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Lions vs. Panthers 5Qs preview: Carolina playing ‘kindergarten level football’

A preview with Cat Scratch Reader’s Walker Clement about the Week 5 matchup between the Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers.

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NFL: Preseason-Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no bigger story in football than the red-hot start of the Detroit Lions. Full stop. After all, they’re the only variable that could possibly be responsible for the NFL’s most-watched game of the season—one that even the almighty Taylor Swift couldn’t topple. This week, after an extended break, Detroit returns home with an opportunity to build on their start against a Carolina Panthers team trying to find their footing at the onset of a rebuild.

As always, we would never pass up the opportunity to get some intel from the opponent’s perspective. Ahead of this Week 5 matchup between Detroit and Carolina, we called on Walker Clement from to give us an update on a Panthers team the Lions wrapped up their preseason with a little over a month ago.

It’s the beginning of a new era in Carolina Panthers football, and as someone who has covered the Lions through multiple rebuilds, it’s obvious it takes time when you’re putting together a new team from the ground up. The Panthers are one of the few winless teams remaining in the NFL–again, been there, done that–but the box scores from their games seems like they’ve been pretty competitive.

How close has Carolina been to getting their first victory of Frank Reich’s tenure, what’s been the missing ingredient to get that first win, and what needs to happen this week against the Lions for them to get over that hump?

The Panthers have led at some point in each game so far this season in spite of also losing at least one starter per game through the first three games. That all sounds quite encouraging, like the team is only a few plays away from putting it all together and becoming a rousing success.

Alas, the offense has been so incredibly uninspiring that fans are ready to burn down the front office again. At no point has anything but the first half defensive effort built any degree of obvious confidence in this team. It feels more like the team is a few plays away from everything falling apart (as happens in the second half of each game) than they are to pulling themselves together.

To get the win, optimistically, the Panthers need to remain healthy, have success getting positive yardage on first downs, and limit the drive-killing penalties along the offensive line that have become all too common. If that sounds like kindergarten football level analysis then that’s because this team has put kindergarten level football up to be analyzed.

To get the win, realistically, the Lions need to think this game is being contested in Charlotte.

The Panthers paid a hefty price tag to move up and select Bryce Young with the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and that has to come with a lot of pressure on everyone involved: the decision-makers, the coaching staff, and most of all, the player himself.

How has Young handled that pressure so far this season, did the ankle injury seem to have any lingering effect on his game last week, and what parts of his game seem NFL-ready at this point in his career–and where do you hope to see growth this year?

I’ll start with the last bit first. Young is throwing with great anticipation and has demonstrated fantastic pocket awareness. Dialing down his deep ball accuracy and helping him see more of the field are the two closest big steps he can take to up his professional game.

The ankle injury appears to be a non-factor anymore.

As for how he has handled the pressure, that is an ongoing story. This is easily the most he has lost at any point in his career. Probably going back to Pop Warner. He has seemed poised through each game, sometimes even to the point of being too calm. But I’m deeply curious to see how that veneer of calm holds up as the team continues to flounder like a fish in the desert.

Carolina ranks 11th in pass defense DVOA and 14th in ESPN’s pass rush win rate, but 32nd in run defense DVOA and 25th in run stop win rate.

How much of the Panthers run defense is currently a work in progress this season versus it needing to be addressed in the offseason with changes in personnel? And what do you make of the Panthers still having a respectable pass defense despite missing their top cornerback in Jaycee Horn? Is it a product of having some talented pass rushers in Brian Burns and the eternal Justin Houston?

The run defense is relatively fine and has suffered, at most, from injuries to Shaq Thompson, Jaycee Horn, and Xavier Woods. A lot of the Panthers back up defensive backs are better in coverage than they are in run support. The major driver of disparity between the rankings of their run vs pass defense is game situation. The Panthers spend so much time trailing in the second half that opposing teams are necessarily leaning on the run. Factor in the fact that the offense can’t stay on the field and the defense generally gets tired about the same time as their opponents turn to a more run-heavy game script.

What players on Carolina’s roster–on either offense or defense–have flown under the national radar so far this season, and what kind of impact do you expect them to make this Sunday against Detroit?

The Panthers have a different defensive star every week, in part because of Ejiro Evero’s scheme and in part because they have new starters every week. Look for Yetur Gross-Matos amongst the front seven and Jeremy Chinn in the secondary to have a big week this week, if anybody does.

On offense, there have been no stars. Adam Thielen has been consistent and that’s the best they have.

What’s one nugget of Panthers’ intel that a gambling Lions fan would find useful for their bet slip this weekend?

The Panthers defense is holding opponents to a 27.6% conversion rate on third downs. The game usually gets out of hand for the Panthers once their opponents have a one score lead. Basically, their games don’t feature a lot of scoring, but can easily get into the low twenties for each team. If you think the Lions are going to score first, bet the under (currently -110 at 44.5 on DraftKings Sportsbook). If you think the Panthers might score first, even a field goal, then consider betting the over.

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