Anytime you have difficulty coming up with three things you don't like about a team's performance it's a pretty good sign that things went well. The Patriots 30-7 trouncing of Carolina certainly fell into that category as the team played well in all three phases – especially on defense.
Here's a look at some of the specific things we liked, and working hard to nitpick, some things we weren't as excited about from the Panthers game:
Julian Edelman –** The receiver caught all eight passes thrown his way for 99 yards. He had a nice ball down the field for a 35-yard gain. He also returned two punts for a 25.5-yard average, including a 30-yarder. Edelman has been the best Patriot all summer long and continues to appear poised for a big season. The rest of the players are still working out the kinks, but No. 11 seems to be in midseason form as Tom Brady's best, most reliable option.
Shane Vereen – The passing back has had only an average summer, but he put his playmaking ability on full display against the Panthers. He caught A.J. Klein sleeping in coverage for a 40-yard touchdown, and then looked like Superman extending for the pylon on his second score of the night. He tallied five catches, on five targets, for 57 yards. He only had 18 yards on six rushes, but that came in a backfield that never got rolling as a unit. Vereen remains a matchup problem for defenses, and the Patriots use of split backs could be a weapon that makes the most of his unique skills as Josh McDaniels looks to fill out his list of aerial options.
Chandler Jones – The third-year linebacker dominated the game for much of the first half. He finished with six solo tackles, two sacks, three tackles for a loss and two QB hits. It was arguably the best stretch of play we've seen from Jones in his two-plus seasons in New England. He brought energy to the field and was equally effective against the pass and the run. He's still learning on the fly in the 3-4, but if Jones can play anything like he did Friday night come the regular season it will be a boon for Matt Patricia's defense.
Jordan Devey – The first-year offensive lineman has certainly gotten his chances to impress the coaches this summer. He's received the most reps of anyone, and many of his opportunities have come playing with the first unit. Tonight he started at right guard and struggled. He took a false first step on an early running play and stepped on Tom Brady's foot to cause a 5-yard loss. Later he failed to get a block on linebacker Thomas Davis on a screen and Shane Vereen was buried for another 5-yard loss. He also allowed a quick quarterback pressure late in the game after he was moved to right tackle. Not his best night.
Kenbrell Thompkins/Brandon LaFell – The receivers are linked in more ways than one. Both have opportunities to provide an outside presence with Aaron Dobson on the mend, and both must drive the coaches crazy with their inconsistency. Thompkins had a huge 21-yard catch to convert a third-and-19 and followed it up with a horrific drop off his chest on the next play. He did respond with a 14-yard reception on the next snap, but the drop was Pop Warner-like. LaFell also had a drop on a key third down and managed only two catches on his five targets. He turned in while Brady threw out on an early third down, perhaps an indication of some miscommunication between the two. More consistency is needed from both.
The running game – After blowing the undersized Eagles off the ball to the tune of 250 rushing yards last week, the ground game wasn't nearly as effective against the stern Panthers front. The Patriots rushed 31 times for just 82 yards, which translates to a paltry 2.6-yard average. Stevan Ridley (eight carries, 28 yards, 3.5-yard average) was bottled up and none of the Patriots four ball carriers managed to average 4 yards a pop. The offensive line did little to create space and the backs were contained throughout, particularly in the first half when the Panthers starters were on the field. Aside from a 13-yard Ridley burst against mostly backups in the third quarter the ground game managed very little.