Throughout the week, Patriots.com will look at several matchups we feel are key to Sunday's battle between the Patriots and Panthers. Tuesday's takes a look at the Panthers cornerbacks against the Patriots wideouts.
If "Patriots Football" is physical football then "Panthers Football" would have to be included in the same definition. The Patriots wide receivers will find that out Sunday night in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
New England doesn't exactly have the biggest receiving corps in the league (unless, perhaps, you're measuring heart). No one mistakes them for a big, physical group. So Troy Brown, Deion Branch, David Givens, Bethel Johnson and Dedric Ward will have their hands full against what is likely to be physical press coverage designed to demoralize and intimidate them.
Carolina is likely to jam the Patriots receivers at the line and punish them after they catch or touch the ball in their routes just as they did to Philly, St. Louis and Dallas on their way to the Super Bowl.
Ricky Manning Jr., who has four playoff interceptions, Reggie Howard, Terry Cousin, Deon Grant and Mike Minter will be looking to hammer the Patriots smaller wideouts much the same way the Patriots defensive backs did the Colts receivers in the AFC Championship Game.
The goal, of course, will be to take away the quick throw for Tom Brady, make him hold the ball and disrupt his timing and rhythm so that the four-man pass rush can get to him with either a sack or enough pressure to make him throw under duress into seven-man coverage. Carolina's defensive line is its strength and the Panthers aren't likely to allow New England to neutralize that strength with quick throws, which is why the corners, and even linebackers at times, will be up at the line challenging the receivers.
New England's wideouts will have to use quickness and strength to get off the press and make Carolina pay for its aggressiveness. They also must prove their toughness with a physical style of their own. A couple of big hits can certainly affect a receiver and New England's wideouts are expected to take some hits in this game. Their response to those hits and ability to make plays in tight coverage will be instrumental for the Patriots offense.