Carolina Panthers: at New England Patriots

Only five days after facing one of the toughest defenses in the NFL, the Carolina Panthers are back on the field to face another tough team in the New England Patriots tonight in the team’s third preseason game, 7:30 EST at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA. “They’re a team you use as a measuring stick,” head coach Ron Rivera said. “It is a very good offense, very good defense and very good special teams. They’re a well-coached football team with really good football players. This will be a good test.”

The Panthers are coming off a short week after beating the Kansas City Chiefs 28-16 Sunday night in a nationally televised game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. The defense started off slow, and quarterback Cam Newton was rusty to begin the game, but both rounded into shape by the second quarter to eventually match the intensity of the running game.

Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) evades the Chief’s pass rush Sunday night. (Image credit: Panthers.com)

The decisive win over a good team that played its starters through the first half yielded many positives heading into tonight’s game v. New England, but also exposed areas that still require work. If the Panthers are serious about their championship aspirations, the Patriots will provide the perfect outlet. “It should give us a good feel for where we are’, said Rivera, ‘and what we need to work on.”

Teams typically¬† play their starters for the majority of the third preseason game, usually through three quarters. Such will not be the case for the Panthers coming of the short week, but Rivera said the starters would play the first half. Newton will also play the entire half, about 30-35 snaps, unless he falls under heavy duress during the game. The Patriots’ projected top-10 defense could get after Newton if the offensive line play regresses at all.

Offensive line play will be one of the key focuses in tonight’s game, as will the play of the wide receivers as they all continue to build chemistry with Newton. That could be tough. Right tackle Nate Chandler, hurt Sunday v. the Chiefs, and rookie sensation Trai Turner are out for tonight’s game. Chandler will be replaced by Garry Williams at right tackle; Chris Scott will play right guard.

Carolina Panthers

Rookie right guard Trai Turner has excelled since being drafted in May, but will miss tonight’s game.

As for the wide receivers, Kelvin Benjamin could be blanketed all half by Darrell Revis, which would be a great early test, but might not make for much chemistry building. That could open the door for Newton to build more of a relationship with tight ends Ed Dickson and Brandon Williams, both of which had great games Sunday night. The game will be a great test for the tight ends as well against the highly rated Patriots linebackers.

The Carolina Panthers must cut 14 players by Tuesday, which in concert with a short week for the starters will mean many more reps for the players vying for reserve roles. Rivera expects the first team units on both sides of the ball to be held within 35 snaps, giving the coaches substantial film on the second and third teams, especially on the offensive line and in the secondary.

In addition to Chandler and Turner, the players out for tonight’s match up include defensive end Charles Johnson, safeties Roman Harper and Tre Boston (expected to return soon) and linebacker Chase Blackburn; running back Darrin Reaves and tight end Mike McNeil are questionable.

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