Game Overview ::
- Panthers running back Chuba Hubbard returned to limited practice Wednesday after missing Week 8 with an ankle injury.
- Ja’Marr Chase is likely to remain out for the Bengals after avoiding injured reserve with a hip injury; all four cornerbacks to play meaningful snaps this season are currently on the injury report, with Mike Hilton, Chidobie Awuzie, and Tre Flowers held out on Wednesday and Eli Apple returning to a limited practice after missing Week 8.
- The Bengals pass offense should be highly concentrated amongst Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, with the nickel position (Myles Hartfield) the clear path of least resistance away from Jaycee Horn and Donte Jackson.
- This game environment very likely goes as Joe Burrow goes, considering the Panthers are highly unlikely to push the envelope on their own.
How Carolina Will Try To Win ::
It’s remarkable what the departure of Matt Rhule and the insertion of a competent NFL quarterback has done for these Panthers over the previous two games – a convincing 21-0 win over the reeling Buccaneers and an overtime loss to the Falcons mired by kicking miscues. Walker, a previous MVP in the XFL, has provided enough spark to this offense to remove the one-dimensionality shown over the first six games of the season. Look, all the jokes flying around the dark web about the team getting better without Christian McCaffrey are hogwash, this team improved from top to bottom once Rhule left town and Walker entered as the starting quarterback. That said, we should expect the Panthers to run a balanced offense for as long as they are able to do so, with the primary identity of this team stemming from the run game. Their offense has run primarily from 11-personnel over the previous two weeks PRE (post-Rhule era), with DJ Moore and second-year pro Terrace Marshall operating as the only near every-down players. Expect Laviska Shenault and Shi Smith to mix in at wide receiver in 11, with Ian Thomas and Tommy Tremble splitting duties almost down the middle at tight end. Finally, running back Chuba Hubbard returned to a limited practice on Wednesday after missing Week 8, which should force a near timeshare at the position, even considering D’onta Foreman’s breakout performance a week ago – particularly since Foreman mustered a good-not-great 68% snap rate with only Spencer Brown to back him up.
As mentioned above, I expect this backfield to return to a timeshare once Chuba Hubbard returns to the lineup, something that could happen this week with Hubbard back to a limited practice following one missed game. The Panthers are completely comfortable running a run-balanced offense for as long as it is working and/or they are allowed, checking into Week 9 with a 24th-ranked pass rate over expectation value this season. Their 59.07% overall pass rate ranks 19th, while their ridiculously low 49.70% pass rate over the previous three weeks would rank 28th if extrapolated over the entire season. That should give us a projectable range of outcomes of 14-18 running back opportunities for Foreman and 12-16 for Hubbard, assuming Hubbard returns. The matchup on the ground yields a comfy 4.68 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Bengals defense allowing just 20.8 DK points per game to the position.
DJ Moore has experienced a season resurgence with PJ Walker at quarterback, putting up his two best games of the season with Walker over the previous two weeks. He saw target counts of 11 and 10 in those two games, scoring a touchdown in each and breaking 100 yards receiving courtesy of a 62-yard Hail Mary in the final moments of the game last week. From the perspective of fantasy utility, nobody outside of Moore is seeing enough volume on this run-first offense to be a reliable source of fantasy production. That said, second-year pro Terrace Marshall has been elevated to a near every-down wide receiver with the departure of Robbie Anderson earlier this season. Furthermore, he set a season-high with nine targets last week in the back-and-forth affair, meaning the upside is there in the right conditions considering his hefty snap rate. I’ll go out on a limb and say he will have one or two meaningful fantasy games over the rest of the season. Every other pass-catcher on this offense operates in a situational role. The Bengals pass defense is one that has overcome a relative lack of talent to hold opposing wide receivers to just 30.8 DK points per game, which ranks eighth in the league. That has primarily been due to the presence of defensive coordinator Lou Anorumo, whom I consider to be one of the top DCs in the league from both schematic and adaptability perspectives.
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