It was a rough start to the 2019 season for the Carolina Panthers. Losses to the LA Rams and Tampa Bay Bucs meant an 0-2 start and stiff questions inevitably being asked about the future of head coach Ron Rivera and his support staff.
However, seemingly worse news was still to come when it was confirmed starting QB Cam Newton would fancy a lengthy spell on the sidelines. His niggling foot injury paved the way for backup QB Kyle Allen to lead the Panthers offence.
What seemed another issue to further compound the early season struggles, in fact had the complete opposite effect as the Panthers came to life entering week 3.
Not your usual backup QB
The first test Allen faced was the uncertain Arizona Cardinals. Despite the circumstances and storm clouds gathering in Charlotte, the Panthers were favoured to leave the desert with a W. This is exactly what happened. Led by a highly impressive 4 TD passes from Allen and a 76-yard TD run from Christian McCaffrey, they moved to 1-2 on the year.
Onto week 4, it was another road trip. A much tougher test awaited Carolina and Kyle Allen, as they faced off against the Houston Texans and their imposing defence. He was made to play a much safer game in this contest and certainly delivered upon this premise. Sure, he failed to pass for a single TD but crucially, he did not turn the ball over in this tight affair.
The defence of the Panthers played a stunner instead, it was this unit that collectively deserved a game ball in securing the turnaround to a 2-2 record. A defensive masterclass led to a 16-10 win.
It’s been confirmed Kyle Allen will start at QB once more in week 5, against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Such is the extent of Newton’s setback, he’s already being considered a doubt for Carolina’s trip to London in week 6. They get a quick chance to secure a revenge win over the Bucs at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
No question this team is bouncing back as they look to right the wrongs of the opening two weeks. Based purely on the evidence of the last couple of games, it seems all this team was missing was a fully healthy signal caller. In Kyle Allen’s last three starts, the Panthers are 3-0. Compare this to Newton and his lingering foot issue, they have lost 8 straight games.
Hypothetically, if Allen keeps this streak going, we may just be seeing the future starting QB of the Carolina Panthers. Head coach Ron Rivera has been quick however to squash this scenario. When quizzed by reporters after the win over Arizona if it’s “automatic” that Newton will start when healthy, this was met with an emphatic yes. So that settles that debate.
Battle of the Big Cats
When the Jaguars arrive in town to tackle the Panthers, it’ll be Kyle Allen’s first start at the Bank of America Stadium this season. For sure, the noisy home crowd will be right behind him on every snap and give him the support he should expect.
These two sides feature many similarities, of course the most obvious being forced to play their backup QBs from early season. This has led to similar operating offences; Carolina are averaging 23.75 points a game, with Jacksonville averaging just short of this, at exactly 21 points. Both also sit on 2-2 records having won their previous two games.
Therefore, any kind of edge in this game will come from the defensive side of the ball. With this in mind, it’s certainly fair to favour the Panthers to run away as winners and move to 3-2 on the year. Having now notched up 18 sacks, they are tied for the league lead with the New England Patriots, who have played possibly the easiest four game stretch in the league’s history.
If this isn’t flashy enough for the Panthers D, consider this. They have the outright lead in allowing the average fewest passing yards per game. Figures like this should scare any opposing offence. With rookie QB Gardner Minshew next in line to face this fierce unit, he will have to play his career best game to have any hope of coordinating a win.
Revenge in London
A highly anticipated intra-division clash will play out in front of a hungry UK crowd. This will be the first time in franchise history the Carolina Panthers have played overseas, they can’t afford to let the occasion get the better of them. Having fallen to the Bucs back in week 2, revenge should be at the forefront of all minds.
The Panthers weren’t exactly outclassed in this previous match-up. Were it not for a bundled play call on 4th and 1 at the goal-line, it may well have been a different outcome. Ultimately, this is all if’s and but’s for Carolina, the best way to respond to dropping this game is winning the rematch.
The Bucs, having played in London before, do not in fact have history on their side. On their previous two trips across the pond, they have failed to win. Therefore, both sides are coming into this contest with a monkey on their backs.
Any talk of the Carolina Panthers lately needs to include their rookie kicker Joey Slye. Ever since being thrust into action since regular kicker Graham Gano was placed on season ending IR, Slye has been near perfect. The only blotch on his record is missing just the one field goal in week 1.
Having now kicked 10 FGs, including 4 from 50+ yards, he’s now becoming quite the adored character within fantasy circles. He leads all kickers in fantasy points which makes him a must own in all leagues.
Aged just 23, Joey Slye is certainly valuable asset for the Carolina Panthers special teams.
Bounce-back, chase playoffs
Before any talk of playoff football can begin, the Panthers have got to start chalking up wins. Whether it’s Kyle Allen or Cam Newton leading the way, this is a team that has many pieces of the puzzle in place. They have arguably the best running back in the league in Christian McCaffrey, who scores a TD near enough every game, be it on the ground or in the air. The defensive unit features possibly the best middle linebacker in the NFL, namely Luke Kuechly.
Let’s not lose sight of the fact this team went 15-1 in the 2015 season, only to lose out to the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. The talent and know how is in the building. A Super Bowl run is a bridge too far this year, but this is a playoff worthy roster. Cut the mistakes and mishaps, get the starting QB healthy and a possible return to the NFC’s elite may not be all that far away.