Missing: Carolina Panthers Shocking Offense

September 28, 2022

Defense wins championships, but another lackluster offensive performance leaves many questions unanswered

374 days later, the Carolina Panthers finally win a home game. Fans left Bank of America Stadium pumping their fists thanks to an electric defensive performance that featured a scoop-and-score and two picks. For the first time in 2022, the Panthers were forcing turnovers. Frankie Luvu continued his streak of disruptive play, logging a forced fumble and five tackles. Defensive tackle Derrick Brown found a way to contribute with a one-handed interception late in the game thanks to a tipped pass from Jaycee Horn, who also recorded an interception.

Panthers’ defensive coordinator Phil Snow put together a great game plan that took advantage of Jameis Winston’s limited mobility (ankle, back injuries). By moving Chinn into more of a box safety role this week, Snow was able to put one of his best playmakers closer to the line of scrimmage. Chinn’s at his best when he can trust his instincts and be an athlete. Rather than line him up fifteen or twenty yards off the ball, give Chinn the chance to be in on a higher percentage of plays. The result? A team-high eight tackles, a sack, and two pass breakups.

In the trenches Snow was creative with his use of Brian Burns, giving the Saints’ offensive line variations of coverage vs. pass-rushing looks. Occasionally, he had Burns lining up with a hand in the dirt and dropping him into passing windows to cut off any short, in-breaking routes. This kept Winston on his toes running from this active Panthers defense and the whole Saints offense guessing.

No Offense, But McAdoo Is Bad

On the other side of the ball, the Panthers’ woes continued. DJ Moore, Robbie Anderson, and Christian McCaffrey combined for an astonishing four total receptions for a total of 23 yards. Former Offensive Player of the Year Christian McCaffrey logged 100 rushing yards for the second time in two weeks but was only targeted four times through the air. It’s no secret that this Carolina offense is truly bad at throwing the football. It feels like the Panthers win the lottery when a passing play features good pass protection, an open receiver, and an on-target throw.

Perhaps, offensive coordinator, Ben McAdoo is so untrusting of his offensive line that he feels compelled to draw up routes that don’t exceed anything deeper than seven to ten yards. Perhaps he assumes the pocket will collapse before anything can develop deep, so he has his receivers’ running slants, crossers, sticks, and anything else short. This allows defenses to sit on these routes, giving Mayfield limited options.

Taking a look at some numbers, a helpful stat is air yards/pass attempt, which is how many yards the ball traveled in the air per each completion. The Carolina Panthers rank 31st in the league, averaging a whole 2.6 air yards per pass attempt. When comparing that to explosive teams like the Bills (4.5), Ravens (4.8), and Dolphins (5.3), it’s obvious that something is wrong.

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We can’t access the mind of Ben McAdoo, but Mayfield also shoulders a lot of the blame. With guys like Anderson and Moore, there will be times when they’re open. Ben McAdoo isn’t a genius, but he’s also not incompetent. One of Mayfield’s flaws is his lack of pocket awareness and, frankly, seems a little hesitant to take hits. Chalk that up to injury history if you want, but there are times he needs to trust the protection and deliver the ball. Too often he bails and runs into traffic, giving the offensive line an impossible job.

If the pressure is overpowering, McCaffrey is a weapon out of the backfield and the Panthers pay him a lot of money to make guys miss. So put him in one-on-one situations with a safety or a linebacker, let him put his foot in the ground, and pick up an easy six yards. Overcompensation for McCaffrey’s overuse in the past has now turned into gross underuse.

The Positives

Negatives aside, a win is a win, which is never easy in the NFL. Newly traded receiver Laviska Shenault looks like another Swiss-army knife for this offense, turning his first minutes as a Panther into a 67-yard touchdown. Special teams looked especially sharp today too, tallying a blocked field goal. Kicker Eddy Pineiro was a perfect three-for-three on field goal attempts as well.

Carolina faces a tough slew of Pacific coast teams these next few weeks and that stretch feels like a defining moment for the 2022 Panthers. The team’s next two games are at home against Arizona and San Francisco before traveling to L.A. to take on the Rams. A home game against the Bucs ends a dizzying four-game spell. Escaping those four games going 2-2 feels like a huge win for this team, 3-1, and this team’s playoff hopes are very much alive. A lot needs to change but being one game back from the division lead isn’t a bad place to be.