In Week 4 the Carolina Panthers came in with a 1-2 record and were favorites to win at home against the 1-2 Arizona Cardinals. Carolina has a tough three-game stretch coming up (49ers, Rams, Buccaneers) so while the season is still young it felt like the Panthers needed a win to keep any semblance of hope alive. Well, Matt Rhule’s offense, led by Baker Mayfield, was once again terrible and wasted a strong performance by the defense. The Panthers lost 26-16 to fall to 1-3. Here are the key stats behind another demoralizing loss:
6’1 - Baker Mayfield’s on the shorter end of the quarterback spectrum at 6’1, but he’s by no means an outlier. He’s the same height as Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa, for example, and taller than Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson. A lot of starting NFL quarterbacks are 6’2, just one inch taller than Mayfield. And yet, Baker Mayfield seems to struggle more than any quarterback in the league with balls getting batted down at the line of scrimmage. He had four more against the Cardinals, including one in the fourth quarter that led to an interception and an easy Arizona touchdown for a 20-10 lead. Once Mayfield sees a couple of his passes get deflected at the line, he then overcompensates and starts sailing the ball high on out routes. It has been an abysmal start to the season for the Panthers new quarterback and I wish rookie Matt Corral was available to get him some reps later in the season.
0-of-10 - The Panthers offense failed to get into the end zone on its first 10 possessions. Ben McAdoo’s unit produced the following drives to start the game: turnover on downs, punt, punt, fumble, interception, field goal, punt, punt, interception, turnover on downs. Carolina’s offense didn’t find the end zone until there was just 4:47 left in the game but it was too little, too late. Frankie Luvu’s pick-six in the first quarter was the only reason the Panthers had a chance in this one.
9 rushes - Carolina’s running backs totaled just nine rushing attempts for 29 yards. Christian McCaffrey was bottled up on eight rushes for 27 yards. D’Onta Foreman had one carry for two yards. Conversely, despite Baker Mayfield having the worst Total Quarterback Rating in the league, the Panthers threw the ball 36 times. The inability to run the ball is puzzling. Carolina’s offensive line has been solid this year (despite rookie Ikem Ekwonu’s expected growing pains) and ranked No. 3 in the league in Run Block Win Rate, per ESPN. But against the Cardinals, Carolina seemingly gave up on the run game early and asked their struggling quarterback to keep them in the game by throwing the ball. That didn’t work.
2 second quarter turnovers - Carolina’s two turnovers in the second quarter were killers. First, the Cardinals seemingly gift wrapped points to the Panthers when on fourth-and-1 from the Arizona 42 the snap went over Kyler Murray’s head. Carolina’s offense advanced the ball 10 yards to the Arizona 32 when Rashard Higgins lost a fumble on a handoff on what appeared to be a designed reverse, taking at least a field goal attempt away from the Panthers. Then, later in the second quarter, Carolina was once again on the plus side of the field at the Arizona 42. On third-and-5 DJ Moore got open deep but Baker Mayfield threw behind him and the pass was intercepted. Bad offenses like the Panthers can’t waste possessions like this, especially when they’re threatening to put some points on the board.
4 special teams gaffes - The special teams had some concerning plays. Shi Smith fumbled an early punt return that the Panthers fortunately recovered. At the beginning of the second quarter Carolina expertly downed a punt at the one yard line but two different Panthers players - Chuba Hubbard and Marquise Blair - were flagged for facemask penalties. In the third quarter the Panthers executed a successful fake punt pass but the play developed slowly and Carolina was called for an ineligible receiver down field and was then forced to punt. In the fourth quarter Chuba Hubbard bobbled a kick return that was bouncing to him before picking it up for a short gain. Sloppy special teams play is becoming a trend.
The overall summary
The first half of this game was some of the ugliest and most boring football I’ve watched in a while. Only Frankie Luvu’s pick-six prevented me from changing the channel to something more interesting, like an infomercial or a Spanish telenovela. Based on TV shots of the broadcast, I’d guess the stands at Bank of America Stadium were about half empty, and deservedly so.
It’s so hard to watch the Panthers defense play so well for stretches only to be submarined by the team’s impotent offense. In the first half Carolina’s defense surrendered just three points, five first downs, and 137 net yards. The Panthers defense scored the only touchdown of the half. The 2022 Carolina Panthers could be a competitive team if the offense was just competent. Not “good”, just “competent”, but that’s not happening. And that’s despite an offensive line that’s playing well, an elite running back in Christian McCaffrey, and a good wide receiver pair in DJ Moore and Robbie Anderson.
I said it last week and I’ll say it again - Frankie Luvu is playing at a Pro Bowl level. In addition to the pick-six he had 11 tackles, one tackle for loss, and a pass defended. Brian Burns had a special day, too, with seven tackles and three tackles for loss, including blowing up a fourth-and-1 in the red zone and stuffing a two-point conversion.
Playing as they are, the Panthers could easily drop all three of their next games and be staring at a 1-6 record. Boos are being heard at Bank of America Stadium. Empty seats are clearly visible.
Many Panthers fans are now settling back into a familiar routine: The season starts with hope. Hope gives way to frustration. Frustration gives way to apathy. Then before we know it, we’re more interested in next year’s draft than this year’s team.
Feel free to post your 2023 mock drafts in the comments below.