Game Overview ::
- Three defensive starters missed practice on Wednesday for the Panthers, who also have the dreaded flu sweeping through their locker room. Quarterback P.J. Walker also missed Wednesday’s practice with an ankle injury.
- Mark Andrews was initially reported to have missed practice on Wednesday, but it has since been changed to a limited session as he works his way back from a couple of lost games due to various injuries.
- The Ravens are pretty easy to break down – Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews and then everyone else, including four players likely to be involved in the backfield and no pass-catcher outside Andrews a lock to see more than 60-70% of the offensive snaps.
How Carolina Will Try To Win ::
First of all, I don’t necessarily think it’s right to say “the Panthers are trying to win games,” as it’s much more pertinent to say “the Panthers are trying to figure out what they have that can pair well with future top picks in the NFL draft for the next three to five years.” The revolving door at quarterback indicates they haven’t yet found that piece at that position, they recently dealt away Christian McCaffrey so they’re running a combination of D’onta Foreman, Chuba Hubbard, and Raheem Blackshear in the backfield, and their pass-catching corps consists of D.J. Moore and four youngsters in Terrace Marshall, Shi Smith, Laviska Shenault, and tight end Tommy Tremble. Basically, they have some pieces they like up front on defense, have a great secondary, and not much of anything else. The rest of the season is likely their litmus test for what fits moving forward. Carolina has been forced into the ninth-fastest pace of play in the second half this season through routinely negative game scripts but would prefer to keep things slow and on the ground. Their 28th-ranked pass rate over expectation value indicates that even their modest 54.84% overall pass rate might be higher than they would otherwise like, which isn’t likely to change much against the Ravens – an opponent that should control the game environment with their defense and ground attack. That puts a relative ceiling on the number of total offensive plays expected from this game environment, and a cap on most of the offensive skill position players on the Panthers as well.
Christian McCaffrey was dealt following the team’s Week 6 game, leaving Foreman, Hubbard, and Blackshear to handle backfield duties over the previous four games. Hubbard missed two of those games, which provided the opportunity for Foreman to stamp his mark as the clear lead rusher, which he has yet to relinquish. That said, Foreman’s utilization has proven to be entirely tied to game flow as he played 68% of the offensive snaps in the overtime loss to the Falcons in Week 8 and in the 25-15 win over the same Falcons in Week 10 but dipped to 43% in a blowout loss to the Bengals in Week 9 and started the post-CMC stretch with a 54% snap rate in the surprise drubbing of the Buccaneers. The Panthers want to see what they have in Chuba Hubbard and Raheem Blackshear in blowouts in either direction while riding their best rusher in Foreman in games that remain close. The small sample size alert is in full effect with that analysis, but that’s what makes the most sense to me considering the current state of the team. As such, it is foolish to immediately pencil Foreman in for 65-70% of the offensive snaps and backfield opportunities in a game they are currently listed as 13-point dogs. The pure rushing matchup yields an above average 4.615 net-adjusted line yards metric against a Baltimore defense that has lost its top two nose tackles that started last season (lost longtime staple Brandon Williams via release and lost Michael Pierce to season-ending injury early in the season).
The Panthers pass offense is relatively concentrated amongst its top two wide receivers in D.J. Moore and Terrace Marshall, with Shi Smith and Laviska Shenault splitting the remaining WR3 role and pass-catching youngster tight end Tommy Tremble splitting time with blocking tight end Ian Thomas. The Panthers utilization of 21-personnel has been all over the map this season, with fullback Giavanni Ricci seeing everything from 9% of the offensive snaps to 51% of the offensive snaps earlier in the season. That leaves a lot of uncertainty behind Moore and Marshall regarding the snap rate expectation of the secondary pass-catchers in this offense, not to mention the poor play from the quarterback position for the duration of the season. In all, your guess is as good as mine as far as what to expect behind the top two, and even the top two aren’t locks to see consistent usage or volume. One thing is for certain – all players on this pass offense are highly unlikely to burn you for not playing them.