The Eye of the Panther is a strategic summary that looks beyond the next game to analyze the Carolina Panthers in the wider context of their season schedule and evaluate how they stand in relation to the rest of the league.
The first week of the 2019 NFL season presented some bad news for the Carolina Panthers in the short term but might provide some better news in the long term.
From a tactical perspective, the news was bad in a number of ways for the Panthers. They lost the game, and what’s more it was a loss at home. Away games are harder to win and Carolina weren’t great on the road last season, going 3-5, making home stands all the more valuable. Although it was to the reigning conference champions, the Los Angeles Rams, the Panthers had a very good chance to win it. After falling behind 13-0 in the first half, Carolina twice pulled to within three points in the final quarter, but let the opportunity slip away.
In addition to the overall result, there were particular concerns with the Panthers. The health of quarterback Cam Newton’s shoulder remains in question as his longest completion was only seventeen yards and his lone deep attempt was about thirty yards. Newton threw zero touchdowns and one interception, a badly timed pick as it came in the fourth quarter when the game was still in the balance. Carolina’s offensive line didn’t help as Newton was sacked three times, including a particularly bad breakdown that saw Rams linebacker come through unhindered to take down the Panthers’ passer.
Other existing questions about Carolina weren’t answered positively. Running back Christian McCaffrey still provided the bulk of the Panthers’ offense, as he led both in rushes and receptions. Apart from the rushes of McCaffrey and Newton, the latter of whom had three carries for a negative yardage total, there was only one carry by another Carolina player. Through the air, seven different Panther pass catchers were targeted but McCaffrey accounted for almost a third of those and was the leading receiver on the day. McCaffrey continues to deliver, sometimes in spectacular fashion, but the concern remains that either he will wear down or the Carolina offense will be ineffective should McCaffrey be held in check or get injured. Tight end Greg Olsen, a former cornerstone of the offense, continues to be limited by injury as he now deals with a back concern. Despite holding Rams quarterback Jared Goff to only 186 yards, the Panthers defense didn’t look that impressive as they allowed thirty points. That effort was not helped, however, by the Carolina offense losing two fumbles. One of these was on their own eight yard line.
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While the Panthers didn’t look good in Week 1, things look better for the team from a wider perspective. Chiefly, the other teams in Carolina’s division – the NFC South – all struggled in their respective match-ups. Most importantly, the division leaders – the New Orleans Saints – barely beat an unconvincing Texans team despite playing at home. The Saints had to mount a come-from-behind drive in the last minute to score a game winning 58-yard field goal to clinch a mediocre match-up in which neither team distinguished themselves. While seasons cannot be predicted based on one game, if the Atlanta Falcons’ Week One form continues, they are in for another underachieving and underwhelming year, scoring only twelve points in a loss in Minnesota. Of particular concern is that Atlanta’s offensive line – a position group the Falcons have focused on improving – allowed quarterback Matt Ryan to be harried all day and sacked four times. The other team in the division, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, looked plain awful against the San Francisco 49ers, a team that went 4-12 in 2018. Reputed quarterback whisperer Bruce Arian’s return to coaching did not result in any instant miracles for the Buccaneers, as their signal caller Jameis Winston threw three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
Looking at other teams on the Panthers’ 2019 schedule, the Arizona Cardinals – the worst team in the NFL in 2018 – did pull off a tie with the Detroit Lions, although that might have been due as much to a classic Lions meltdown as to any renewed ability in Arizona. As noted earlier, Houston did push the Saints in New Orleans but played sloppy and inconsistent football. They are also going to get their talented quarterback Deshaun Watson killed if they do offer better protection and play-calling. The Jacksonville Jaguars lost at home and while it did come at the hands of the potent Kansas City Chiefs’ offense, the Jaguars were undisciplined and rancorous on defense. On offense, they lost quarterback Nick Foles – a big offseason signing – to a broken collarbone which will keep him out to at least November.
As such, the early part of Carolina’s schedule remains favorable and they could go into their bye in Week 7 with a record of 3-4 or 4-2, perhaps even 5-1. The latter part of their schedule, however, still looms tougher. While the Saints and the Falcons – whom the Panthers play twice in the latter part of their schedule – did not look great in Week 1, other teams in the second half of Carolina’s season, such as the Titans and the Colts looked arguably better than expected. The Titans put down a hyped but undisciplined Browns team in Cleveland with a score of 43-13. Against the Chargers, the Colts, led by backup-now-starter Jacoby Brissett, scored 24 points on one of the better defenses of 2018 and pushed a contender into overtime. Even Washington looked better than expected, as the capital’s team jumped ahead to a 17-0 lead over the Eagles in Philadelphia before losing 27-32.
As such, it is imperative for the Panthers to bounce back from their Week 1 loss and capitalize on their relatively easy early schedule. Carolina can readily rebound as they host the Buccaneers on a short week on Thursday Night Football.
The Eye of the Panther projected 2019 record for the Carolina Panthers: 8-8.
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