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Know Your Enemy: Carolina Panthers

Know Your Enemy continues into the dirty south with the NFC South. First up will be the Carolina Panthers who went 5-11 in 2019 (2-6 at home, 3-5 on the road). This team underwent a massive overhaul with a coaching change mid-season. Out is long-time Panther coach Riverboat Ron Rivera. The new coach is a successful college coach taking over bad teams in Matt Rhule (Temple/Baylor). Rhule hired highly successful passing game guru Joe Brady from LSU to be the OC and Phil Snow to be the DC to run a 3-4 type defense. The Panthers made a big change at QB dumping the injured Cam Newton (Patriots/Kyle Allen (Washington Football Team) and signing Teddy Bridgewater (former Viking/Saint).

Strengths

Pass Rush

Panthers pass rush is pretty young but should be strong. Brian Burns moves to OLB after a solid 7.5 sack rookie year. Kawaan Short returns from injury to lead the pass rush from the interior defensive line. Nose tackle Derrick Brown was drafted in the top 10 in Round 1 to bolster that line. Brown is more of a run stuffer but has some athletic pass rush potential from Auburn.

The Panthers doubled down and took Penn State stand-out DE Yetur Gross-Matos in Round 2. Matos is hot and cold but produced well for the Nittany Lions. Stephen Weatherly is a solid DE signed from the Vikings and 2018 4th round Marquise Haynes should get some playing time. Zach Kerr is a veteran back-up but the DT depth lacks. The Panthers have a completely new look for DC Phil Snow but the talent is there up front.

Run Game

Christian McCaffery is the Carolina Panthers offense. He got a huge deal (16.5 per) this offseason after rushing for 1,387 yards at 4.8 YPC with 15 TDs. McCaffery also had 1,005 yards receiving on 142 targets and 4 more TDs. The man does everything and that is an amazing season for a RB on a bad team. The backups behind McCaffery are awful so Panthers pray to moon jesus he stays healthy.

The run blocking will need some work. Russell Okung (solid vet but injured in 2019) and Taylor Moton (17th ranked out of 118) should be good book-end tackles. Center Matt Paradis and guard John Miller are veterans but below average players. Michael Schofield was above average and will be taking over for Trai Tuner at RG. Tuner was traded to Chargers for Okung this past offseason. Dennis Daley is a young guard that provides depth. The Panthers have enough talent to let McCaffery work his magic.

Weaknesses

Passing Game

New QB Teddy Bridgewater has a lot to prove. He did have success as a game manager with the Saints and Vikings but he will have to do much more than that for Carolina. Will Grier is the backup and looked bad as a rookie. Panthers need Bridgewater healthy which has been an issue for him too.

Teddy B will have some weapons in McCaffery and DJ Moore (1,175 yard and 4 TDs). Curtis Samuel needs to take a step forward (627 yards and 6 TDs) and the Panthers added speedy former Jet Robbie Anderson in free agency. Bridgewater will need to improve his deep ball, but the underneath stuff with YAC should be there for him in 2020. Ian Thomas (136 yards 1 TD) will need a big 3rd year at tight end after Greg Olsen left for in free agency. The depth lacks at WR and TE too.

Secondary

The Panthers lost number 1 CB James Bradberry in free agency to the Giants. Donte Jackson is a 2nd round pick but had a bad year in 2019. Eli Apple struggled with the Giants and Saints but will be CB 2 for the Panthers. Rookie 4th round pick Troy Pride and Corn Elder is poor depth.

Justin Burris is an above average safety and Tre Boston is good in coverage but terrible in run defense at safety. Jeremy Chinn was drafted in Round 2 out of Southern Illinois to bolster the safety talent. The Panthers have CB issues but solid safeties.

Linebacker

Stud Luke Kuechly retired due to concussions this offseason. Veteran Shaq Thompson is a good LB and Tahir Whitehead is a former Lion/Raider average vet LB.  However, both those LBs move to ILB in a 3-4. Marquise Haynes and Christian Miller are 4th round picks in year 3 and year 2 that will need to step up their game in run and pass defense. The Panthers will miss Kuechly very much but the new defensive system gives them a chance for success.

Overall

Carolina hosts Chicago in Week 6 and Detroit in Week 11. The Panthers travel to Minnesota in Week 12 and to Green Bay in Week 16. This is a completely different Carolina team than last year that played Green Bay close. Unsure if the changes improved them too much and a new coach will be tough learning curve under COVID rules. All four North teams should beat Carolina unless they can’t stop McCaffery and give up too much pressure. The Panthers will steal a few wins in 2020 but 6-8 wins only is their likely ceiling.