New England Patriots: Kendrick Bourne is the key to the offense in Week 9

The New England Patriots are set for a potentially season-defining matchup against the Carolina Panthers in Week 9. A win would push their record above .500 for the first time this season. A loss would seemingly derail their renewed hopes of making a push for one of the Wild Card spots in the AFC.

A huge win against the Los Angeles Chargers last week proved that the Patriots could in fact beat top level teams, seemingly altering the course of their season. The Panthers don’t offer the same challenge that the Chargers would, but they cannot be taken lightly. They are already set to get Christian McCaffery back off the injured reserve, although their starting quarterback Sam Darnold is set to be a game-time decision.

Even if Darnold is active, most of the attention on New England’s side is going to be geared towards Carolina’s defense, which happens to be one of the best in the league. If they didn’t suffer a rash of injuries early on in the season, they’d probably own the title of best defense in the league. But that’s not how the season has gone for the Panthers, and they will come into this contest looking to keep their Wild Card hopes alive as well.

New England is going to have to have a gameplan for attacking Carolina’s lockdown defense, or else it’s going to be a long day tomorrow. Rookie quarterback Mac Jones is going to need someone to step up to be a consistent target for him on the afternoon, but the Panthers secondary is going to make that tough to accomplish. That’s why Kendrick Bourne is going to be the key unlocking the New England Patriots offense in Week 9 against the Panthers.

Kendrick Bourne is they key to unlocking the New England Patriots offense

The Panthers secondary is insanely deep, and the scary thing is they aren’t even fully healthy. Donte Jackson will get the start on one side, and old friend Stephon Gilmore will likely get the start on the other end. Carolina’s coaching staff has continued to say they are going to ease Gilmore back into the action, but you can bet he’s going to look to stick it to head coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots in this one.

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After that though, the depth takes a hit. Jaycee Horn would presumably be in the mix, forming a deadly trio of shutdown corners for the Panthers, but he’s on the injured reserve currently. That leaves CJ Henderson and A.J. Bouye as the next layer of depth, which isn’t exactly anything to write home about.

Henderson was traded by the Jacksonville Jaguars after Week 3 this season despite being the ninth overall pick in the 2020 draft. He’s struggled to stay on the field, and when he has been on the field, he’s been mediocre at best. Bouye on the other hand is not the star corner he was back in his prime, and he’s could end up getting picked on if he stays on the field too long.

The problem is that Jackson and Gilmore are weapons. Jackson has continued to emerge as one of the best corners in the game, and we all know what Gilmore is capable of as well. Gilmore seems likely to match up on Jakobi Meyers for most of the afternoon, while Jackson will become familiar with Nelson Agholor.

That leaves Bourne as the guy who could have some favorable matchups on his hand out of the slot. Carolina has been rotating their corner matchups all season long, but it seems likely that either Henderson or Bouye will get the first crack at Bourne, with guys like Keith Taylor Jr. and Rashaan Melvin being options too if they don’t end up succeeding.

Especially in the early going, it’s crucial Jones looks Bourne’s way early and often. It wouldn’t be wise to expect Meyers and Agholor to consistently shake free of Gilmore and Jackson, and Bourne is going to have some matchups he can take advantage of on the underneath routes.

If Jones can consistently find Bourne, that is going to force Carolina to switch their matchups up, and that’s when you can really do damage. Taylor has been a guy earning more snaps for the Panthers recently, but he’s too big to really play in the slot. That would probably force Jackson into the slot, leaving advantageous matchups on the outside for one of Agholor or Meyers.

Either way, Bourne is the key to unlocking the passing attack against Carolina. Meyers has usually been Jones go-to-guy in the wide receiver room, but that’s probably going to have to change for this game. If Jones can adapt and find Bourne early and often, it will increase the New England Patriots chances of winning exponentially.