The Panthers dominated the Saints en route to a 2-0 record. Here is a recap of what went right, and there was an awful lot of "right", and what went wrong.
I'd like to start off by saying the best part of the day may have been when New Orleans decided to kneel on the ball to finish the game, rather than run another play to try to create some form of positive yardage to salvage what was arguably their worst game in a long time. We've all heard of victory formation, but what New Orleans did was "defeat formation", and Panthers fans were all for it.
As I said, there is a lot of "good" to report. When the final score and the tally of first downs are nearly identical, it's safe to say that's a stellar performance. Carolina won the game 26-7 and they won the first down battle by a similar margin, 28-6. New Orleans could only muster 128 total yards of offense (80 net passing yards and 48 rushing yards).
Some notable stats to share that may or may not surprise you
1. Carolina is allowing 190.0 yards of offense per game - tops in the NFL. Last year Carolina allowed 360.1 yards per game (17th in the league).
2. The defense is allowing 10.5 points per game, also tops in the league. Last year that number was 25.1.
3. Opponents are converting only 25% of their third down plays. This is also tops in the league. Last year Carolina allowed a third-down conversion 49.25% of the time, 31st in the league. A tremendous difference in one year.
4. Carolina has 10 sacks in two games (5.0 per game average) which is the most in the league. Last year they averaged 1.8 sacks per game.
5. Carolina and Buffalo are the only two teams who have not allowed a point in the first half this season.
The offense is playing well but they are still not performing at a high level on third down. They are averaging 14.5 third downs per game with 6.0 converted third downs per game (41.3%, 14th in the league) compared to 38.9% in 2020. It is good to see improvement in this area but there is still room to grow and get better.
The Panthers' red zone offense is seeing 3.5 red zone appearances per game, scoring on 1.5 of those chances, or 42.8% which is lower than last year (50.8%). The defense is taking care of business which is masking the struggles of the offense, particularly in the red zone. The level of potential for this team could be much higher if their scoring efficiency can improve.
There is not a lot of ugly, but if one area stands out, it's the kicking game. Zane Gonzalez was brought in mid-week replacing the departed Ryan Santoso. In Gonzalez's five-year career he has a paltry 61% success rate on field goals 40 yards or more. That's not good by any stretch of the imagination. He was 2-for-3 on field goals including a blocked attempt of 55 yards, and he missed an extra point. At this point, it's unclear how long Gonzalez will remain with the team.
Through two games the good far outweighs the bad. Carolina is on a mission this year led by their defense and timely success from their star-studded offensive cast. If the defense continues to play at a high level and the offense improves on their efficiency, this will be a tough team to beat. The next step on the road to relevance around the league is a Thursday night game at Houston where Carolina is a 7-point favorite against a team that lost their starting quarterback to a hamstring injury.