After fumbling the opportunity to gain the NFC South lead with the Week 15 loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Carolina Panthers interim head coach Steve Wilks knew the character and mettle of his squad had been tested. They were outplayed and outclassed, and they knew it. They also knew that they had a short window to move on and prepare for the Detroit Lions five days later.
For Wilks, it wasn’t about the setback as much as the response. His Panthers responded vociferously with a 37-24 win that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.
“We talked about all week that the true character of our football team would be revealed,” Wilks said. “I’m very proud of the men in that locker room.” Here are more observations from the Panthers’ huge Week 16 win.
The Panthers out-rushed Detroit 320-45, with 240 of those yards amassed in the first half. The tandem of Chuba Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman rushed for 125 and 165 yards respectively. On the opening drive, Hubbard was able to break off 30 and 35-yard runs setting up Raheem Blackshear for the touchdown. After getting bullied by the Steelers’ defense, the Panthers’ O-Line made sure they bounced back and imposed their will in different ways.
On the Panthers’ opening drive, Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo deployed a basic six-man set, but notice how the weak side linemen contained the Lions’ front four to the inside – forcing the d-line to the inside helped open the edge for Hubbard’s rush to midfield. The O-line did a great job here keeping the lion’s defensive front in their place for a run and alternatively more time for Sam Darnold to stay and observe in the pocket.
In this seven-man set, Carolina’s O-Line shifted the Lions’ frontline to the weak side to open space in both A and B gaps. Sometimes the offense would go to the eight-man Arby’s set but they didn’t have to for the Lions, they just had to be more aggressive and physical and did just that.
Solid Passing Game
Sam Darnold, once again showed off his consistency and getting reacquainted with the offense. Instead of conservative screen passes and check downs, Darnold was bold enough to take his shots downfield and his 250 passing yards were evenly distributed among the receiving corps. DJ Moore lead the way with five catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. Terrace Marshall chipped in with two catches for 55 yards, while Laviska Shenault had three catches for 53 yards. Since returning to the lineup, Darnold’s been steady and stable and has yet to throw an interception. A big part of his play against the Lions and other games is that he is patient in the pocket.
In the fourth quarter, Cornerback Jaycee Horn sustained an injury to his wrist after tackling Lions’ wide receiver Josh Reynolds on a 26-yard gain. After the tackle, Horn clutched his wrist and was carted away to the locker room with 13 minutes left in the game. Linebacker Brian Burns suspected that Horn’s right wrist was broken. The second-year cornerback was seen wearing a soft cast and his arm in a sling. After the game, Wilks didn’t have a definite answer on Horn’s status but he told a reporter that Horn would have an MRI.
Horn missed the final 14 games of his rookie season after breaking his foot against the Houston Texans. It’s disappointing that Horn has another setback with the team having a legitimate shot at the NFC South title and playoff berth.