In order for the Carolina Panthers to make the playoffs this season, they must win the games that they are supposed to and win and steal their share of wins. The Panthers did the former with a 19-14 victory against the New York Jets at Bank Of America Stadium. Here are a few takeaways from Week One.
While Sam Darnold left little doubt that he’s now in the ‘right’ place with the Panthers, he could have done more against his old team. His numbers were solid but, at times pedestrian – throwing for 278 yards and a touchdown; completing 22 of his 32 attempts on the day. Most of Darnold’s completions today were of the “safe” variety. He threw short, underneath passes and check-downs to Christian McCaffrey. However, Darnold showed that he can throw deep (and should more often), by connecting with Robby Anderson for a 61-yard touchdown in the first half and a strike to DJ Moore in the second half. What impressed me the most about Darnold today was his pocket presence. The nervousness was detected in his footwork at times, but he continued to move forward and remained calm and patient to find openings.
After an injury-plagued 2020 season, Christian McCaffrey proved that he was back like he never left. His ground game looked strong-totaling 21 carries for 98 yards. But the real value in CMC’s game is his ability to be a dual-threat. As Darnold’s safety valve today, McCaffrey caught nine balls for 89 yards. These numbers are on par with what the Panthers need from CMC this season.
The Defense Understood The Assignment
Carolina’s defense proved why they can be among the top 10 in the league. The Panthers’ front seven hounded and pressured Zach Wilson all game. Wilson was pressured on 10 of his 19 dropback passes in the first half. The Panthers’ defense imposed their will on the rookie QB – rendering him 0-for-7 passing with three sacks.
The sequence that stood out for me with this unit is when the Jets decide to go for it on 4th down in the second quarter. Defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos stopped Jets’ RB Tevin Coleman behind the line of scrimmage on 4th and 1. It stood out because it showed glimpses of the defenses’ resiliency. They didn’t get the stop on third down like they wanted, but they locked in and kept that same pressure on the next play. Keeping that same presser helped the Panthers in the clutch when the Jets made it interesting.
The Offense Was Too Conserative
Darnold seeking out McCaffrey is good. It made sense, but it was too “safe”. The margin of victory for the Panthers could have been more than just one score. It should have been. In the first half, Carolina was in the red zone four times and came up with only a field goal. They were 25 percent from there. Their goal-to-go efficiency was at least 50 percent due to the 5-yard touchdown run by Darnold. The offense probably could have gone to spreading out for go-route opportunities for Moore and Anderson in the first half when the Jets’ defense struggled to get stops. As Darnold gets comfortable and confident, look for Joe Brady to implement more plays from deep.