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.
In Week 2 of the 2019 NFL season, the Carolina Panthers lost their second game in a row. While there were strategic positives in Week 1 even though Carolina lost, after this week’s games, the strategic perspective has taken a decided turn for the worse.
The Panthers lost to a division rival, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and lost yet another home game, making it tougher for Carolina to achieve a winning record. Additionally, they lost to an opponent that – on paper at least – is arguably inferior, and the Panthers had the advantage of having former Buccaneer Gerald McCoy, whose long tenure in Tampa Bay could have yielded useful insights into how to play against them. Perhaps more of a concern is the way in which the Panthers lost their Thursday night match-up. They struggled to achieve any sort of production or execution all evening, particularly on offense, and arguably lacked fight as the game went on. It seemed either they couldn’t make it happen or they gave up, both of which are troubling.
The lack of production on offense was largely due to two factors, both of which are long-term worries. The lack of production was likely affected by an apparent injury to quarterback Cam Newton, although it was not clear that Newton was dealing with the reaggravated injury until he didn’t turn up to practice earlier this week. This a long-term concern because the injury isn’t something the team can readily fix, as well as it getting a sign that Newton’s health might now be a consistent problem. What’s more, the foot was the reported injury of present focus, but that doesn’t necessarily explain Newton’s lack of accuracy and distance in passing, which might indicate his shoulder is still a problem. The foot injury would account, however, for Newton’s fading mobility, which saw the Panthers hand off rather than Newton pushing in on 4th and 1 from Tampa Bay’s two yard line at the end of the game. A touchdown would have tied the game and the extra point would have won it.
The second problem for the offense was that Tampa Bay focused on stopping Carolina’s offensive cornerstone Christian McCaffrey. They weren’t able to stop him completely and the tactic didn’t yield results immediately, but the Buccaneers kept at it and eventually they were able to contain McCaffrey. This stymied the Panthers’ offense, which was predicted by The Eye Of The Panther in previous analyses. Tampa Bay does not have a great defense, so if they were able to clamp down on McCaffrey, then other teams can likely follow suit, especially if Newton continues to be sidelined.
To add to a concerning outlook for the Panthers, not only did they lose but most of the teams on their 2019 schedule look better coming out of Week 2. The Arizona Cardinals, a team with a new head coach and quarterback after a 3-13 record last season, pushed a very solid Ravens team in Baltimore. The Cardinals ended up losing by less than a touchdown. The San Francisco 49ers scored over forty points in an away game. It should be noted that it was against the Cincinnati Bengals, but Carolina isn’t looking much better than the Bengals right now and the Panthers play the 49ers in San Francisco.
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The teams that are further down Carolina’s schedule also looked good. The Green Bay Packers were good at home against the Minnesota Vikings, although the Vikings had another one of their “threatening but not quite get it done” endings in Green Bay. Division rivals the Atlanta Falcons had what for them amounted to a gritty win, coming from behind in a seesaw game to beat the Philadelphia Eagles.
Even though Washington is currently 0-2, they have pushed teams despite their injury struggles. The Seattle Seahawks are still finding the ability to win, although their latest victory came against a Pittsburgh Steelers team that lost its quarterback during the game. The Indianapolis Colts keep winning with Jacoby Brissett, their ostensible back-up coming into the season who is now their starter. Away in Tennessee, Brissett threw three touchdowns against the solid defense of the Titans.
There were a few strategic positives for the Panthers coming out of Week 2. The most significant of these was that Drew Brees, the quarterback for the biggest obstacle in Carolina’s division in the New Orleans Saints, left their Week 2 game with an apparent hand injury. Later reports indicated that Brees would miss time as the injury required surgery. Injuries to opposing players are not to be celebrated but the hard reality is that Brees’s injury likely makes the Saints a less capable football team.
Judging by their Week 2 performance, it looked like the Jaguars might be imploding, with their observed lack of discipline bearing fruit. They suffered breakdowns on the field, linebacker Myles Jack was ejected for throwing a punch, and it appeared that star cornerback Jalen Ramsey almost got into a physical altercation with head coach Doug Marrone on the sideline. Reports surfaced after the game that Ramsey has requested a trade. That said, not only did the Jaguars almost win their Week 2 game, they played a very solid game of football to beat the Tennessee Titans in Week 3. Jacksonville’s opponent in Week 2, the Houston Texans, won but only just and their quarterback, Desean Watson, may be bound for an injury-plagued career, similar to Newton’s, if the Texans continue to fail to protect him.
The question remains as to whether the Panthers can take advantage of those weaknesses in those teams, or muster a convincing performance on any given Sunday. To go by their performance in Week 2, the Eye of the Panther projected 2019 record for the Carolina Panthers drops to 4-12, and that might be optimistic. If Newton heals, maybe Carolina can be better but it seems Newton being limited is now a long-term problem. That’s not a knock on Newton – it’s just likely the reality that the Panthers will have to manage. Perhaps one of Newton’s back-ups, Kyle Allen or rookie Will Grier, can emerge and provide something unexpected for the team. The Eye of the Panther, however, sees a lot of pain in Carolina’s future, both actual and metaphorical.