It was kind of an unknown as to what could be expected of this Panther’s defense coming into the season. After head coach Matt Rhule spent all seven of the 2020 draft picks on defenders and used his 8th pick overall this season on cornerback Jaycee Horn, it’s about time they reap the benefits.
The Carolina Panthers currently rank 1st in almost every major defensive category. Currently, they are first in total yards allowed, passing yards, rushing yards, points, and third-down percentage.
That is a massive jump from being ranked as a ‘Tier 4’ defense the prior season, according to PFF.com defensive power rankings. A big part of making these gigantic strides is pressure on the quarterback.
The Blue and Black are getting a lot of pressure, and off-season free-agent signing Haason Reddick has been at the forefront of that. Reddick leads the defensive group with seven players who have recorded a sack, leading the bunch at three.
This pressure has given the secondary a chance to settle in nicely as they are not leaned on as heavily to hold coverage for too long, resulting in a lot of sound secondary play.
This week the Panther’s defense will go up against rookie Davis Mills the former top-ranked high school quarterback in the class of 2017. The 22-year-old finished 8-of-18 for 102 yards through the air last week in his debut. He had both a touchdown and an interception in his limited action, with His touchdown coming early in the fourth quarter, when he capped a 16-play, 75-yard drive with a two-yard toss to Brandin Cooks.
That brings me to the primary weapon in this offense, Brandin Cooks. The Texan’s number one receiver had 14 targets for nine receptions more than any player on the team by a long shot. If the Panthers can stop him, there is no reason why this shouldn’t be a blowout, and it will likely fall on the shoulders of Donte Jackson.
The Panther’s offense has been a well-oiled machine to start the season and have an excellent chance to carry that over into Thursday night. Sam Darnold has been a great game manager for this squad, besides a fumbled handoff in week 1 and an odd-looking interception in week 2.
They seem to be relying on wideout DJ Moore as an intermediate pass catcher, targeting him the most on the team. And using Robby Anderson as the deep threat to open up the offense and keep the opposing secondary on its toes.
Christian McCaffrey will play a vital role in this week’s matchup. The star running back has combined for 324 yards and a rushing touchdown, but his pass-catching ability out of the backfield will be critical.
The Texans have yet to face a back like McCaffrey this season. Through the first two weeks, they did not have to deal with any formidable running backs with a real pass-catching threat, and last week, Brown’s Kareem Hunt was used very sparingly.
It will be interesting to see how they respond to the volume of targets number 22 is bound to accumulate. With this game coming on a short week for both the Texans and Panthers, anything can happen, but the Panthers are easily the favorite heading into this one.