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Inside the Numbers: Panthers at Texans Game Preview

Breaking down the Panthers' week three matchup with the Texans.

Thursday Night Football in week three will feature the Carolina Panthers (2-0) at the Houston Texans (1-1). Through the first couple of weeks of the season, the Panthers have been one of the NFL's biggest surprises. Of course, the folks that follow the Panthers closely knew this team's potential but now, the rest of the league has taken notice. 

Carolina is coming off an impressive 26-7 win over the Saints while the Texans recently lost to the Cleveland Browns in a game where starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor injured his hamstring. Rookie Davis Mills is expected to get the start for Houston on Thursday night. So with that said, what should we expect when these two clash on the field? Let's break it down, shall we?

When the Panthers have the ball:

Panthers OffenseStatsTexans Defense

382.0 (14th)

Yards Per Game/Allowed

375.0 (17th)

100.0 (21st)

Rushing Yards Per Game/Allowed

116.0 (16th)

3.33 (28th)

Rushing Yards Per Attempt/Allowed

4.64 (22nd)

282.0 (10th)

Passing Yards Per Game/Allowed

259.0 (18th)

3 (T-8th)

Sacks Allowed/Sacks

3 (T-20th)

41.4 (T-14th)

Third Down Efficiency

35.0 (9th)

22.5 (T-18th)

Points Per Game/Allowed

26.0 (20th)

We would be kidding ourselves if we said the Panthers' offense has been living up to expectations. Don't get me wrong, they have shown some flashes but consistency has been the biggest issue. Joe Brady's unit has done a good job of starting fast but the 2nd half has been a bit of a sore spot through two games. In the first two games, Carolina has only scored a grand total of 12 points in the 2nd half. Of course, when the defense plays at an extremely high level as it has, the offensive issues aren't as glaring. At some point, the defense is going to have a rough night and the offense is going to have to come through. 

Matt Rhule knows this is an area that needs to be addressed.

"We have to be better obviously but I'm so focused on this week and just kind of moving ahead. It's unique, I told the guys I woke up today it's Tuesday but it's also Friday. It's Tuesday after a game but it's Friday before a game. I think when we go back and look at the times where we don't have success on offense or defense, for us it's all about our execution, our assignments. We're a team that doesn't want to have a ton of "my bads". We just want to go out there and everyone does their job and understands we control how we play."

As far as the game is concerned, this seems like a really good week to get the running game going. Christian McCaffrey has 59 touches so far this season which is a tad high. Getting Royce Freeman and rookie Chuba Hubbard more involved in the offense will take some hits off of McCaffrey and this is a great opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, the Panthers' offensive line is a little banged up with left guard Pat Elflein (hamstring) being recently placed on IR while Cameron Erving is dealing with a knee injury, however, he is expected to play. 

If there is one area in particular where the Panthers want to continue to make strides it is in the red zone. This was a problem for Carolina a year ago and some of those very same issues have popped up again in 2021. Running the football in the red zone with success is going to be a major key in this game. The strength of the Texans' defense, in my opinion, is their secondary. They have some veteran guys in the back end that have played a ton of football in the NFL such as Justin Reid, Vernon Hargreaves III, Eric Murray, and Terrance Mitchell. When the field shrinks, Carolina is going to have a better chance of scoring by putting the ball on the ground rather than through the air. This means guys like Dennis Daley, John Miller, and Matt Paradis are going to have to bring their best. 

When the Texans have the ball:

Texans OffenseStatsPanthers Defense

375.5 (17th)

Yards Per Game/Allowed

190.0 (1st)

121.0 (11th)

Rushing Yards Per Game/Allowed

46.5 (1st)

3.51 (25th)

Rushing Yards Per Attempt/Allowed

2.74 (1st)

254.5 (13th)

Passing Yards Per Game/Allowed

143.5 (1st)

2 (T-2nd)

Sacks/Sacks Allowed

10 (1st)

57.1 (2nd)

Third Down Efficiency

25.0 (1st)

29 (T-9th)

Points Per Game/Allowed

10.5 (1st)

You almost feel bad for Davis Mills. You get a chance to start a game in the NFL as a rookie and your first start is against this Carolina defense that ranks atop the league in nearly every statistical category. 

Using week one as a reference point, defensive coordinator Phil Snow threw a ton at Jets rookie quarterback Zach Wilson. He made a handful of nice throws but he was very uncomfortable. As Brian Burns said following the game, the game plan going in was to "make his first game hell." Their mission was achieved by sacking him six times while also recording 10 QB hits. This past week, the Panthers registered four sacks and 11 QB hits on Saints QB Jameis Winston. 

Houston's offensive line has done a really good job of protecting the quarterback thus far but some of that has to do with play designs that get the ball out quickly. Fortunately for Davis Mills, he has a full quartet of running backs that can take some of the pressure off of him. Whether it be Mark Ingram II, David Johnson, Phillip Lindsay, or Rex Burkhead, Houston has plenty of options in the running game. 

I would assume that Houston's game plan would be to establish the run game and maybe even run those guys to death because they can afford to. When you have four backs that can be rotated into the game, you don't have to worry about anyone getting worn out. Not to mention, I don't think the Texans are too interested in letting Brian Burns and Haason Reddick tee off on their tackles and get pressure in the pocket. They'll continue to try and get the ball out quick in the passing game to avoid Mills from taking several big hits. 

With very limited tape on Davis Mills, I would expect Phil Snow to do a lot of what he did in the season opener against the New York Jets and their rookie quarterback. They'll give him several different looks, line guys up in several different spots, disguise their blitzes really well, and maybe even load the box up daring Houston to put the ball in the air. 

I'll release my score prediction for this matchup later today along with the rest of our staff here at All Panthers on Sports Illustrated.

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