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Detroit Lions Week 11 scouting report: Panthers defensive struggles open opportunity for upset

The Panthers defense isn’t what it used to be, but their offense...

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Pittsburgh Steelers Phillip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past three weeks, the Detroit Lions have faced some really good teams. On the surface, it looks like that trend will continue with the 6-3 Panthers coming into town. While Carolina certainly does some things incredibly well, they’re coming off an embarrassing loss to the Steelers last week on “Thursday Night Football” and may not be as good as their record suggests. Let’s take a closer look at the 2018 Carolina Panthers.

Carolina Panthers

Last season

11-5 record (Second in the NFC South)

12th in points scored, 11th in points allowed

Overall DVOA: 9th (17th on offense, 7th on defense)

2018 offseason

Key free agent additions: DT Dontari Poe, WR Jarius Wright, CB Ross Cockrell (IR), S Da’Norris Searcy (IR). WR Torrey Smith (via trade), S Eric Reid

Key losses: RB Jonathan Stewart, TE Ed Dickson, G Andrew Norwell, DT Star Lotulelei, CB Daryl Worley, S Jairus Byrd

2018 NFL draft picks:

Round 1, 24 overall - WR D.J. Moore
Round 2, Pick 55 - CB Donte Jackson
Round 3, Pick 85 - CB Rashaan Gaulden
Round 4, Pick 101 - TE Ian Thomas
Round 4, Pick 136 - LB Marquis Haynes
Round 5, Pick 161 - LB Jermaine Carter
Round 7, Pick 234 - LB Andre Smith
Round 7, Pick 242 - DT Kendrick Norton

Last year, the Panthers saw a resurgence after an extremely disappointing 2016 season. Led by another dominant defensive year, the Panthers danced their way into the playoffs only to lose a squeaker against their division rival Saints.

It’s clear their 2018 offseason was focused on giving Cam Newton some new weapons to play with. Last year, Newton didn’t have a 1,000-yard receiver. They traded away the unreliable Kelvin Benjamin midseason and Greg Olsen missed nine games, leaving them with little receiving options outside of Devin Funchess and a team of running backs and second-hand tight ends.

So this year, they traded for Torrey Smith, added Jarius Wright in free agency, and drafted D.J. Moore with their first pick in the draft. Message sent.

Defensively, the strength of Carolina’s defense—their front seven—remains relatively unchanged, except for the addition of Dontari Poe. However, the secondary went through a significant amount of overhaul. Still looking for a Josh Norman replacement, Carolina has struggled to find a worthy player. They traded away Daryl Worley and have already lost Ross Cockrell and Da’Norris Searcy to season-ending injuries. As a result, they were the team to finally cross the barrier and sign Eric Reid in the end of September. They also drafted a couple of early-round corners that have been forced into early roles with the defense.

2018 season thus far (6-3)

Week 1: Win over Cowboys, 16-8
Week 2: Loss to Falcons, 24-31
Week 3: Win over Bengals, 31-21
Week 5: Win over Giants, 33-31
Week 6: Loss to Washington, 17-23
Week 7: Win over Eagles, 21-17
Week 8: Win over Ravens, 36-21
Week 9: Win over Buccaneers, 42-28
Week 10: Loss to Steelers, 21-52


  • 9th in points scored, 23rd in points allowed
  • 12th in DVOA (7th on offense, 24th on defense, 9th on special teams)

This has been a hard team to figure out this year. It’s clear the offensive investments in the offseason have paid off. Cam Newton is back playing at an MVP-like level now that he has an arsenal of options to throw to. Five different players have at least 20 receptions already, and that doesn’t even include Torrey Smith, who has missed the past three games with a knee injury.

But it’s impossible to talk about the Panthers offense without mentioning second-year running back Christian McCaffrey, who has been an absolute monster in both the running and receiving game. McCaffrey ranks 10th in rushing yards (579), 13th in yards per carry (4.7) and ranks fourth in receiving yards (439) and receptions (54). He also has eight total touchdowns in nine games, including seven in his past three games.

Defensively, however, this team has taken a big step back. All of the injuries and lack of playmakers in the secondary has made this team vulnerable on the back end. Though they have 11 interceptions on the year (t-fourth), they’ve also allowed the second most passing touchdowns in the league (22).

They’re a little better at stopping the run, thanks to a still very dangerous front seven. They’re still allowing 4.4 yards per carry (16th) and first downs on 27.9 percent of carries (t-26th), but Luke Kuechly remains a beast that cannot be fully stopped.

Overall, this team is what their record suggests: a solid team capable of a letdown or two. Most of their wins haven’t been by more than one score, and last week’s blowout at the hands of the Steelers may have been the wakeup call the defense needed. Still, this a team a little more vulnerable—especially defensively—than the teams the Lions have faced over the last three weeks.

Vegas line for Sunday: Panthers by 4

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After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.