New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second half at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Steelers 55-31. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Belichick describes Carolina Panthers perfectly

The New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers are set to square off on Monday Night Football this upcoming week, and it’s one of the most highly-anticipated matchups of the entire season. The Patriots are currently 7-2 despite some ugly wins mixed in there, but it looks like the offense is finally starting to hit its stride. A big key to the Patriots success this season has been its much-improved defense, backed by the play of star defensive backs Devin McCourty and Aqib Talib. The depth and solid backup talent has allowed the Patriots to overcome the losses of stars Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo for the season, and this team could be scary if it continues to progress on offense. Even though starting strong safety Steve Gregory is expected to miss this week’s game, the Patriots will be getting key RB Shane Vereen back.

The Carolina Panthers have been one of the league’s most impressive success stories, and they look poised to secure a wild card spot. No stranger to overcoming injuries on defense, the Panthers defensive backfield looked in dire straits at one point this season. But thanks to the play of resurgent veteran Mike Mitchell, who has become a huge leader and key player on this team, and the always-underrated Quintin Mikell at safety, the Panthers pass defense has been among the best in the NFL. They are averaging the fifth-lowest yards per pass play and have almost two times as many INTs as touchdowns allowed (13 to seven).

On offense, the Panthers are taking much less risks, and they are designing better plays for Cam Newton. Mike Shula is doing a much better job in his second stint as an offensive coordinator in the league, and the Panthers aren’t playing as “cute” on offense as they did under current Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski. But like Chud, Ron Rivera is going for it on fourth downs more often, embracing the new-age side of the game by taking smart gambles.

It’s crazy to think that Rivera was on the hot seat at one point, and I always chalked that up to some impatient fans who were unwilling to recognize all the good Rivera has done. His solid coaching has shone through, as the Panthers have all the signs of a well-coached team. They are quickly turning things around, winning more games than expected, committing less turnovers, and the defensive scheme looks beautiful. Give plenty of credit to Sean McDermott, who is one of the best defensive minds in the NFL.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick spoke about the Panthers on Salk & Holley and did a perfect job of describing the Panthers, “They’ve really done a good job in the last month or so everywhere. They’ve been scoring. I know they only got 10 against San Francisco, but they’ve been in the 30s quite a bit. Defensively, they have a good front, they take the ball away, they have a lot of turnovers and they do a good job in the red area, so they’re just a good team in all phases. … They’re a solid team, they’re well coached, they’re fundamentally sound, they don’t give you a lot of easy plays, they don’t beat themselves.”

Well-coached and “fundamentally sound”, there you have it. The Panthers won an impressive 10-9 game over the defending NFC Champs, and they are gunning for one of the AFC’s top squads. I usually don’t look forward to Mondays, but I’ll be looking forward to this matchup between two teams that are well-coached, avoid committing turnovers at all costs, key in on the fundamentals, and are built on depth. By the way, watch the Panthers front seven closely, because they are absolutely amazing. With an actually competent DT duo for the first time since 2008 (rookies Star Lotuelelei and Kawann Short will make an excellent pairing for several years to come), the linebackers are getting more of a chance to shine. Plus, the Panthers have one of the best DE duos in the NFL.

You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter for more NFL updates and analysis @SorianoJoe. Be sure to like us on Facebook here and follow our site on Twitter as well.

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Tags: Bill Belichick Carolina Panthers New England Patriots Ron Rivera

  • Jerome Johnson

    Rivera was on the hot seat. Who knows how hot the seat was. JR never said a word. I don’t beleive he would have been released during the season, no matter what.

    To credit “some impatient fans” is not quite accurate, IMO. The Charlotte Observer has some writers that, like every media outlet nowdays, help to “create a story” where none exists. There is no news anymore, there are just “seeds” and “spins”.

    As Bill Cower pointed out recently, the very culture of the NFL is getting rediculous with regard to time and expectations. Even if Rivera had been released at the end of the season, he still would not have been given a FAIR chance. Strike delayed FIRST season, with no off season to even prepare. New GM second season; injury riddled. Then what, you expect a Super Bowl in the 3rd. Gimme a break.

    • Joe Soriano

      Great comment, Jerome, and you made me think of Tom Coughlin immediately. This is a guy who always had a reputation for being a great coach, and yet he was inexplicably on the “hot seat” just a couple of seasons after winning an SB with the Giants. Some people’s expectations are definitely unrealistic these days, and it has a negative trickle-down effect on coaches and GMs; real success and results take time.

      • Jerome Johnson

        Yeah. Put Coughlin in Tampa and see what happens. Like putting Andy Reid in KC. Does the Coach’s message get stale, or does the whole organization get stale? Course remember that Andy kept Phily winning, so the draft choices are less than choice. Go to KC with a great coach, like San Fran was, and with all of these Top 5 picks, and the table is set, eh?

        Makes what Gettleman and Rivera have done pretty special. Though they inherited a LOT of great players. Hurney had faults, but he also did some good work.

        • Joe Soriano

          Love the remark on Hurney, because it’s far too easy for some people to totally throw him under the bus. Yes, he made several awful decisions during the draft and as far as salary management goes, but he also drafted Cam (could have easily picked up a bust), Hardy, and did a nice job securing some of this team’s pieces (Greg Olsen, too, he was a BIG one in that trade with CHI).

          • Jerome Johnson

            Hey JOE, we’re still in it!! Upcoming Jets!

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  • ahrcshaw

    Forget about the Hot seat, all loosing coaches are on the hot seat almost daily. This up coming game with the NE Patriots is a grudge match for me. On a fluke missed kickoff one of the best reliable kickers kick the ball out of bounds giving the Patriots the ball on the 40 yrd line with 2 minutes or less left and trailing by 1 point against the Panthers in the SB in 2004. Brady and crew made one first down and a few more ydrs and the Patriots kicked a 53yrd field goal to win.

    I think every true Panther fan will be watching this game with the hopes of a blow out to make up for that SB loss. Since that time the Panthers have lost more games by 8 or less points then any other team in the NFL. Rivera is now 3 for 13 I think in winning these close games. The Patriots will be a difficult team to beat with Tom Brady at the helm, he will drop off those short quick passes that will kill a good rushing defense as well as using the run option pass and use the clock, then bite you with a bomb.

    This game will not be different except that the Panther defense is better this year then the 2004 defense up front in the box. Brady will be able to drop off a few passes, but not as many as he is use to. Brady does not like being touched, nor does he scramble at all which means NE will have to protect him by adding TE’s or RB’s in the backfield to block while the Panthers rush 4 or possibly blitz. Do the numbers 5 man front, Brady with two backs is 8 leaving 3 to go out for a pass against 7 speedy defenders. Add to that the pocket that Brady stands in will collapse in the middle.

    I am looking forward to this game as I see it as revenge. Go Panthers and pound those NE Patriots.

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