The Carolina Panthers playoff hopes deflated in Monday night’s 12-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints. A 50-yard trick play pass from Christian McCaffrey would give the Panthers their only offensive score of the night. The Saints’ defense was problematic for Carolina, slowing down McCaffrey and their run game. On 56 plays, Panthers gained a measly 197 yards and averaged 3.5 yards per play. Due to lingering right shoulder issues, Cam Newton was unable to throw downfield and to the outside. In perhaps the biggest game changer of the night, D.J. Moore fumbled the ball after a big gain in the third quarter that would prevent the Panthers from extending their 7-6 lead.
The Atlanta Falcons had one of their best defensive games in their 40-14 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. The Falcons racked up a season-high seven sacks and were blitzing Josh Rosen for much of the afternoon. Atlanta kept the Cardinals’ offense limited. Arizona only totaled 253 yards for the day with a garbage time drive late in the game. Grady Jarrett was a huge factor on defense. He not only stopped the run, but he recorded two sacks and a forced fumble.
The Panthers are riding a six-game losing streak. If they are to avoid another loss against their division rival Falcons, here are the three keys for Carolina’s offense to turn things around and come away with a win:
Continue using McCaffrey: Whether it’s running, receiving, or even throwing, McCaffrey is having a historic season. McCaffrey is within arm’s reach of becoming the third player in NFL history with 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season. Despite the giant dark cloud the Panthers have summoned upon them, McCaffrey continues to be that bright light. The Falcons’ have the No. 25 rushing defense in the league and are No. 22 in passing defense. McCaffrey is also capable of successfully running quick routes, which needs to be utilized. Atlanta’s Cover 3 defense has been vulnerable all season long against short routes by running backs.
Heinicke Time: In his four-year NFL career, Taylor Heinicke has thrown five passes. Not exactly the most promising, but Newton has been limited in recent weeks which has really hindered Carolina. The Panthers truly have a talented group of wideouts, including Moore who leads all rookie wide receivers in the league with 860 scrimmage yards. They just haven’t had someone with the ability to throw deep as of late. Heinicke is familiar with Norv Turner’s offense from his days in Minnesota. He’s also been taking live reps once a week. Heinicke has an arm and against a weak pass defense, the Panthers should take advantage of the fresh arm.
More Moore: Aside from his disastrous fumble, things were quiet from Moore on Monday as Newton threw for a season low in passing yards. With not much action happening through the air, there hasn’t been much for Moore to do. However, with a new quarterback in the driver’s seat, the Panthers’ offense could use the explosiveness that Moore possesses. Carolina will need to rely on big plays to keep the offense clicking. Moore is reliable and he has the speediness to outmaneuver the Falcons’ secondary.
A healthy quarterback could be the change the Panthers desperately need. If the Panthers can get things clicking downfield and execute big plays, they can halt their losing skid.