Passing Chart - Tom Brady
The Panthers' game plan defensively was clearly to limit the number of deep shots available to Tom Brady. Brady attempted just five passes beyond 20 yards downfield, by far the fewest in a game this season, and completed only one of those attempts on a 43-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski.
Ironically, the Panthers opted to force Brady to beat them in what many would say his preferred style of play, and the strategy almost worked.
The Panthers forced Brady to dink and dunk his way down the field, and it took until the fourth quarter for the Patriots offense to really get going. Brady averaged just 6.8 yards per attempt, his lowest mark of the season.
It appears that other teams are beginning to notice the Patriots' potent deep passing attack.
Danny Amendola continues to be a go-to target for Tom Brady in the slot and is clearly the team's third wide receiver at the moment.
As usual, Amendola did his damage inside with all seven of his targets and six of his receptions coming in the slot. The yardage total isn't impressive for Amendola, but four of his six receptions went for first downs, and he caught his first touchdown of the season.
Over the last few weeks, Nate Solder has gotten a lot of flack for his play, but in Week 4 it was right tackle Marcus Cannon that struggled.
Cannon surrendered six total pressures against Carolina, which is the most he has allowed in a game since the start of 2016, and was beaten badly on a sack by Julius Peppers.
On the bright side, it was a better performance at the left tackle spot for Nate Solder.
Solder allowed three sacks and nine total pressures in the previous two weeks but was nearly perfect in pass protection against the Panthers. However, the Panthers do lack the type of pass rushers the Patriots have seen in previous weeks.
Pass Rush/Run Stops
As bad as some of the coverage busts were, the lack of any type of pass rush from the Patriots defense was just as troubling.
The Patriots technically registered two sacks in this game, but the only real sack was Dont'a Hightower's fourth-quarter sack on Cam Newton to force a punt, as Kyle Van Noy tackled Newton on a scramble that barely lost any yardage.
The lack of pass rush continues to allow opposing quarterbacks to easily make the Patriots pay for their breakdowns in the secondary. Cam Newton had an average time to throw of over three seconds (3.06), as has every quarterback against the Patriots besides Drew Brees this season.
On a positive note, Lawrence Guy continues to be a force along the defensive line and is now contributing as a pass rusher as well.
Guy is terrific against the run, leading the team on Sunday with four run stops, but it's more than just the stats. The first-year Patriot is extremely difficult to move, doing a great job to hold up offensive lineman, and shed blockers to make the tackle.
The Patriots secondary was beyond horrific in this game, and the stats don't really do it justice.
Stephon Gilmore made a number of mental errors, but two of them led directly to touchdowns. While Malcolm Butler had a difficult time getting in front of the bigger Panthers wide receivers, in particular, Devin Funchess. Butler did make a nice read on an interception, but the Patriots' starting cornerback duo continued to struggle.
The good news here is that the Patriots' woes in the secondary seem to be more mental than physical. Although they may never be a shutdown pass defense, the Patriots held up well enough in coverage when they weren't completely blowing assignments.
Let's face it, in that respect, things can only go up from here.