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Five key stats from the Panthers’ Week 1 loss to the Browns

It was a rough start for the Panthers offense while the Browns running game churned out big yardage.

NFL: SEP 11 Browns at Panthers Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Panthers kicked off the season with a tough 26-24 home loss against the Cleveland Browns, spoiling Baker Mayfield’s revenge game against his former team. Here are the five key stats explaining what contributed most to the Panthers Week 1 loss.

13 yards - Watching the newly configured Baker Mayfield-led offense find its footing was like watching Bambi learning to walk on ice. There were slips. There were stumbles. There were miscues. The Panthers first 19 offensive plays generated a paltry 13 total yards. Carolina’s first five possessions consisted of three three-and-outs, one five-play drive that was only extended due to a roughing the passer penalty, and an interception. Carolina’s offense sputtered early and produced just seven points through three quarters.

34 yards - Early in the second quarter in a scoreless game the Browns had the ball facing third-and-3 from the Carolina 35, meaning a big stop by the Panthers defense would force a long field goal attempt. Jacoby Brissett floated an absolute moon ball to Amari Cooper in the end zone that hung in the air more like a punt than a pass. CJ Henderson panicked in coverage and flat out tackled Cooper in the end zone, drawing a 34-yard pass interference penalty and negating a Xavier Woods interception. The penalty gave the Browns possession at the Carolina one yard line and Cleveland scored a touchdown on the next play to take a 7-0 lead. The Panthers defense had looked solid up to this point but this 34-yard penalty was a gift-wrapped score for the Browns.

50 yards - The Panthers trailed 14-0 with 3:33 left in the first half with the ball at their own 48. As previously noted, Carolina’s offense had been abysmal up to this point and the boo birds were already chirping at Bank of America Stadium. It was at this bleak moment when Baker Mayfield hit a completely uncovered Ian Thomas up the left seam for a 50-yard catch-and-run. Thomas was tackled at the Cleveland two yard line and set up a Christian McCaffrey touchdown on the next play. Ian’s huge 50-yard reception breathed life into a wheezing Carolina offense and the Panthers were suddenly only down by one score.

102 yards - Robbie Anderson contributed five receptions for 102 yards, including a monster 75-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to close the Panthers deficit to 23-21. Anderson caught five of his eight targets and was actively involved in the offense. The Panthers need this version of “good Robbie” to last throughout the season. In 2020, Anderson’s first season with the Panthers, he put up borderline Pro Bowl numbers with 95 receptions for 1,096 yards. But last season he had just 53 receptions for 519 yards, lots of drops, and just seemed disconnected from the offense for extended periods of time. The Panthers need Robbie Anderson to rediscover his 1,000-plus yard potential, and Week 1 was promising.

4-of-4 - Cleveland’s rookie kicker, Cade York, made all four of his field goal attempts in his NFL debut. The fourth round pick out of LSU hit from 26, 34, and 36 yards earlier in the game, but was then called upon to attempt a game-winning (or losing) kick from 58 yards with 13 seconds left. Leading up to the kick, the Panthers scored 17 fourth quarter points to take an improbable 24-23 lead with 1:17 left in the game. On the Browns final possession Brian Burns was flagged for a highly dubious 15-yard roughing the passer penalty. Jacoby Brissett’s next three passes advanced the ball another 20 yards to the Carolina 40 to set York up for the pressure kick. On a Sunday when a bunch of established NFL veteran kickers missed easy game-winning field goals across the league, the Browns rookie absolutely drilled a 58-yard game winner against the Panthers, but of course he did. You can only tip your cap to York for his memorable coming out party.

*Bonus stat: 5.7 YPC - I’m throwing in a bonus sixth stat this week because we have to talk about the inability of the Panthers front seven to stop the run. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 33 carries for 187 yards - an average of 5.7 yards per carry - as the Browns absolutely gashed the Panthers on the ground. It looks like the Panthers offense is going to be a work in progress for the next couple of games so Carolina’s defense will likely need to carry the day. There’s no way that’s going to happen if they get consistently manhandled against the run like they were in Week 1.

The overall summary

This game turned out almost exactly as I thought it would. Here’s what I wrote last week when predicting the outcomes of each of the Panthers games this year:

The Panthers have a lot of new faces on the offense and it’s going to take some time for them to gel. Myles Garret and Jadeveon Clowney keep Baker Mayfield under pressure and rush him into two interceptions. Rookie left tackle Ikem Ekwonu gets beat several times but learns some valuable lessons. The Browns rely on their running game and gradually wear down the Panthers defensive line as Cleveland wins a low-scoring boxing match.

Okay, so Baker only had one interception instead of two, but it’s not surprising that the offense struggled early. The offense should get better from here though there are still some big red flags. First, there are zero playmakers outside of Christian McCaffrey, DJ Moore, and Robbie Anderson, assuming he keeps playing like “Good Robbie”. The Panthers have perhaps the weakest tight end unit in the league (no disrespect to Ian Thomas but his 50-yard catch was the result of broken coverage) and nobody seems to want to claim the No. 3 receiver spot.

Defensively the Panthers secondary looked pretty good but, as previously mentioned, the front seven got manhandled in the run game. They also only managed one sack and four quarterback hits on 34 Jacoby Brissett passes. Outside of Brian Burns the Panthers defensive line lacks both quality and depth so this likely won’t be the last time Carolina gets worked on the ground.

At 0-1 the Panthers now head to New York to take on a Giants team that surprisingly beat the Tennessee Titans on the road in Week 1.