I’ll just be up front with you — the ‘stock up’ part of this week’s column will be short. The ‘stock down’ part will be long. You’ve been warned.
Christian McCaffrey: Yesterday’s game was a solid argument that McCaffrey should be a front-runner for the league MVP award. He’s not going to win because the Panthers are a middling 5-5 team unworthy of any praise or recognition, but McCaffrey is literally carrying the Panthers on his back right now. He produced 191 total yards on offense (70 rushing, 121 receiving) and was one of the few bright spots for the Panthers yesterday. It’s a shame that his amazing season is being ruined by the wet fart that is the rest of the team, but as an old friend of ours used to say — it is what it is.
DJ Moore: Moore picked up 95 yards on 8 catches yesterday, including a nice 31-yard reception that made us believe the Panthers were actually going to threaten to score and make it a respectable game. (SPOILER: They didn’t because Kyle Allen threw an interception, but more on that later.)
Tre Boston: We’ve given Boston a lot of flack for his poor tackling and misguided attempts to make the big highlight play instead of just wrapping up and making a textbook tackle, but he played quite well yesterday. He was tied for the team lead in tackles and had a tackle for loss and a pass defensed, which given how awful the game was yesterday is worth pointing out.
Kyle Allen: Y’all wanted us to stop ‘coddling’ him, so here you go — he was dreadfully, awfully, terribly shitty yesterday. Sure, he completed 31 of 50 passes for 325 yards, but he was directly responsible for the Panthers failing to score more than 3 points because he threw 4... yes, FOUR... interceptions.
And it’s not just the interceptions that are the problem. Shit happens, and it happens to even the best quarterbacks (Brett Favre threw 336 interceptions in his career), but the main problem with Allen is that he demonstrates terrible awareness and exacerbates poor decision making with limited arm strength. All an opposing defense has to do to stop the Panthers offense right now is key in on McCaffrey and cover the 15-20 yard intermediate area around the line of scrimmage. They don’t have to worry about being beat deep because Allen can’t make those throws.
And we can’t blame the offensive line for the entirety of Allen’s suckage yesterday. Sure, they didn’t do him any favors, but Cam Newton has had to work with less. There were plenty of instances where Allen had decent protection and time to step up into the pocket and make a play, but he refused to do so. I’m not sure if he just doesn’t have the awareness to step up into the pocket when the line actually gives him one, if he is being coached to stay at the top of his eleventy foot drops, or what, but it’s a recurring problem that needs to get better if he wants to have a future in the NFL as even a backup, much less a starter.
We can talk about Allen’s poise, or moxie, or leadership, or whatever other buzzword you want to use to describe why you like him so much, but we also have to talk about his ignorance of the pocket and his piss-poor decision making. If we’re really going to evaluate him as a potential starter we have to look at the good and the bad, and unfortunately for him there was a hell of a lot more bad than good against the Falcons.
I’m not saying his career is over or anything like that, because I think he’s a fine NFL-quality backup quarterback. I’m just saying that it’s time to pump the brakes on the Kyle Allen Hype Train and see him for what he is and what he isn’t. He is a young quarterback with potential to be a solid NFL backup. He is not going to be offseason trade bait. He is not a guy you build an NFL offense around. He is not a franchise quarterback.
The entire offensive line: While they weren’t the sole reason that Allen was bad yesterday, they didn’t do him any favors by letting the Falcons defense sack him five times and chase him around the field for most of the afternoon. Daryl Williams is bad, and hopefully Ron Rivera sees that now (he probably doesn’t). Matt Paradis hasn’t lived up to expectations. Taylor Moton wasn’t good yesterday. Greg Little wasn’t good, but he looked like a guy who hasn’t played since Week 4, so he gets a slight pass. Trai Turner had a key penalty that turned a second-and-3 into a first-and-20 (and ended up killing the drive as the Panthers went for it on fourth down and failed).
Whoever was supposed to be covering Calvin Ridley: Ridley hauled in 8 receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown yesterday, so whoever was supposed to be covering him did not do a very good job at shutting him down. Julio Jones caught 6 passes for 91 yards, but 48 of those yards came on one play — a perfect throw by Matt Ryan over solid coverage by Luke Kuechly. (Yes, I know what you’re saying — ‘Why was Luke covering him in the first place?!’, but his job was to cover the middle of the field and the Falcons saw that and put Jones in the slot. Most of the time that pass is incomplete, but Ryan made a literal perfect throw. There wasn’t anything Kuechly could do about it, and it wouldn’t have mattered even if James Bradberry or Donte Jackson were in coverage.)
Greg Olsen was his usual reliable self with 5 catches for 57 yards on 5 targets. He didn’t find the end zone, but neither did anyone else. Jarius Wright caught a 19-yard pass on fourth-and-5 to get a huge first down with 53 seconds left in the half that would have allowed the Panthers to get some momentum heading into halftime, but it was ruined when Allen made a terrible decision and gave the ball back to the Falcons. Curtis Samuel hauled in 4 of 7 targets for 25 yards, which was a decent afternoon given how bad everything else was.
Gerald McCoy and Mario Addison played well and generated some pressure on Matt Ryan, but obviously not enough since the pass defense was dreadful. Both players ended the day with a sack, a tackle for loss and 2 quarterback hits.
Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson also played well. Kuechly was among the team leaders in tackles (as expected) and Thompson had a tackle for loss and a pass defensed (that should have been a Pick 6, which is why he’s here and not in the ‘stock up’ section).
Matt Ryan threw for 311 yards and a touchdown, but on the bright side the Panthers did stop the run. The Falcons only gained 54 yards on the ground, so yay progress?
Of course Kenjon Barner returns a punt for a touchdown AFTER we cut him loose. Of course he does. You can’t do anything but laugh about it at this point.
Oh Ron... a week after I praise you for trusting analytics over your ‘gut feeling’ you come out and say that you kicked a field goal to ‘avoid getting shut out at home’. You were losing 26-0, Ron. You need more than 3 points to come back from that. To be honest, there’s not much difference between losing 29-0 and 29-3. Both are terrible, especially to a team that is now 3-7 after beating you in your house.
I honestly don’t know where the Panthers go from here. I would assume they go from 5-5 to 5-6 since they pay a visit to the New Orleans Saints in Week 12, but I’m sure that because I’ve already prepared for this to be a loss in my mind they’ll come out inspired and pull off the upset just to give us a little shred of hope that they can turn this ship around and head towards the playoffs, right in time to stomp on that hope and completely squash it when they lose to Washington in Week 13.