The Carolina Panthers got themselves some impactful work the last two weeks, highlighted by joint practices against the Baltimore Ravens and the Indianapolis Colts. For the second straight week, however, they failed to get the gratification of that work on the game field.
CHARLOTTE – The Carolina Panthers squandered two red zone opportunities and the Baltimore Ravens scored 17-unanswered second half points to earn a 20-3 victory in the Panthers’ first preseason matchup on their home turf.
Carolina failed to cash in a turnover on Baltimore’s opening drive as Haason Reddick picked off Tyler Huntley’s pass to set the Panthers up in plus territory. Following a 16-yard completion by Sam Darnold to Robby Anderson and a couple of scampers from Chuba Hubbard, the drive ended with the Panthers failing to punch the ball in twice on the 1-yard line.
Panthers coach Matt Rhule said after the game he wanted to keep things very basic and vanilla on the first team’s only offensive drive. “We were just going to run our base stuff, we wanted to save our tight ends,” Rhule said. “Right now we’re trying to establish [if] can we get that yard or not, we didn’t get that yard tonight. That’s something we have to improve upon as a team.”
Regardless, Darnold confessed that they left some gimme points on the board, saying, “As competitors you want to punch it in, but at the same time, we should be able to score down there with our base plays.”
Carolina also failed inside the 20 with Will Grier at the helm, as he took a costly sack at the 15-yard line to derail momentum of the home team trying to open up the scoring. Kicker Joey Slye, the subject of some major question marks with regards to his accuracy, missed a makeable 37-yard field goal which kept the game scoreless.
Grier made the most of a longer look with the Panthers’ second-team offense, throwing for 144 yards on 11-of-14 passing. He said after the game he doesn’t have any feel about the team’s current backup QB hierarchy, saying, “It’s not up to me.” He did, however, offer that this the “most comfortable” he’s felt as a professional.
Slye redeemed himself with a 41-yard make on Carolina’s final drive of the second quarter, but that was as close as the Panthers would get to the end zone for the rest of the game.
Much like the previous game against the Colts, the Panthers’ offense in the second half stalled into neutral. With PJ Walker quarterbacking the team with most of the second & third-team offense, the Panthers failed to obtain a first down on five three-and-out drives, amassing just 18 total yards.
“Just couldn’t get a first down, couldn’t protect, couldn’t really get open against man coverage,” Rhule said of team’s second-half offensive woes. “That really spiraled toward the defense, the defense was out there for 6, 7, 8 plays.”
The win for the Ravens was their 19th consecutive preseason win, tying an NFL record held by Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers from 1959 to 1962.
In terms of good observations from the week that with the Ravens:
- Frankie Luvu continued his strong play with a forced fumble at the end of the first quarter. Rhule said after the game, he’s earned the right to play impactful snaps with the type of camp he’s had.
- The two forced turnovers on defense carried over from a five turnover day during Thursday’s joint practice, the final one in Spartanburg. Reddick, whose interception came on the lone drive for the first-team defense said, “It’s a momentum booster, now we have to carry it over to a whole game.”
- Shi Smith once again proved his worth with a pair of catches totalling 17 and 18 yards, and is making a strong case to make the gameday 53-man roster.
- The Panthers’ WR hierarchy seems to be DJ Moore and Robby Anderson at the top, with Terrace Marshall & David Moore on that second tier. If Shi Smith is the fifth receiver, that would leave Brandon Zylstra, Omar Bayless, Ishmael Hyman and CJ Saunders all battling for one potential spot if Carolina carries a sixth receiver. Keith Kirkwood, who hasn’t practiced since suffering a concussion, might be on the outside looking in at receiver.
- Linebacker Josh Bynes earned a lot of time in his first full week with the team, leading the Panthers with 9 tackles on defense. He’ll certainly be called up if Carolina’s questions with linebacker depth need to be answered.
Now for the areas of concern:
- While Sam Darnold’s lone completion to Robby Anderson showcased the depth of their chemistry, the Panthers’ starting QB needs some time on the field with his full arsenal. The only snaps he’s taken with Christian McCaffrey and DJ Moore on the field have come in joint practices, and that might continue on Friday against the Steelers. Rhule said after the game that he wants the starters to play “about a half”, but also offered that would depend on the team’s ability to protect and weaponize Darnold.
- The Panthers lost another key member of their secondary depth with a knee injury to safety Kenny Robinson. He did not return to the game following the injury, and Rhule could not offer a prognosis after the game.
- The backup quarterback job is basically a stalemate of sorts, with each player looking passable with the second unit, but unable to anything with the offense during the second half during the last two weeks. The job is still PJ Walker’s to lose, but he left the door open after failing to impress on Saturday.
- Speaking of shaky ground, that’s currently the footing of kicker Joey Slye, who failed to make good on Rhule’s faith in him, missing a chip-shot field goal. Rhule offered no excuses postgame, saying, “You have to produce, and so far Joey has not produced at the level we need him to. We need to find a way to get over that hump with him.”
- While Chuba Hubbard had one outstanding run against the Colts, he’s failed to produce in a way that would strike confidence in giving him any of the load that would ordinarily go to Christian McCaffrey. The run schemes might be vanilla in nature, but when the Ravens outrushed the Panthers 167-33 on Saturday, that’s a glaring indictment of a phase that needs significant work.
- The Panthers continued their trend of penalties killing drives, committing five for 30 yards, mostly coming on procedural fouls.
- Carolina’s plan to ride JJ Jansen off into the sunset and usher in a new era at long snapper with Thomas Fletcher hasn’t exactly gone as planned. Jansen has stepped up and done nothing to lose the job, and the rookie Fletcher has shown his youth at times, including committing an offensive holding penalty during the game. While Jansen staying on the team wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world from a morale/cult hero standpoint, it would serve as an indictment on a front office that spent a sixth round pick on a long snapper who can’t win the job outright.
NEXT: With Training Camp officially concluded, the Panthers will return to the practice field Monday afternoon in Charlotte with a practice that will presumably resemble the light walkthrough they had last week coming off the Colts game. Carolina will also practice Tuesday and Wednesday in front of the media, with a closed walkthrough on Thursday before Friday night’s preseason finale at Bank of America Stadium at 7:30 vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers.