Saturday, January 31, 2004
Panthers need balance on offense
By John Clayton
HOUSTON -- Here are my five keys to the Panthers pulling off an upset in Super Bowl XXXVIII:
The Panthers will win if quarterback Jake Delhomme can complete three or four passes longer than 20 yards. He did it in the regular season, leading the Panthers to an NFL-best 46 passing plays of 20 or more yards. He also did it against the Cowboys (four pass plays of over 20 yards) and the Rams (six). He'll have to do it again against the Patriots. The Panthers can't win with just a 100-yard rushing game from Stephen Davis. They need big plays to win.
2. The Panthers will win if they sack quarterback Tom Brady four times. Brady gets the ball off quickly in four- and five-receiver sets. He was sacked only 32 times during the regular season and none in two playoff games. Two sacks won't be enough because Brady can establish a rhythm. With Julius Peppers (seven sacks), Mike Rucker (12) and Kris Jenkins (5), the Panthers have the horses to get to Brady.
3. The Panthers will win if Brady can't get 200 yards passing. The Patriots don't expect to get more than 100 yards rushing. That's not their style of football. They need to move the chains through the air with the short-passing game. But if Brady can't get more than 200 yards in 39 passes, he's not going to get enough first downs to win.
4. The Panthers will win if defensive tackle Kris Jenkins blocks an Adam Vinatieri field goal. Jenkins has an uncanny ability to blow up the middle of a blocking scheme and swat down field goals. That type of big play may cause a doubt in Vinatieri's mind that could force another miss later in the game.
5. The Panthers will win if Delhomme isn't asked to throw more than 18 passes. If he throws 30 or 40, the Panthers have a good chance of losing. The more he throws, the more chances the Patriots have of getting an interception. The Panthers don't want Delhomme to win the game. They just don't want him to lose it, either.
John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.