It took until the third quarter, but the Carolina Panthers were finally able to put the Houston Texans away with a couple of scoring drives that ate up over 10 minutes of game time, resulting in a 24-9 Panthers victory.
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Darnold tried to attack the intermediate holes in Houston’s soft zones early in the game before throwing check downs during and after the second quarter. His aversion to pushing the ball down the field was curious given that he regularly had more than three seconds to throw. He finished with an eight-yard average depth of target. He wasn’t helped by his receivers, who dropped four of his passes. Darnold escaped without a turnover in spite of his pair of turnover-worthy plays.
Christian McCaffrey was the engine of the Panthers offense before leaving the contest with a hamstring injury midway through the second quarter. The backups — Chuba Hubbard and Royce Freeman — combined for 69 rushing yards.
|Player||Rush Attempts||Yards||Yards After Contact||Missed Tackles Forced||Explosive Runs|
|Royce Freeman & Chuba Hubbard||16||69||42||2||2|
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Moore broke out in the first quarter, gaining 60% of his yardage. Not only was he the most productive receiver, but he was also essentially the only receiver who impacted the game. Robby Anderson was only targeted twice during his 32 receiving snaps, and only Moore and Terrace Marshall Jr. were targeted more than twice.
|DJ Moore By Quarter||Receiving Snaps||Targets||Yards Per Route Run||15+ Yard Gains|
Each of Carolina’s offensive linemen performed surprisingly poor given the Texans lack of high-caliber pass rushers. Darnold was sacked multiple times, as the lack of run game kept Carolina in more obvious passing situations. Of the 16 pressures the unit allowed, nine came on ‘losses,' meaning a blocker was being beaten by a rusher.
The Panthers' defensive line didn’t need to create many negative plays to stymie the Houston run game, as it only accumulated one tackle for loss. Brian Burns and Haason Reddick accounted for most of the defensive line's pass-rush production, generating a combined 2.5 sacks and five pressures. Frankie Luvu finished with a pair of clean-up pressures that resulted in a sack and QB hit as well.
Shaq Thompson’s role as a do-everything linebacker continues to shine in defensive coordinator Phil Snow’s scheme. Thompson generated two pressures off nine pass-rush opportunities (both schemed up as unblocked rushes), two stops in the run game and a four-yard average depth of tackle. He was only targeted once in 22 coverage snaps, which resulted in a tackle for loss.
Jaycee Horn left Thursday’s game with a foot injury that will probably sideline him for several weeks, but he was only targeted once in his 16 snaps. Sean Chandler was the only Panthers defensive back to allow more than a yard per coverage snap, and the unit only allowed 11 completions for 106 yards total.
Houston's ideal game plan would have been to compete without Davis Mills throwing a pass, and Carolina seemingly acquiesced in the first half. Mills dropped back 13 times in the first half and was unable to move the football until the two-minute drill, where he completed five of six passes for a touchdown to Anthony Miller. He finished with a paltry 168 passing yards from 32 dropbacks.
Houston didn’t have the ball long enough to establish much of anything early in the game, as the Texans RBs only had 10 carries in the first half. The unit generated only 28 yards by the half and 37 by the start of the fourth quarter, ending the game at that mark exactly. David Johnson was the only back to average any yards before contact with his carries. This continues to be the least dynamic backfield in the NFL, as it only forced one missed tackle against Carolina.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Brandin Cooks and Miller accounted for more than half of receiving corps' target share against Carolina, as both were targeted on over 20% of their receiving snaps. It was clear Cooks' targets were schemed up, as he was the only Texans WR who was targeted on a 20-plus-yard pass. He converted the only explosive gain (15+ yards) for the position group.
Houston’s offensive line didn’t see much opportunity to pass protect early. Laremy Tunsil and Marcus Cannon still struggled on the edge throughout the game, ultimately allowing six pressures and a pair of QB hits.
The Texans played nine defensive linemen against Carolina, and eight logged 10 or more pass-rush snaps. As a unit, the best work came on third down, where it accumulated 11 pressures, a sack and three hits on Darnold. Maliek Collins matched his season-long pressure output in this game (four) while Jacob Martin and Jonathan Greenard posted two tackles for loss. The unit finished with 22 pressures Thursday night, making Carolina's offensive line a major concern going forward.
|Texans Pressure By Down||Pass Rush Opportunities||Total Pressures||Sacks||Pass Rush Wins|
Texans LBs Zach Cunningham and Christian Kirksey are allowed to play downhill on any runs in defensive coordinator Lovie Smith’s ‘Tampa 2’ scheme, and they finished with 4 tackles for loss and an average depth of tackle less than five yards. The unit generated eight defensive stops against the run, but the defense doesn’t position the LBs to be playmakers in the passing game. The unit only had four-pass rush opportunities, which produced no pressure, and it combined to allow 71 yards on seven targets.
Houston's scheme is designed to keep defensive backs deeper than the receiver they’re responsible for covering, which makes it can be hard to judge the secondary's success. The Texans DBs were targeted 21 times in coverage, surrendering 191 yards to Darnold and the receiving corps. The secondary did force three incompletions, but the Panthers were responsible for five of its own incompletions because of drops and off-target throws.