover-free football they will have a solid opportunity to win this game and to have a winning record for the first time this season.

The New England Patriots need to control Christian McCaffrey

If he plays, and it’s possible he will, the Panthers’ ultimate offensive weapon is Christian McCaffrey. He’s a dynamic all-purpose back who’s a touchdown waiting to happen.

He’s been hamstrung by injury this season and his availability, even if he does play, could be limited. But McCaffrey is a threat every time he has the ball in his hands.

The New England defense will have to game-plan for him and play him tight to avert being gashed on big plays as they were last week against the Chargers.

In that one, Justin Jackson reeled of a huge 75-yard run that set up touchdown for LA. If you turned away from the TV for a minute to get a soda, you could have come back with the Patriots down another score.

Also, wide receiver D.J. Moore is a threat, especially if McCaffrey is out. He has 50 receptions for 645 yards and three touchdowns in eight games this season.

So the defense will be on the spot to turn in a top outing and not give up any lightning big plays. With Matt Judon and rookie phenom Christian Barmore upfront, there is no reason they can’t.

New England Patriots offensive line has to control the game

This is a key to every game. How the offensive line goes, so goes the Patriots and every other team in the NFL or anywhere else for that matter.

The O-line is the determining factor each and every Sunday. If they pass-block well, Mac Jones and his super-accurate throwing will carve up a defense, his lack of top wide receivers notwithstanding.

If the offensive line run-blocks well, they will open holes for lead-back Damien Harris and the other backs.

Hopefully, Rhamondre Stevenson who should be their short-yardage guy, if they ever decide to run again in short-yardage, will be active. He’s also about to break a big run loose but he can’t if he’s not playing.

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The offensive line also controls the clock with a good running game. That keeps the ball out of the hands of the Panthers offense. It also keeps the Patriots’ defense fresh.

So there are three possible keys to the game Sunday against Carolina. What do you think are the three keys to the game?