The Carolina Panthers lost in another uninspiring outing, this time on the road to the Tennessee Titans by a score of 17-10, dropping Carolina to 1-10 on the season. It was this loss that led to the firing of first-year head coach Frank Reich and other staff the next day. Outside of what happened with the team’s coaching staff, here’s what rising and falling in Carolina:
The “Long” arm of the law
As noted here at CSR about three weeks ago, the Panthers recently added cornerback David Long Jr. by claiming him off waivers. The five-year veteran spent his first four seasons with the Los Angeles Rams where he appeared in 52 games (10 starts) with 77 tackles, seven passes defended, and one interception. He then joined the Las Vegas Raiders to start the 2023 season and lasted eight games with 12 tackles before being released and then getting claimed by the Panthers.
Long’s first two games in Carolina were limited to eight defensive snaps and a handful on special teams before he made a major impact against the Titans. Long started the game at Tennessee, played 49 defensive snaps (92% of the total), and was credited with seven tackles. He made outstanding back-to-back plays in the second quarter by first dropping Derrick Henry for no gain on a swing pass then on the next play sniffing out a wide receiver bubble screen, nearly tackling the receiver, and setting up Brian Burns to make a tackle for loss and force a punt.
The Panthers secondary has been beset by injuries and gloominess all season. It was a little ray of sunshine to see David Long ball out.
Chuba Hubbard continues to impress this year with his solid overall play. He added a new weapon to his arsenal against the Titans. In addition to 14 rushes for 45 yards and a touchdown, Hubbard also hauled in five receptions for 47 yards. His five receptions tied a career high while his 47 yards was the third highest mark of his career. Hubbard’s 25-yard catch-and-run set up a third quarter touchdown while his 10-yard reception on third-and-10 later in the quarter helped flip field position. Well done, Chuba.
The Titan’s defensive strategy centered around eliminating Adam Thielen from the passing game, something they did successfully to the tune of one reception for two yards. Rookie quarterback Bryce Young had to improvise at times by tucking the ball and running as pockets collapsed and no receivers were open.
Young showed his mobility in this game by scrambling three times for 23 yards, including a nice 11 yard run on third-and-10 that set up a field goal. In the third quarter he scrambled for six yards on third-and-4 to set up Carolina’s only touchdown. He later had two fourth quarter scrambles for 11 yards and 10 yards, respectively, that were negated by holding penalties.
While Bryce Young doesn’t have the frame to take the pounding as a true dual-threat quarterback with a lot of designed runs, he showed against the Titans that he can be effective in extending drives with his legs when needed.
We’ll take all the positives we can find during Young’s rookie season and he did some positive things with his legs in this one.
Rushing headlong to nowhere
While I like what I’ve seen from defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero on the whole thus far, the Panthers need to figure out how to get to the quarterback. Against the Titans rookie QB Will Levis faced little pressure and was sacked just once. This is now a season-long trend for the Panthers defense.
Carolina’s 5.3% sack percentage ranks 29th in the league, their 50 quarterback hits is tied for 28th, and the team’s 18 total sacks is tied for second to last. Brian Burns has six sacks and 15 quarterback hits, meaning the rest of the defense has just 12 sacks and 35 quarterback hits combined through 11 games. While the Panthers offense isn’t doing much to set the defense up for success, Carolina’s lack of a pass rush is contributing to the team’s losing ways.
Offensive lines are sometimes compared to a ballet dance where everybody needs to be in sync in order for things to work. Well, the ballerinas in Carolina are getting dropped. The absences of guards Brady Christensen and Austin Corbett have killed the continuity of Carolina’s offensive line. Fill-ins Chandler Zavala, Cade Mays, and now Brett Toth just aren’t clicking with tackles Ikem Ekwonu and Taylor Moton. The whole offensive line is in disarray.
Take, for instance, the Panthers first offensive possession. Carolina faced a third-and-1 to avoid a three-and-out. Miles Sanders received a deep pitch to the right side. Titans defensive lineman Denico Autrey was lined up wide between tight end Tommy Tremble and Moton, with Toth on the inside. On the snap Tremble and Moton pulled right while Toth fired straight off the line to engage a defende at the second level.
In the end, no Carolina blocker even touched Autrey who had a free release to drop Sanders for an eight-yard loss. These types of drive-killing miscues and confusion about assignments probably don’t happen with Corbett and Christensen on the field.
Another rebuild on top of the current rebuild
The Carolina Panthers five-year “rebuild to nowhere” under owner David Tepper will continue. The day after the Tennessee game the team fired head coach Frank Reich, quarterbacks coach Josh McCown, and running backs coach Duce Staley.
Here we go again.