Sam Darnold, Panthers Offense Struggle In NFL Loss To Eagles | Charlotte Observer

By Jonathan M. Alexander


The Carolina Panthers are not a team that can afford to turn the ball over.

Their offense isn’t good without Christian McCaffrey. Their defense, while good, can’t carry the team for four quarters. That was evident in Sunday’s 21-18 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Panthers committed three turnovers and had a punt blocked late in the fourth quarter.

The blocked punt, with four minutes left in the game, was the turning point for the Eagles. Philadelphia took over at the Carolina 27-yard line and scored the game-winning touchdown four plays and one minute later on a six-yard zone read run by quarterback Jalen Hurts, who had been held in check until the final quarter. It was the first time Philadelphia had led all game.

Hurts threw for 198 yards, and ran for two touchdowns.

“We should have scored more points in the first half,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said. “When a quarterback gets sacked three, four, five times and is under duress, we just have to do a better job. That wasn’t good enough football right there.”

The Panthers are now 3-2 and can’t afford another loss in what should be their easiest stretch of the regular season. Entering Sunday’s game, the Panthers’ opponents in Weeks 5-9 each had a 1-3 record.

But Carolina has a glaring problem: The offensive line stinks — and that’s putting it nicely. And if they can’t get it fixed, it could be the primary issue that keeps them from the playoffs.

Rhule said it best after the Panthers’ 36-28 loss to the Cowboys last week: “Any time Sam (Darnold) has time, he’s going to make a lot of really good decisions. When he doesn’t have a lot of time, it’s not quite as good.”

That’s been the scouting report on Darnold since his days as the quarterback at USC.

That was clear Sunday against the Eagles. He was pressured all game. And when faced with that pressure, he often threw bad passes and made poor decisions.

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He finished 21 of 37 for 177 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. Darnold had played well in 2021 before Sunday’s game, throwing for five touchdowns to three interceptions in the first four games. He also ran for five touchdowns.

But his performance against the Eagles was similar to his time in New York — a lot of pressure and a lot of bad mistakes.

“I think for me, I just got to keep staying patient,” Darnold said. “I think that’s the biggest thing, is pressing too much.

“When I go out there, I’ve got to understand, let the game come to me.”

After trailing by three points with 2:42 left in Sunday’s game, Darnold had a chance to lead the Panthers on a game-winning touchdown drive. He threw a strike to Robby Anderson — a 25-yard pass up the middle — for a first down that got the Panthers to the Eagles’ 45-yard line.

But two plays later, on first-and-20 and after an offensive holding penalty by right guard John Miller, Darnold threw an interception while trying to force a pass to Anderson on a comeback route.

While that play was on Darnold, other mistakes such as the holding penalty that got the Panthers in that situation, can be attributed to the offensive line. Carolina’s line allowed eight quarterback hits and gave up three sacks. This was one week after allowing 11 quarterback hits against the Cowboys.

The offensive line alone was also called for five penalties for 40 yards Sunday. Two were false starts by Taylor Moton, who was playing left tackle for Cameron Erving; a holding penalty by Miller; a holding penalty by rookie Brady Christensen, who was making his first career start at right tackle; and a holding penalty by center Matt Paradis.

“We can’t go out there and make mistakes, make penalties, and I can’t go out there and turn the ball over and expect to win,” Darnold said.

The Panthers are 0-2 when Darnold turns the ball over more than once.

Deep plays have yet to materialize for players like Anderson. Darnold underthrew him on a deep pass in the third quarter. And Anderson was visibly frustrated after the QB didn’t see him open on a corner route in the fourth quarter. DJ Moore put his arm around Anderson on the sideline, as if to assure him that those moments would come.

His frustrations boiled over after Darnold’s third interception. Fox cameras caught him yelling at someone after the play.

Robby Anderson is visibly upset on the Panthers sideline right now.

— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) October 10, 2021

“I’m going to keep that between Robby and everyone that was involved,” Darnold said.

But Darnold, with the exception of that final interception, didn’t have time to see him to make those moments happen Sunday. The Eagles’ pressure forced him to scramble out of the pocket.

The Panthers’ front office, with all 13 of their trades, still haven’t been able to acquire an offensive lineman. They’ve searched, but few teams are willing to part ways with players up front.

And there’s more that’s making matters worse. The Panthers are also dealing with injuries to the line. Two of their offensive line starters — Cameron Erving and Pat Elflein — were out Sunday. And McCaffrey was out again for the second consecutive game with a strained hamstring.

Chuba Hubbard played well in his absence. He had 101 yards rushing on 24 carries, but Darnold was just under too much pressure.

The turnovers were ultimately what led to the Panthers’ demise. At halftime, the Panthers led 15-6. Their defense was dominant for most of the game. They forced two turnovers — both by Donte Jackson (one forced fumble, one interception) — and covered up many of the offensive mistakes through three quarters.

But when they needed to hold the Eagles to a field goal after the blocked punt in the fourth quarter, they couldn’t do it.

“It was a momentum changer,” Panthers linebacker Haason Reddick said of the blocked punt. “It still doesn’t matter. Defense has to go out there. If it’s a short field, keep them to three points at the max. ... I’ve got so many emotions, I don’t even remember what happened after the blocked punt.”

What happened was Hurts hit tight end Dallas Goedert for a 20-yard gain, setting up the QB’s six-yard rushing touchdown. After the touchdown, Hurts did the Superman celebration Cam Newton made famous for nine years in Carolina.

Reddick is correct. The defense has to hold the Eagles to a field goal there, but it’s difficult to ask the unit to do it the entire game.

Darnold’s first interception came with 9:15 left in the first quarter, with the Panthers pinned at their own 6-yard line after a false start call on offensive lineman Taylor Moton. The Eagles got pressure up the middle, and Darnold threw a pass intended for Moore into double coverage. The pass was picked off by Eagles cornerback Darius Slay.

His second interception, which came in the third quarter, was also by Slay, on a pass that was thrown behind Moore. Darnold was also pressured there.

The Carolina offensive line is a problem. And if they can’t protect Darnold, the Panthers will remain in trouble.

Carolina Panthers 2021 schedule: upcoming games

  • Oct. 17: vs. Minnesota, 1 p.m. (FOX)
  • Oct. 24: at NY Giants, 1 p.m. (FOX)
  • Oct. 31: at Atlanta, 1 p.m. (FOX)
  • Nov. 7. vs. New England, 1 p.m. (CBS)
  • Nov. 14. at Arizona, 4:05 p.m. (FOX)
  • Nov. 21: vs. Washington, 1 p.m. (FOX)
  • Nov. 28: at Miami, 1 p.m. (FOX)
  • Dec. 12: vs Atlanta, 1 p.m. (FOX)
  • Dec. 18/19: at Buffalo, kickoff TDB (TV TBD)
  • Dec. 26: vs Tampa Bay, 1 p.m. (FOX)
  • Jan. 2: at New Orleans, 1 p.m. (FOX)
  • Jan. 9: at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m. (FOX)

This story was originally published October 10, 2021 4:26 PM.

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