By: Allan Erickson
The Carolina Panthers opened the season with a heartbreaking loss at the hands of the Las Vegas Raiders. While we saw glimpses of what can be a very impressive offense from the Panthers, I’ll dive into what the Panthers have to improve on in order to start winning close games, and their biggest question marks moving forward from the loss suffered in week one.
1- Rhule takes the blame, Brady learns the lesson. On a 4th down and one play in plus-territory, with the Panthers trailing by four points, Joe Brady put the ball in the hands of…. you guessed it- little known fullback Alex Armah. It’s something that, as I write this article, I’m still steaming from the stupidity of the play call. You must understand that Panther fans have watched Christian McCaffrey get forward yards on 99% of his touches throughout his career. Now with Cam Newton and Greg Olsen has gone from the offense, the Panthers have a new face of the franchise, and the best running back in the NFL. It seems obvious that’s where the ball would go, and quite frankly; it is obvious that’s where the ball should have gone. Joe Brady was calling his first game ever at the NFL level, and the lesson he takes from this is: when you need afoot for a first down in crunch time, you give the ball to your best player and live and die with the outcome of that play. There should be a zero percent chance of something this mind-blowingly stupid happens again, and this is how you grow into a great play-caller at the next level. Christian is this team’s horse, and he’s the guy you take your chances on winning with. Matt Rhule said in his postgame press conference that he’s the “head coach, and that decision falls on him.” which is quite noble, but it’s also false. Joe calls the offensive plays, and hopefully, for Panther fans he learned a valuable lesson in his first game at the NFL level.
2- The Panthers have a huge problem at middle linebacker. Tahir Whitehead clearly had a good camp, is a natural leader (voted as a captain his first year with the Panthers,) and is quite the athlete, he is not a middle linebacker, and definitely not who the Panthers need to replace the great Luke Kuechly. Whitehead was abused in the passing game and whiffed on numerous attempts to tackle former teammate Josh Jacobs. He may be a nice guy, and he may turn things around here in Carolina, but game one was a nightmare, and he’s not going to want to see the film from this game. He had huge shoes to fill; and he came up incredibly short in filling those left by Luke Kuechly.
3- Derrick Brown’s NFL debut was a success- 3 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 2 pass breakups, and a quarterback pressure. The big man was wreaking havoc upfront and doing exactly what the Panthers brought him in to do. He showed great signs of athleticism and brute strength on the interior. The future is very bright for this young man in Charlotte, and hopefully, he can continue to build on his successful debut. He made an impact on the field day one, and that’s all you can ask from a first-round pick. Now, the sky is the limit, he needs to keep growing as a player and reach for it.
4- The Carolina Panthers are going to struggle against the run, just like last year. The Panthers were gashed all game long by Josh Jacobs and the Raiders rushing attack. The same thing that we watched happen last season happened again today. Up the middle, off-tackle, wide, you name it; the Raiders did it successfully against the Panthers. As stated before, Whitehead didn’t have a good Panther debut, while Derrick Brown had a good game, the defensive front was manhandled, the linebacking core with the exception of Shaq Thompson didn’t do a great job filling their gaps, and the young corners didn’t tackle well either. Bad angles were taken by each level of the Panther defense, and Jacobs and company took advantage of a gassed defensive front for the Panthers. Time of possession slightly favored the Raiders, but they took advantage of a young Panther front that couldn’t fill the gaps necessary to stop the run and get off the field.
5- Pharoh Cooper is going to be a pro bowl returner this season. I can’t tell you how long it’s been since the Panthers had a weapon they could use to return punts and kicks. Michael Bates and Steve Smith Sr. are the only two great return men the Panthers have ever had, and we rarely got to see Agent 89 return, because he moved to full-time wideout after his first season. Watching Cooper today was a beautiful sight, someone who could change field position in an instance, and takes advantage of each touch he gets in the game was refreshing and something to keep an eye out for in the remaining games for the Panthers. If he continues to swap field position and set this offense up with short-fields, then he’ll be signing a lucrative extension to stay in Charlotte. The Panthers having a return specialist who can accomplish what he did today is a great weapon to have.
6- This offense has the potential to be top-five in the NFL. The Panthers ran 65 plays, for 388 yards, and put 30 points up on the board. Despite the fact that the offense made a blunder on the fourth-down play mentioned early, Joe Brady’s offense looked like it translates well to the NFL. The ball was spread around evenly and it wasn’t just the CMC show like we saw last year. DJ Moore had 4 catches, Robby Anderson had 6 catches, Curtis Samuel had 5 catches and the ball was spread evenly amongst the receivers. Anderson’s 75-yard touchdown reception was the highlight of the day for the offense; the Panthers offensive unit moved the ball down the field and it’s something you can expect to see more of from this team. This leads us to the last takeaway from this week’s loss to the Raiders.
7- This defense is going to be abysmal, and lose the Panthers a lot of football games. I remember a few weeks ago talking to one of my fellow Panther fans and saying we would suffer a lot of “37-30” type losses this season. If week one was a preview, then I was correct. A lot of games this season are going to be determined by if the Panthers or their opponent has the ball last. This offense has the potential to be very very good, but this defense will be the Achilles heel for the Panthers. There are high expectations for Kawann Short, Brian Burns, Shaq Thompson, Tre Boston, Derrick Brown, and Dante Jackson; rookies Jeremy Chinn and Yetur Gross-Matos, but this defense has a long way to go before they become a serviceable unit on the field. We watched last year as the Panthers offense lead by Kyle Allen- wasn’t the worst thing on the field. Today, Teddy Bridgewater and the offense scored enough points to win, but the defense didn’t get the stops when they needed to, and it’s something you can get used to for quite a while.
The Panthers are going to have a top-ten offense this season, perhaps even top-5, and probably a defense that sits around 30th in the league. It’s going to be a long season, and the Panther fans knew what we were in for this year, game one proved it. It’s going to be a bumpy ride to the finish, and a lot of my friends are saying “tank for Trevor Lawrence” but if Teddy Bridgewater continues to play like he did today, he will earn his keep as the Panthers starting quarterback. I expect a 4-12 season, something close to that, and a very high draft pick, hopefully, the Panthers can build a good defense and get back to competing, but it won’t happen anytime soon. Until next week, y’all Keep Pounding.