Week 2 against the New Orleans Saints should have been notable for the Carolina Panthers because of the divisional rivalry or because it is Bryce Young’s first prime time game in the NFL. Instead, most Panthers fans are too exhausted keeping up with the pace of injury news to focus on the usual pressure of playing on Monday Night Football.
Each week, in this space, we’re going to distill the storm of information produced by and around the NFL into the three most important story lines that you can watch unfold on the field come Sunday.
This week, that is mostly going to mean helping us all make sense of what these injuries mean for the Panthers’ on field product come Monday.
It is kind of surprising to me that the betting lines haven’t moved more in favor of the Saints this week after first Brady Christensen and now Jaycee Horn have landed on injured reserve. The opening odds for this game at Draftkings Sportsbook had the Saints as -2.5 point favorites. As of Friday afternoon, the Saints were only listed as -3 point favorites.
As per usual, nobody knows what to make of the Panthers and that goes doubly when they are testing their depth in a prime time game. But those tests are what will decide this game. If C.J. Henderson and Troy Hill can’t contain Chris Olave, Michael Thomas, and Rashid Shaheed, then it could quickly become a very long game. Similarly, if the Panthers don’t fill Christensen’s shoes along the offensive line with some semblance of competence then we’re not going to learn much more about Young this week.
We’re not talking about short term injuries to minor players here. The Panthers have sent two of their better players to injured reserve this week and are still waiting on healthy contributions from two more (Austin Corbett and D.J. Chark). Injuries have already affected a significant portion of the young 2023 season. How the team responds this week on the field is going to tell us a lot about what we can expect going forward.
In or out, Frankie?
Another question of depth is arising in the defensive front seven. Inside linebacker Frankie Luvu played 100% of the defensive snaps, with more than a few of those coming lined up as an outside linebacker opposite Brian Burns. Burns played 96% of the defensive snaps, while Justin Houston played 52% of the team’s 52 plays on defense.
Yetur Gross-Matos played four snaps on defense, while D.J. Johnson and Amare Barno played zero.
A lot of hay was made this offseason over the Panthers lack of depth on the edge and the way Ejiro Evero rotated his pass rushers seems to validate those concerns.
The Panthers are going to be a more consistent run defense with Luvu playing inside and somebody competent playing on the outside. Watching where Luvu lines up on Monday will tell us a lot about whether the Panthers coaching staff thinks they have anybody competent to play outside.
Perhaps the biggest impediment in Bryce Young’s debut was the consistently dismal separation his receivers were able to get from the Falcons secondary. The Saints are looking to field a tougher defense than the Falcons and the Panthers best hope for change is D.J. Chark coming back from his preseason hamstring injury. That is, to be clear, far from a sure thing right now.
It’s hard to watch how well receivers are separating on the broadcast angles that you’ll be getting at home, but a good analog for measuring that is watching how long Young holds onto the ball. If he comes out to start the second half firing lasers under two seconds from snap then we can all have some hope. Until then, however, just prepare to be afraid of a lot of coverage sacks on Monday and on the season.