CHARLOTTE - Brandin Cooks is a problem for the Panthers. But despite leaving the NFC South, he's back on their radar this weekend.
The fourth-year speedster formerly with the Saints is a first-year Patriot and will face Carolina for the sixth time in his career Sunday.
"He's a matchup problem," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. "He isn't the biggest guy in the world, but he's definitely speed guy that can get in and out of his cuts and get the YAC (yards after catch). We definitely need to be aware of where he's at. He was in this division before, so I know a couple of guys are familiar with him."
Prior to being traded to the Patriots in March, Cooks gave the Panthers difficulty during his time in New Orleans. Last season in Week 5, Cooks went off for 173 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions. It was the second-most yards Carolina allowed to a single receiver in 2016. In 2015, Cooks totaled 183 yards on 13 receptions against the Panthers.
While the Panthers collectively have struggled against the receiver in the past, their top current cornerbacks have little experience covering Cooks. In Week 5 last season, James Bradberry was inactive and Daryl Worley exited early and was placed in concussion protocol.
"He's fast. He's one of the fastest in the league," Bradberry said. "You need to make sure if you press him, you need to get hands on him at the line so he doesn't run past you."
Munnerlyn has only faced Cooks once - during his time with the Vikings in 2014.
"I got this saying, 'You need to keep your eyes on your luggage,'" Munnerlyn said. "You got to keep your eyes on your luggage with this guy. You can't have dirty eyes because he can run every route on the route tree.
"He's also got a quarterback that can give him the ball."
Tom Brady and Cooks have combined to create one of the most dangerous duos in the league. Cooks ranks sixth among receivers with 256 receiving yards and is averaging 25.6 yards per catch, the most among receivers with at least six receptions.
It's expected that New England will test Carolina deep, not only because Cooks is one of the better deep threats in the league, but because it's been Carolina's Achilles heel this season.
"We know looking forward to this game they're going to try us deep," Bradberry said. "Especially after what happened last week. We gave up a deep pass."
Although the Panthers have only allowed one 40-plus yard completion this season – a 40-yard touchdown pass to Ted Ginn last Sunday – the deep ball easily could have done even more damage.
In Week 1, 49ers quarterback Brian Hoyer delivered a perfect 40-yard strike to Marquise Goodwin, but the receiver let it slip through his fingertips. It likely would have been a touchdown. Against the Saints, Ginn broke free behind Carolina's secondary, but Drew Brees overthrew what likely would have been a 43-yard touchdown pass.
"I think it's our discipline and understanding personnel," defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said. "We've got to be smart."
View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game against the Patriots.