The Carolina Panthers face the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs who return a large portion of their high-octane offense and even managed to add even more talent with Le’Veon Bell. Going into Arrowhead Stadium, the 3-5 Panthers need all hands on deck if they have hopes to shock the football world.
Injuries and Covid-19 has depleted the Panthers, namely the secondary, but they get a boost this week with the return of Rasul Douglas. Before being placed on Covid/reserve shortly before the Panthers Week 7 loss to the Saints, Douglas was leading the team with 6 pass deflections and his presence in the secondary was sorely missed. The Saints managed to avoid punting the entire game and the Falcons super receiver Julio Jones had 85 receiving yards in the first quarter alone. Rookie defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos has been designated to return from IR while starting safety Juston Burris remains on IR with a rib injury. The Panthers other starting cornerback Donte Jackson has struggled with a nagging turf toe injury for much of the season and had to leave the Falcons game early.
Jackson spoke with media on Wednesday where he shared that he spent last weekend meeting with toe specialists and received acupuncture. He stated that the toe “feels good”, and for the Panthers sake, they’d better hope that Jackson will be able to play the entire game against the Chiefs’ reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes is leading the league in passing and the Chiefs are second in the NFL in scoring.
Per usual, a statistic to watch this week will be third down efficiency. Carolina’s defense has struggled to get off the field and rank next to last in third down defense while the Chiefs are tied for third in third down efficiency. When preparing for the Chiefs, Panthers defensive end Brian Burns said the key is stay even keel; not too high, not too low. Burns says that a player of Mahomes’ caliber is guaranteed to make a play at some point; you just have to be ready to bounce back. Staying gap disciplined will be key for a defense that allowed the Falcons Matt Ryan to become a mobile quarterback.
For what its worth, Carolina’s offense has been able to keep the team within striking distance when the defense struggled. However, the team has not fared well in closing out or extending games in their final possessions. The last two games ended with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater throwing an interception and taking a third down sack that took the Panthers out of comfortable field goal range. When it down to the Panthers discussing the areas that they need to focus on to get better, Bridgewater says those discussions are kept “in-house”.
One way that the Panthers will improve for Sunday’s game will be if all-everything running back Christian McCaffrey will be active. McCaffrey is poised to return after going down in Week Two with a high ankle sprain. McCaffrey has “looked like Christian McCaffrey” in the words of offensive coordinator Joe Brady – which is exactly what the Panther faithful want to hear. McCaffrey’s status for Sunday’s game has not been made officially but all signs point to him being able to go.
On Thursday the Chiefs closed down their facility and operated under the NFL’s Intensive Covid Protocol after a staff member tested positive. Later, the team placed defensive tackle Chris Jones on the Covid/reserve list. The game is still scheduled for Sunday.