WEEK 3 PREVIEW: Carolina Panthers vs Los Angeles Chargers
Carolina (0-2) @ Los Angeles (1-1)
SoFi Stadium - Los Angeles, CA
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. EST
Spread: Chargers -6.5
After an 0-2 start, Panthers fans all over are starting to feel like the season is already slipping away and with star running back Christian McCaffrey (ankle) out for at least three weeks, it doesn't make things any easier. Carolina may have their best shot at a win this week as they travel to Los Angeles to take on the Chargers who will be led by rookie quarterback Justin Herbert. Snagging a road win in McCaffrey's absence will give this team some confidence moving forward and avoid the dreaded 0-3 start to the season.
What to expect: Panthers Offense
With Christian McCaffrey out, many outsiders think the Panthers offense is going to look completely different - it won't. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady will still call the same plays, the same balance of pass/run and will get the ball in the hands of Mike Davis, who had 8 receptions for 74 yards with six of those catches coming in the 4th quarter alone. While Davis may not be as electric as McCaffrey, he stills brings a lot to the table.
Last week's loss to Tampa Bay was ugly all the way around, but especially offensively. Four turnovers plus a turnover on downs is not going to help you win games and it cost the Panthers last week. Teddy Bridgewater must ensure that he takes care of the football and plays a clean game. Some quick, underneath passes early on may be the best way to get him going and feeling comfortable after being under constant duress vs the Bucs.
What to expect: Chargers Defense
Joey Bosa is the focal point of the Charger defense and is someone that Panthers offensive line has to account for on every single play. Justin Jones, Linval Joseph, and Melvin Ingram III round out a fairly experienced defensive line that is looking to have more success in stopping the run. Through the first two games of the season, the Chargers are allowing 123.5 yards per game on the ground which is a tad high for this unit. Rookie linebacker Kenneth Murray will play a big role in this defense taking the next step, but they need more out of Kyzir White and Denzel Perryman.
For not having Derwin James (meniscus), the Chargers backend is holding their own. Guys like Chris Harris Jr. and Nasir Adderly play a big part in that, but this secondary will be challenged this week trying to stop the Panthers receiving corps which is one of the fastest receiver groups in the NFL.
What to expect: Panthers defense
Carolina has to figure out their pass rush, flat out. Two weeks into the season, yet no sacks have been produced. Attribute it to chemistry, solid opposing offensive lines, youth, whatever you want. The bottom line is, the pressure has to improve. This young and inexperienced secondary doesn't stand a chance if the guys in the front seven aren't effecting the pocket. Getting Kawann Short back would certainly help, but I don't know if that solves the problem.
We've seen this defense play well in spurts, but they have to string together some consistency and eliminate the big, explosive plays. With the Chargers starting a rookie at quarterback, they have to make his life miserable and force him to make tough decisions and throw the ball into tight areas. Again, this all stems from creating pressure and Panthers defensive coordinator Phil Snow needs to bring a lot of it.
What to expect: Chargers offense
Herbert lit it up in his NFL debut last week and almost led the Chargers to an upset win over the Chiefs. With that said, can he follow that performance up now that there is game tape on him? He is surrounded with a handful of weapons including veteran wide receiver and Greensboro, NC native Keenan Allen and versatile running back Austin Ekeler. These two guys alone will draw a lot of attention from the Carolina defense, but tight end Hunter Henry is also going to be a challenge in the middle of the field.
Key players to watch (LAC): QB's are excluded
Offense: RB Austin Ekeler, WR Keenan Allen, TE Hunter Henry
Defense: DE Joey Bosa, LB Kenneth Murray, CB Chris Harris Jr.
Prediction: Panthers 23-20
For two weeks in a row, we've seen the Panthers battle all the way down to the latter half of the fourth quarter. There is a lot of fight with this team and even without McCaffrey, I think this is where Carolina picks up their first win of the season, albeit a close one.
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