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Initial Thoughts: Panthers to Ravens

Initial thoughts following the Panthers 13-3 loss to the Ravens.
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The punters were busy today, as the Carolina and Baltimore defenses stifled each other through the majority of the cross-conference affair. In a game that saw a 3-3 tie heading into the fourth quarter, the Panthers held their own against an imposing opponent, but ultimately fell 13-3 after a 4th quarter surge by the Ravens proved too much to overcome. 

As I mentioned in my Keys to the Game article, the Ravens are a team built to thrive in wars of attrition, which is exactly what this game was. The quarterbacks of both teams combined to average less than 6 yards per passing attempt, and the rushing attacks for both teams were generally inefficient. 

Both defenses were more than happy to keep the ball in front of them and let the offenses dink and dunk until an opportunity to make a play or force the punt presented itself.

The big plays were key to the game today, and ultimately the Ravens' 2 interceptions, 4 sacks, and fumble recovery were able to outproduce the Panthers' 1 interception and 3 sacks. 

While there might not have been as many turnovers produced by the Panthers defense, it was certainly a welcome sight to see Bravvion Roy and Yetur Gross-Matos turn in an interception and sack respectively. Neither player has had a major impact on games thus far, so hopefully there is something to build on there. 

The more usual suspects of Brian Burns and Frankie Luvu were also each able to chip in a sack on the day. Burns especially has held his own this season, securing his 8th sack on the season despite teams being able to consistently key in on his talents because of lack of consistent pressure from elsewhere. You can't help but wonder how impressive his numbers would be on a defense that more commonly played in a positive game script that would allow for more pass rushing opportunities.

Beyond the admirable performances from both defenses, it was the staggering 19 combined penalties for 159 yards that kept this game close. Neither team was able to keep their hands clean long enough to build any true momentum throughout the affair. If the Panthers are to sustain any success for the remainder of the season, Steve Wilks will have to make sure the teams' 9 penalty performance is not replicated.

While the defense of the Panthers more than held up their end of the deal against one of the most challenging offensive units in the league, the Panthers offense with Baker Mayfield at the helm was rife with inefficiency and predictability.

Mayfield was actually able to complete 63.3& of his 33 passing attempts on the day, higher his 56.6% he had provided on the season coming into this game. That didn't really mean much though as the Panthers were able to sustain only a single scoring drive on the day, a 32-yard field goal by kicker Eddy Pineiro to tie the game in the 3rd quarter.

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Before the final two drives of the game where the Panthers were finally trailing by multiple scores, not a single receiver had topped 25 yards receiving on the day. It was not until the final drive of desperation where Terrace Marshall Jr. was able to find himself open for a few receptions to push his total to 76 yards on the day, far and away leading the team. The next closest receiver was Shi Smith, who was able to push his total to 26 yards to the day on the same final drive. The team was able to spread the ball around a bit, but ultimately fell victim to taking the exact conservative approach the Ravens were hoping for. 

The Carolina offense leaves today's game with a familiar issue seen with Baker Mayfield under center: the offense cannot afford to be so conservative so often and expect to compete, but when it comes time to open things up Mayfield becomes one of the most mistake prone signal callers in the league. 

Mayfield's pocket presence completely evaporates when plays need to develop and reads are not obvious. This was on full display today on the Panthers two make-or-break drives at the end of the game, each of which ended with an interception. The quarterbacks' feet get happy, and he simply doesn't make proper decisions often enough to sustain more than a scoring drive or two a game.

Mayfield was brought in for a chance to rehab his once-promising career on a team desperate for competent quarterback play, but it is abundantly clear at this point that will not happen. 

While Mayfield performed generally safely enough to likely continue to see some playing time, interim coach Steve Wilks needs to ensure that the quarterback play for the remaining 6 games gives the promising and still developing weapons like Marshall and Smith the best chance to get better every week. Not to mention that DJ Moore, who has been able to sustain 1,000+ yard seasons with subpar quarterback play in past is not being given the opportunity he needs either.

Whether it is Mayfield, Walker, or even Darnold behind center, the goal stemming from this game needs to getting those guys going. An avoid-the-turnover gameplan simply is not enough during a season whose clock is soon to strike midnight. If better days are to come, the infrastructure for that success needs to start today.

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