While the Panthers offense didn’t have a great showing week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons, the defense put in a performance that I felt would have been more than enough were it not for having to battle short field position after several turnovers by the other side of the ball. The offense only mustered 10 points as they gave up two interceptions, a fumble recovery, and failed to convert on 4th and short on a productive early drive. As a whole, the Panthers defense surrendered 221 yards, and only 91 yards passing. The Falcons were able to rush for 130 of those yards, however situationally the Falcons were able to run the ball more effectively in the 2nd half and the short fields did the Panthers defense no favors.
Now, we look towards a Monday Night Football home opener against the New Orleans Saints, as the team tries to bounce back in their second divisional matchup in as many weeks to start the new year. Let’s break down the keys to that game.
- What’s the plan without Jaycee Horn? It was reported today that Jaycee Horn will miss significant time as he will be going for surgery on the hamstring injury he suffered against the Falcons on Sunday. This means an already thin cornerback group on defense is now missing its top player, leaving Donte Jackson and CJ Henderson as their likely starting duo on Monday. CB Troy Hill also figures to factor in heavily as a 3rd guy, while Jeremy Chinn could see even more snaps as the Panthers nickel corner. The team indicated they will likely pursue some veteran options, while also adding CB Lamar Jackson to their practice squad on Wednesday as one of 4 CBs in that group. We could also see some action for rookie UDFA D’Shawn Jamison, who had an impressive preseason with the 49ers. Whatever they do, it’ll be an important game plan to monitor against a Saints receiving group sporting WRs Michael Thomas, Chris Olave, Rashid Shaheed, and Tre’Quan Smith.
- Pass rushing adjustments. Brian Burns opened the Falcons game with 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble, as he went on a tear to start that game, His effectiveness allowed the rest of the Panthers pass rushers to get after the QB, as Frankie Luvu, Derrick Brown, and Shy Tuttle also joined him on the sack stat sheet. However, the Falcons were able to negate this in the 2nd half of the game by making adjustments to key in on Brian Burns, as well as lean heavily on the run game due to a game script that allowed them to keep Desmond Ridder from throwing a whole lot. I didn’t like that the Panthers depth outside of Burns and Justin Houston didn’t play much on the outside, so maybe mixing them in a bit more will create some opportunity. Still, simply not having the offense give the ball away as much as it did should help this unit immensely against a Saints offensive line that simply isn’t as talented as the Falcons group. Still a talented bunch nonetheless.
- Create more negative plays. I felt the Panthers defense did a pretty good job of creating negative plays early against the Falcons, however as the game went on and the Falcons were able to run the ball more (which is their strength this year), they were able to take advantaqe of the opportunities their defense gave them and keep the offense on schedule. I hope that the Panthers offense doesn’t struggle as much as it did with maintaining drives and scoring points against Atlanta, but in the event we’re still in the breaking in period, the rush defense needs to force some stops for losses or zero gains. The Saints will be without star RB Alvin Kamara, so the backfield they bring to the table is significantly less imposing than this Falcons group we just saw on Sunday. Still, this Panthers unit is stronger at rushing the passer than playing the run, at least based on what we saw on Sunday. I’d like to see Frankie Luvu and Shaq Thompson get more chances to roam free on rushing downs. Derrick Brown could take over this game, and that would help immensely.
What are you predicting, Panthers fans?