Throughout the week, Patriots.com will look at several matchups we feel are key to Sunday's battle between the Patriots and Panthers. Monday's takes a look at the Panthers pass rush against the young Patriots offensive line.
Patriots offensive line vs. Panther front four
Carolina linebacker Dan Morgan talked about the importance of his team's defensive line and how that group generally gets the advantage over any team it faces. Morgan said he always feels the Panthers will generate pressure on the passer without the aid of blitzing, allowing him and the rest of his defensive teammates the freedom to concentrate on pass coverage.
That task could become more difficult against a Patriots passing game that typically operates smoothly with Tom Brady using a variety of quick throws and short drops. Brady's spread offense can leave him vulnerable to the pass rush because oftentimes there are no blockers in the backfield to help the guys up front.
That's where this matchup gets interesting. The Panthers front, with ends Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker joined by Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner, has indeed been able to force opposing quarterbacks to get rid of the ball quickly without benefiting from the aid of extra rushers.
With the Patriots starting a group inexperienced players, that could be a problem. Russ Hochstein could be under the most heat. He'll be making just his third start and will oppose Jenkins, a two-time All-Pro in just his third NFL season. If the Patriots stay with the spread using four- and five-wide sets, that could leave Hochstein alone on Jenkins, a matchup the Panthers would likely love to see all evening.
The key here will be how quickly Brady can unload the ball. The Patriots signal caller is among the game's smartest quarterbacks and the offense will rely on his strong decision-making ability to avoid potential disaster. No matter how quickly the Panthers are able to get near Brady, if he can deliver the ball accurately it will render the pressure moot.