Executive and Personnel Changes Prompt Culture Shift in Carolina
On this week’s edition of the difference-makers list starring Panthers’ standouts, these headliners make splash plays on both sides of the football. Several players could have made the compilation; however, these five could help sway the outcome in Carolina’s favor on Sunday afternoon in the NFC South clash:
Christian McCaffrey is the offensive catalyst for the Panthers. He leads Carolina in rushing yards (393), rushing touchdowns (2), receptions (33), and receiving yards (277) through six games. McCaffery elevates the Panthers’ screen game and perimeter -based attack. With a revolving door at the quarterback position, McCaffrey remains the go-to out of the flat for the Panthers. Week after week, opponents know the Panthers will relentlessly give the ball to No. 22 and yet defenses struggle to stop him – the ultimate sign of a rare player. McCaffrey is the Panthers’ Swiss Army knife, with the capability of going the distance from anywhere on the field. He is a nightmare for linebackers in the open field with impressive change-of-direction skills . As a runner, McCaffrey possesses suddenness, patience, vision, first-step quickness, and stellar cutting ability. He is elusive, with the ability to hit second-gear speed almost immediately. As a receiver, McCaffrey is a nuanced route runner with e ffectiveness at creating separation. He is only the third running back in NFL history to accumulate 1,000 receiving yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a season (2020) – a comprehensive stat encompassing his dynamic prowess. The Buccaneers’ defense will have to be disciplined in run fits, pursuit angles and in setting the edge to try and contain McCaffrey.
Despite inconsistent play under center for the Panthers, DJ Moore has eclipsed the 1,000-yard marker the last three seasons in Carolina. Moore has many alluring traits, including elusiveness, high-point ability, suddenness out of breaks and an ability to adjust to the ball, and he is adept at finding soft spots in zone. He elevates the Panthers’ screen game with his ability to generate yards after the catch. The Panthers’ offense has struggled in 2022 to sustain drives, but Moore remains a gritty receiver who can challenge defenses downfield and on intermediate routes. The Bucs’ defense will have to be aware of where he is lined up on the field. The Cardinals traded for Robbie Anderson and following his departure, Moore will have an increased role to try and rejuvenate Carolina’s aerial attack.
Brian Burns currently leads the Panthers in sacks with 4.0. The speedster off the edge made his first Pro Bowl in 2021 and has cultivated an impressive resume in Carolina. Through 48 games prior to the start of the 2022 season, he had 25.5 sacks – the second-fastest start in franchise history in as many games (trailing only Julius Peppers). Burns, the team’s best pass rusher, will command more double teams this season with the departure of his former counterpart, Haason Reddick. As a pass rusher, Burns is fast to turn the corner, running by tackles with elite speed. He has nice bend around the edge and low-pad height and possesses explosive first-step quickness. As a run defender, Burns is able to navigate through traffic with agility to get to ball carriers. His inside-to-outside countermove is special and consistently sets up offensive tackles. Nicknamed ‘Spiderman,’ Burns has a lethal spin move that baits tackles and elite closing speed to finish. On Sunday, Tristan Wirfs will have a big day going up against a top-tier – albeit underrated – defensive end. Winning the battle in the trenches will be crucial.
Chosen in the top 10 of the 2022 NFL Draft, Derrick Brown has continued to progress on the field for Carolina. He has taken strides forward in his third year, evidenced by a sensational one-handed interception against the Saints that took the NFL by storm . His stat line may not wow but Brown influences the pocket and gets opposing quarterbacks off their spot. If he cannot disrupt the play by knocking down the quarterback, he can impact with batted passes (six). He plays with good leverage and is quick out of his stance. Brown possesses strength to work off blocks, has a powerful bull rush, can set the edge and is fast in the short area with redirection skills. He is still a developmental young player but has tremendous upside for the Panthers. Brown creates a challenge in the trenches for Tampa Bay. He disrupts more than the numbers dictate, creating negative plays for opposing offenses.
Shaq Thompson is a premier playmaker for the Panthers, commanding the middle of the field. He currently leads the Panthers in tackles with 39 through six games, fortifying the defensive unit. Thompson is a quality pursuit defender that can cover ground in zone. He breaks on the ball with instinctual play and has the ability to help in pass-coverage as a three-down linebacker. He is not overly physical but possesses the athleticism to chase down running backs. Thompson has the versatility to play inside linebacker, outside linebacker and strong safety in dime packages. He is a bright spot for the Panthers on defense and will strive to have a big day against Tom Brady and company on Sunday.
Here are some ways in which the Panthers have excelled in 2022:
- Christian McCaffrey had a season-high 158 scrimmage yards in Week Six. He totaled 89 receiving yards, which was his most since Week One of the 2021 season. Overall, his 670 scrimmage yards in 2022 rank fourth in the NFL, third among running backs .
- The Panthers rank first in the league at gaining four-plus yards on first down. On first downs, 55.6 percent of the Panthers’ rushes have gained over four yards (30 rushes). That is largely due to Christian McCaffrey’s slash running style and shiftiness in space.
- The Panthers’ defense ranks fourth in the league in forcing three-and-out drives, killing the opposition’s momentum. On 70 defensive series in 2022, Carolina has forced 17 three-and-out drives (24.3 percent), trailing only the 49ers, Packers and the Colts.
Negative factors hindering the outcome of ballgames for Carolina, most notable in 2022:
- The Panthers have lost 25 consecutive games in which they have allowed 17-plus points – the longest such streak by any team since the 1990-1994 Seahawks with 40.
- Baker Mayfield has career lows in completion percentage (54.9), touchdown-interception ratio (4-4), and passer rating (71.9) in 2022. His passer rating of 71.9 ranks last in the NFL.
- The Panthers currently rank in the bottom of the league in nearly every offensive category including total offense (32nd), rush offense (26th) and pass offense (29th). Carolina has struggled to sustain drives or push the ball downfield, contributing to the club’s anemic unit.
New Faces in 2022
The Browns agreed to trade quarterback Baker Mayfield to the Panthers for a 2024 conditional draft pick, depending on Mayfield’s playing time in Carolina. Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, joined a quarterback room featuring Sam Darnold and 2022 third -round draft selection Matt Corral. Mayfield and Darnold competed in training camp for the starting role and command of the Panthers’ offense. The Mayfield trade came after Cleveland’s blockbuster deal with the Texans to acquire Deshaun Watson. Mayfield won the starting role and backup Darnold , suffered a high ankle sprain in the final preseason game landing him on injured reserve. Mayfield also suffered a high ankle sprain in Week Five, giving PJ Walker the under-center duties against the defending Super Bowl Champions. Steve Wilks confirmed that Walker will start on Sunday against the Buccaneers.
The Panthers added depth to a variety of spots on the roster with a plethora of offseason acquisitions during free agency including center Bradley Bozeman, wide receiver Rashard Higgins, defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis, linebacker Cory Littleton, linebacker Damien Wilson and safety Xavier Woods. Upgrading the The offensive line became the club’s top priority, as evidenced by a myriad of moves. Bozeman landed in Carolina after he and the Ravens failed to come to terms on an extension and the Panthers snagged tackle Ikem Ekwonu on the first night of the draft. The first five teams in the draft selected defensive tone-setters, giving the Panthers their optimal choice of top tackles on the board. Ekwonu has a violent mentality and bullied defenders at North Carolina State, knocking players backward. He can mirror edge rushers with agility out of his stance and has undergone the learning curve process of acclimating to the pro level. Ekwonu has the capability of becoming a franchise left tackle . Woods, a prototypical free safety and arguably Carolina’s biggest signing, has given Carolina flexibility in the secondary.