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Detroit Lions Week 11 scouting report: Panthers have strong offense, young mistake-prone defense

The Panthers are heading in the right direction, but still have plenty of work to do.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

On the surface, the Carolina Panthers don’t look like much of a threat. But in a lot of ways, they mirror last week’s Detroit Lions opponent.

Like the Washington Football Team, the Panthers are in Year 1 of a rebuild. While the overall record indicates they still have a long ways to go, like Washington’s defense, Carolina’s offense has already seen some major improvement and will likely give Detroit all it can handle this Sunday.

Of course, there are some major injuries the team is currently going through that could have a huge impact on this Week 11 game, and we’ll get into all of that in our Lions Scouting Report.

Carolina Panthers

Last season:

5-11 record (4th in NFC South)
20th in points scored, 31st in points allowed
Overall DVOA: 29th (27th on offense, 26th on defense)

Last year, the Panthers hit a new low. Thanks in part to a season-ending injury to Cam Newton in Week 2, Carolina suffered its worst record under the Ron Rivera era. As a result, Rivera was surprisingly fired after 12 games and just a 5-7 record.

Outside of running the ball with Christian McCaffrey, the 2019 Panthers weren’t particularly good at anything, and they especially struggled on defense. They allowed an NFL-high 5.2 yards per carry and 31(!!!) rushing touchdowns for the entire season.

With Newton sidelined, they handed the offense to Kyle Allen, who looked somewhat promising, but never gave the team an edge like Newton did at his peak.

2020 offseason

Coaching changes:

  • New head coach: Matt Rhule
  • Offensive coordinator: Joe Brady
  • Defensive coordinator: Phil Snow

Only significant coaching holdovers:

  • Special teams coordinator: Chase Blackburn

Key free agent additions: QB Teddy Bridgewater, LT Russell Okung, WR Robby Anderson, G John Miller, WR Seth Roberts, DE Stephen Weatherly, LB Tahir Whitehead, CB Eli Apple

Key losses: QB Cam Newton, G Trai Turner WR Chris Hogan, TE Greg Olsen, DE Mario Addison, DE Bruce Irvin, DT Dontari Poe, DT Vernon Butler, LB Luke Kuechly, CB James Bradberry, S Eric Reid

2020 NFL draft picks:

Round 1: DT Derrick Brown
Round 2: DE Yetur Gross-Matos
Round 2: S Jeremy Chinn
Round 4: CB Troy Pride
Round 5: S Kenny Robinson
Round 6: DT Bravvion Roy
Round 7: CB Stantley Thomas-Oliver

Carolina decided to essentially blow everything up this offseason. They moved on from Newton, who had seen injuries shorten both of his past two seasons. They made one of the more popular coaching hires in Baylor head coach and offensive mastermind Matt Rhule, and followed it up with solid coordinator hires, as well.

Their player acquisition was just as active, too. Teddy Bridgewater became their starting quarterback, and they got him a nice weapon in Robby Anderson. The move to get Russell Okung by trading away youngster Trai Turner raised some eyebrows, but the addition of John Miller helped seems to have helped.

The biggest differences are on defense. The Panthers got a lot different and a lot younger. Per ESPN, the average age of last year’s starting Panthers defense was 26.6. This year, it’s 23.45. Gone are aging but talented players like Dontari Poe, Luke Kuechly and Eric Reid. In are a trio of draft picks—Derrick Brown, Yetur Gross-Matos and Jeremy Chin—along with last year’s draft pick Brian Burns, 26-year-old free agent pickup Stephen Weatherly and former Lion Tahir Whitehead.

2020 season thus far (3-7)

Week 1: Lost to Raiders, 30-34
Week 2: Lost to Buccaneers, 17-31
Week 3: Defeated Chargers, 21-16
Week 4: Defeated Cardinals, 31-21
Week 5: Defeated Falcons, 23-16
Week 6: Lost to Bears, 16-23
Week 7: Lost to Saints, 24-27
Week 8: Lost to Falcons, 17-25
Week 9: Lost to Chiefs, 31-33
Week 10: Lost to Buccaneers, 23-46

Stats:

  • 21st in points scored, 21st in points allowed
  • 17th in DVOA: 7th on offense, 27th on defense, 11th on special teams

While the Panthers may not be putting up a ton of points, there is clear improvement on offense. This is a team that grinds out possessions, eats clock and moves the ball fairly efficiency. They currently rank fourth in yards per offensive drive (39.3), third in time of possession per drive (3:16), and have the fewest punts per drive (.237)

So why so few points? Two reasons. First, they haven’t been particularly great in the red zone, scoring touchdowns just 62.5 percent of trips inside the 20-yard line (18th). But the biggest factor is their not-so-good defense.

Per drive, the Panthers are giving up the most yards (42.0), the most points (2.96), the most plays (7.2) and the third most time of possession (3:11). Like last year, they still struggle to stop the run, allowing 4.8 yards per carry this season and ceding 14 rushing touchdowns thus far. They’re also just 26th in run stop win rate.

When looking at their overall schedule, though, this team doesn’t have a lot of bad losses. They’ve played some tough teams (Raiders, Buccaneers twice, Chiefs, Saints) and hung with pretty much all of them. The Falcons and Bears losses aren’t great, but they’ve also beaten the Falcons once and handed the Cardinals one of their three losses.

Overall, this team is a little more competitive than last week’s Washington team, but they are still quite flawed on defense.

Key injuries:

IR: DE Stephen Weatherly, DT Kawann Short
Current injuries: QB Teddy Bridgewater (knee), RB Christian McCaffrey (shoulder), LT Russell Okung (calf)

Injuries could play a huge part in the game this week. It appears Carolina will be without Christian McCaffrey, and obviously, that would be huge. Take a look at their offensive output in games with and without McCaffrey:

With McCaffrey (3 games): 26.0 points per game, 416.7 yards per game
Without McCaffrey (7 games): 22.1 point per game, 322.9 yards per game

Then there’s the status of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. While there appears to be more optimism surrounding his status, the team would be more hurt by his absence if he can recover from his knee injury in time. Bridgewater is in the midst of his best career season, on pace to set record highs in yards per attempt (7.7), completion percentage (72.1) and he’s just two touchdowns short of setting a career high in passing touchdowns.

If Bridgewater can’t go, the Panthers would have to rely on P.J. Walker, who shined in the XFL this spring, but has never made an NFL start.

Biggest strength: Skill positions

While the Panthers lack superstar players outside of McCaffrey, it’s really an underrated bunch of talents at the skill positions. Both wide receivers Robby Anderson and DJ Moore currently rank in the top 10 in receiving yards and both currently hold solid PFF grades above 70. Even backup running back Mike Davis has fared well, rushing for a respectable 4.2 yards per carry thus far this season.

Biggest weakness: Secondary

While their raw statistics aren’t too bad (23rd in passer rating allowed, 13th in yards per attempt), they have the 31st ranked coverage grades per PFF. Rookie corner Troy Pride Jr. has really struggled, as has rookie safety Jeremy Chinn. It’s a youthful group, so they’re prone to a lot of mistakes.

Vegas line for Sunday: Panthers by 3