Revenge will be on the mind of the Detroit Lions this week as they host the Carolina Panthers. So far in revenge games this season, the Lions are 0-1 with a loss to the Seattle Seahawks, but this game appears different. While the Seahawks were a playoff team in 2022 and appear on track to do the same this year, the Panthers enter this week winless with a struggling rookie quarterback.
The most significant talking point of the game last season was the playing conditions on the field in Carolina. In April, the NFLPA revealed that the Lions and Panthers had to play their game on field conditions that weren’t acceptable. This year, that won’t be an excuse or an issue in Detroit, and it will be a rematch of a preseason game that the Lions won 26-17, but now it will be all the starters playing.
With the playing field being a non-issue this time, what will the game look like this season between these two teams? Let’s look at it in the Detroit Lions Week 5 scouting report.
- 7-10 record (2nd in NFC South)
- 20th in points scored, 19th in points allowed
- Overall DVOA: 25th (26th on offense, 20th on defense)
Despite the record, the Panthers had a revolving door on offense. Three players started at quarterback, including Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, and P.J. Walker, and with a different quarterback every week, the offense couldn’t stay consistent. The team never won two games in a row, as things were constantly changing under center. It wasn’t just at quarterback; the running back position saw movement, too, as the Panthers traded away their best player, Christian McCaffrey, to the San Francisco 49ers. With McCaffrey gone, D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard were the running backs, combining for 1,380 yards and seven touchdowns.
Carolina was almost a playoff team last season, fighting in the weak NFC South, and they came just one game short behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Key additions: TE Hayden Hurst, WR DJ Chark, CB Eric Rowe, QB Andy Dalton, RB Miles Sanders, WR Adam Thielen, S Vonn Bell, DT Shy Tuttle
Key losses: G Pat Elflein, RB D’Onta Foreman, DT Matthew Ioannidis, WR D.J. Moore
Trade additions: 1st overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft (QB Bryce Young)
2023 NFL Draft picks
Round 1: QB Bryce Young
Round 2: WR Jonathan Mingo
Round 3: EDGE DJ Johnson
Round 4: G Chandler Zavala
Round 5: S Jammie Robinson
The most prominent addition to the Panthers in the offseason was rookie quarterback Bryce Young, the top quarterback option in the 2023 draft class. Carolina traded with the Chicago Bears to move up the draft board and get their next attempt at a franchise quarterback. Despite losing Moore in the trade, Carolina made sure to have other weapons for Young, and they got that in Chark, Thielen, Mingo, and Hurst, along with help in the ground game with Sanders.
While the offense got some help, the defense didn’t see many upgrades. They got Johnson and Robinson in the draft while signing Tuttle, Bell, and Rowe to help the unit in free agency. The team could have used more assistance there, but instead, the focus was to make the offense have plenty of weapons for Young and try to outscore the opposing teams, which hasn’t worked for them in 2023.
2023 season thus far (0-4)
- 24th in points scored, 25th in points allowed
- 28th in DVOA — 29th on offense, 26th on defense, 13th on special teams
Despite an upgrade at quarterback from 2022, the Panthers offense is struggling to put up points this season. In just one game, they have put up more than 17 points, and in the game they did, Young was out with an injury. Young returned in Week 4, and unfortunately, he couldn’t lead the team to a victory over the winless Vikings. The offensive line continued to struggle, and Young didn’t have his best game, as he had a costly fumble that would push the momentum to the Vikings, where they would take the lead and never give it back.
Earlier in the season, in divisional games against the Saints and Panthers, Young went 42-for-71 for 299 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Young has faced pressure all season long, getting sacked 11 times, while his backup, Andy Dalton, got sacked three times in their Week 3 loss to the Seahawks. So far this year, Young has developed a good relationship with Thielen at wide receiver, and he is the leading receiver with 20 catches for 211 yards and two touchdowns.
Adam Thielen’s 1st TD in Carolina— NFL on DAZN (@NFLonDAZN) September 19, 2023
: Panthers vs. Saints on NFL Game Pass on DAZN pic.twitter.com/wcrGRPFsY0
Linebacker Brian Burns, the team leader in sacks, still carries the defense. He’s the primary playmaker left on the defensive side of the ball, with cornerback Jaycee Horn and linebacker Shaq Thompson on IR. The defense has yet to hold an offense to under 20 points and hasn’t been able to stop the run, allowing at least 130 rushing yards every week. In Week 4, they finally stopped a team from scoring two rushing touchdowns in a game.
Key players ruled out: CB Jaycee Horn (hamstring), LB Shaq Thompson (leg), LG Brady Christensen (bicep)
Key players to monitor: RG Austin Corbett (PUP/ACL), S Xavier Woods (hamstring)
While there aren’t many injuries for the Panthers, the few they have are serious. Losing four starters, two for the season, in less than four weeks isn’t what you want to see on a team that finished second place in the division last season. Two of the injuries are to offensive linemen, and while Corbett will return this season, it’s unknown if he will return this week or later on as he is still on the PUP list due to an ACL tear back in January. If Corbett can’t play this week, Young will have to try and survive against the Lions defensive line without an upgrade to his offensive line.
The defense losing Thompson for the season is huge for the Panthers, and Horn being out doesn’t help them either. The defense needs to try and step up to slow the Lions offense down this week, but losing two of their top three members on the defense will make that job more challenging.
Biggest strength: Linebackers
Detroit’s offensive line will have another challenge with linebackers this week with the Panthers core. The Panthers’ linebackers have a combined 9.5 sacks of the 12 the team has on the season. The linebacker group’s leader is Burns, currently with three sacks this season. Lions offensive tackles Penei Sewell and Taylor Decker will have their hands full with Burns trying to get to quarterback Jared Goff.
I would sell my soul for Brian Burns in Baltimore pic.twitter.com/88FLvrYfy5— RAMEY (@HoodieRamey) September 24, 2023
Burns isn’t alone in the linebacker room, though, as Frankie Luvu leads the group in tackles with 23. He can get to the quarterback as well, as he has 2.5 sacks this season. You also can’t forget about Yetur Gross-Matos, who also has 2.5 sacks, and Justin Houston, who, despite his age of 34, can still be a helpful player in the room and a veteran on the field.
Biggest weakness: Offensive line
Another week, another banged-up offensive line for the Lions defensive line to maul. Detroit will be taking on, possibly, the worst offensive line they have seen this season in Carolina.
Panthers OL has allowed 60 pressures in 3 weeks.— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) September 25, 2023
That's on pace for 340 over the season.
Most @PFF has ever charted was 297.
Up against the Vikings last week, to add to this stat, Young was sacked five times. So far this season, Detroit leads the NFL in pressures with 49, and going up against two backup guards could smell like a disaster for the Panthers offense. The backups playing doesn’t mean the Lions automatically win, as against the Seahawks and two backup offensive tackles, Seattle was able to execute quick passes, put up 37 points, and defeat Detroit.
Carolina will need its biggest weakness to show up and do its best, but with the Lions’ defensive line, that will be a tall ask. You mix a banged-up, poor-performing offensive line with a rookie quarterback, and you get an offense that looks lost and struggling to get points on the board.
Key matchup: Lions defensive line vs. Panthers running backs
Last season, Carolina ran for 320 yards and three touchdowns on 43 carries, averaging 7.4 yards per carry against the Lions, as it was the main reason the Panthers won the game. This season, Detroit has the best run defense in the NFL, allowing 243 yards and three touchdowns and holding opposing running backs to just 3.0 yards per carry.
This year, Sanders is the Panthers’ top running back option, leading the team with 41 carries for 136 yards and a touchdown. Last season, Carolina had a running back by committee, and while this year Sanders and Hubbard split playing time almost equally, Sanders has been the primary ball-carrier (54 carries vs. 26). That doesn’t mean Detroit should ignore Hubbard. He ran for 125 yards on them last season; he can still be a dangerous weapon.
Vegas line for Sunday: Lions by 9