The 0-6 Carolina Panthers played host to the 3-3 Houston Texans as No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young squared off against No. 2 pick CJ Stroud. The two quarterbacks will be perpetually linked to and evaluated against each other for years to come. On Sunday, it was Young and the Panthers who came out on top with a 15-13 win on a walk-off field goal, giving Carolina its first win of the season.
Hope and joy!
The Carolina Panthers are no longer the only winless team in the NFL! I’ll be honest - I was dreading what would happen among the Panthers faithful if the Texans had beaten the Panthers by double-digits and CJ Stroud clearly outplayed Bryce Young. Many Carolina fans were already soaking their torches in gasoline and sharpening their pitchforks because Stroud has outplayed Young thus far in their rookie seasons. Instead, Young statistically outplayed Stroud in a Panthers win. The alcohol is still soaking on the torches near Mint Street, but they weren’t lit on Sunday, thank heaven.
The Bryce is right
Speaking of the Panthers rookie quarterback, Bryce Young had the best performance of his six-game career. Despite near constant pressure and being sacked six times he still completed 22-of-31 passes (71%) for 235 yards and a touchdown. His passer rating of 103.2 was over 10 points higher than his previous best.
Specifically, the touchdown drive Young engineered in the second quarter gave us a taste of the type of fast, decisive, accurate quarterback he can become. The drive began with DJ Chark dropping a pass that would have gone for at least 35 yards. Undeterred, Young went on to complete consecutive passes of 13, 20, 9, and 10 yards before floating a picture-perfect touch pass to Tommy Tremble in the end zone for a score. Don’t give up on this kid. He’s got the tools. He’ll get the experience. He just needs decent weapons and serviceable protection as the Panthers build around him over the next couple of years.
Frankie (Luvu) says relax
The Panthers versatile, outstanding linebacker was everywhere in this game, as per usual. He racked up 12 tackles, two tackles for loss, two passes defended, and a sack. One of his passes defended was a tipped a pass in the end zone to break up a two-point conversion. I know I’m a biased Panthers fan, but Frankie Luvu is the most overlooked star linebacker in the NFL. He can do it all - tackle, rush the quarterback, defend the pass - and he’s a joy to watch.
Donte Jackson has had an up-and-down career with the Panthers and 2023 has been more of the same. But against the Texans he flashed some of the skill, speed, and tackling that keeps us hopeful as fans. With just over a minute left in the first half he sniffed out a short pass to Dalton Schultz and dropped the Texans tight end for a four yard loss, forcing a punt. Then, early in the third quarter, Jackson stripped tight end Andrew Beck and Xavier Woods recovered at the Houston 27, setting the Panthers up for a field goal and a 12-7 lead.
The left flank
I don’t subscribe to PFF so I don’t see the detailed game stats for each player, and I’d rather not have PFF quantify what I saw from Ikem Ekwonu at left tackle. Defensive end Jonathan Greenard repeatedly beat the Panthers left tackle off the edge and finished the day with 2.5 sacks, two tackles for loss, and four quarterback hits. Ekwonu has struggled this year - his 59.8 PFF grade ranked 45th of 74 tackles before the Texans game - and it’s concerning to see him repeatedly beaten by an unheralded end like Greenard.
Thomas Brown’s “and goal” play calling
When head coach Frank Reich handed over play calling to offensive coordinator Thomas Brown this week, many of us were excited to see what new looks (and hopefully better results) would follow. While Brown’s overall play calling was fine he needs to be much, much better in “and goal” situations. In the second quarter the Panthers had the ball 1st-and-Goal from the Houston five yard line. Brown called three straight runs up the middle - EACH FROM A SHOTGUN FORMATION! - that netted three yards. Then, on 4th-and-Goal from the two he spread things out for an incomplete pass and a turnover on downs.
Maybe I’m old school, but when an offense is two or three yards from the end zone and try running the ball straight up the middle from a pistol or shotgun formation, my philosophy is the football gods should punish them with failure. With a quarterback five-plus yards behind the line of scrimmage and the running back even deeper, compressed goal line blocking often breaks down in the middle before the running back can see a hole develop. This was a poorly called, unimaginative “and goal” series from Brown. Hopefully we’ll no longer see this formation on three consecutive run plays up the gut:
Rushing output in “inches per carry”
Carolina’s running backs rushed 20 times for 33 yards, or an appalling 0.6 yards per carry. When a team is held below one yard per carry we should revert to measuring in inches. The Panthers running backs averaged 21.6 inches per carry against the Texans. What a ghastly performance on the ground.
But in the end, the Panthers won! The curse is broken! Let’s enjoy victory week!