With Bank of America Stadium littered with Dallas jerseys, the Panthers sent the “road” crowd home happy Sunday as the Cowboys (7-3) held Carolina (1-9) to just two scoring drives in a 33-10 loss.
Head coach Frank Reich — who retook play-calling responsibilities this week from offensive coordinator Thomas Brown — oversaw a unit that produced just 187 net yards, a touchdown and two turnovers.
Quarterback Bryce Young was limited to a 62.9 passer rating, as he threw another home-field pick-6 and fumbled away another possession. The offensive line, which did a nice job run blocking, crumbled against the constant pass-rushing threat of Dallas linebacker Micah Parsons.
It was a tough afternoon for the offense.
Reich acknowledged his past success as a play-caller when he announced his recouping of the play-calling duties on Wednesday. But on Sunday, that past looked dead and buried, as the Carolina attack looked more passive than prolific in another big home defeat.
Here is how the offense graded out:
Reich did a nice job of riding the running game early in the game. Using a mix of 11 and 12 personnel looks, the ground attack got off to a nice start, despite three failed drives in the first half.
In the second half, Reich showed some old-school looks, as the Panthers picked up a fresh set of downs after a pair of under-center runs. With the defense playing well, Reich was able to stay balanced throughout the afternoon, which benefited Young and the group, despite the lack of early scoring.
While the staff has been criticized for its lack of creativity throughout the season, Reich did a nice job of mixing up personnel and formations. He gave the Cowboys some things to think about and broke some previous tendencies. The play-calling wasn’t perfect, but most of the failed plays looked like execution issues for either the offensive line or the playmakers.
However, the Panthers only had two scoring drives on the day. They also only produced one explosive passe. Plus, the group had two turnovers and just 10 points on the day.
Those failures ultimately fall on the play-caller, who took back those duties to bring the most out of the offense. It wasn’t a great output for Reich to come up so short during his return to the headset.
Young had an up-and-down start to Sunday. While he led the Panthers into Dallas territory in two of the first four drives, he also had a trio of misfires and took three sacks. Young completed 5 of 10 passes for 48 yards and passer rating of 63.8. The run game anchored most of the offensive success in the first quarter as Young’s best throw came on a 20-yard toss to tight end Stephen Sullivan.
Young had a rough moment in the third quarter where he badly overthrew wideout Adam Thielen on a crossing route toward the sideline. He later went back to Thielen on a quick throw for a completion and a gain but the wideout fumbled the ball out of bounds behind the first-down marker.
Young kept that drive going after a running into the kicker penalty gave the offense a second chance with a fourth-and-2 opportunity. Young made the most of the look by passing to Thielen for a 16-yard gain. From there, Young finished off a 17-play, 70-yard touchdown drive that took up nearly nine minutes.
Young didn’t follow up his strong play on the touchdown-scoring drive with much vigor. He tossed a pick-6 to Cowboys defensive back Daron Bland on a throw meant for wideout Jonathan Mingo on the follow-up series. After that pick, Young returned to the field to get sacked two more times and fumble away a possession.
Young finished the game with a 62.9 passer rating. He completed 16 of 29 passes (55%) for 123 yards, a touchdown and an interception that turned into a touchdown. He also had a lost fumble.
After struggling on the ground in the previous two games, the Panthers running backs — specifically Chuba Hubbard and Miles Sanders — broke out for some strong runs in the first half. Hubbard and Sanders picked up 72 yards on their first 10 carries. The duo averaged 6.2 yards per carry during the first four drives of the game.
Sanders and Hubbard continued to gain ground in the second half. The Panthers rotated the pair consistently, as they moved downfield.
Sanders finished with 11 carries for 50 rushing yards. Hubbard added 57 rushing yards on 10 totes. They also combined for 17 receiving yards on four total catches.
Wide receivers/Tight ends
Unlike the running backs, the pass-catchers didn’t make many plays early on. While Thielen caught a pair of passes for 19 yards and Sullivan had the explosive gain, the first half was largely forgettable for the Panthers’ playmakers. Mingo was held without a catch in the first half, despite being targeted three times. At least one of those targets ended with a drop.
Young wasn’t particularly accurate on the afternoon, which also hurt his receivers. The quarterback over-threw Thielen and Mingo within the third quarter. DJ Chark, who returned from an elbow injury, wasn’t targeted at all.
Young connected with Thielen for a 16-yard gain on a fourth-and-2 to keep a big third-quarter drive going. Tremble finished off the long third-quarter touchdown drive with a 4-yard catch for the score.
Thielen, as has been the case most weeks, was the team’s leader with eight catches for 74 yards. He was the only receiver with more than two receptions on the day.
The rushing attack got off to a nice start as Hubbard and Sanders found holes through the trenches. Hubbard and Sanders routinely pushed through gaps with a north-to-south approach. However, pass protection struggled in the first half.
Right guard Austin Corbett got banged up in the first quarter but returned to the field on the next drive. Center Bradley Bozeman and left guard Chandler Zavala both struggled mightily inside as the Cowboys moved pass rushers around with stunts and games. Parsons, one of the top talents in the league, had his way with the Carolina front, producing two sacks on the first two series of the game. He finished with three total sacks.
The line continued to do a solid job on the ground throughout the rest of the matchup. But the group also gave up four sacks and five hits after a pair of turnovers put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter.
Young was sacked seven times (for a loss of 46 yards) and hit 10 times overall.
If Reich thought taking over play-calling would help this offense immediately, he was wrong.
The Panthers looked lame throughout various points of the game and every party deserves a bit of blame for the miscues. The offense just isn’t functioning like a complementary or cohesive unit.
In fact, Reich’s time under the headset looked a lot like Brown’s three-game stretch. Maybe the head coach should toss the headset to someone else next week — whether its his choice or not.
OVERALL GRADE: D+