Going into Sunday’s primetime matchup in Los Angeles, both the Los Angeles Chargers and Carolina Panthers were looking to establish their team’s respective identities. The Chargers were looking to settle in rookie signal-caller Justin Herbert after losing their original starter Tyrod Taylor to a freak medical injury that looks to be sidelining him indefinitely. With the Panthers, first-year head coach Matt Rhule and his new coaching staff entered the game hoping to ignite a spark on their squad’s defensive unit, a unit that had lacked cohesion and, to put it in layman’s terms, underperformed in the weeks prior.
Both teams performed decently well in Sunday’s matchup. However, the Panthers and Rhule were able to play a more all-around complete game, with the Panthers defensive unit finally flashing sparks of promise early and often.
The impressive defensive showing by Carolina resulted in them walking away with a 21-16 victory, their first of the year. This article will focus on takeaways from the Panthers Week 3 matchup versus the Chargers.
Carolina Panthers Week 3 Takeaways
Mike Davis and Reggie Bonnafon Keep the Panthers Run Game Alive
After losing star running back Christian McCaffrey to a high-ankle sprain during the final seconds of the Carolina Panthers Week 2 matchup versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it remained unclear to many as to how the team’s ground game would fair in his absence. Considering their performance on Sunday, the Panthers should be able to rest a little better knowing that part of their offense looks to be in safe hands.
After being signed by Carolina in late 2019, not much was immediately expected of Mike Davis. Behind an All-Pro like Christian McCaffrey, Davis was expected to come in and take the occasional carry, in order to provide some much needed rest for the Panthers lead running back. But, due to McCaffrey’s injury, the Panthers placed a lot of weight on Davis’ shoulders in Week 3 and he performed incredibly. Davis finished the game with 91 yards total, with 14 rushing attempts and eight receptions. Davis also finished with one touchdown, his first since 2018.
Second-year man Reggie Bonnafon also made his impact felt in Sunday’s win versus the Chargers. Bonnafon finished with 16 yards on two carries. While that may not seem like a lot, Bonnafon’s carries came at a good time, allowing him to help the Panthers secure key first downs in short yardage situations.
Panthers Fans Get a Fresh Look at Curtis Samuel
The Panthers also decided to experiment a little in the absence of McCaffrey by placing wideout Curtis Samuel in the backfield. Samuel doubled as a wide receiver and running back during his college days at Ohio State, so this didn’t come as a shock to many people.
All in all, the Panthers running back room proved to themselves and the world on Sunday that they can handle McCaffrey’s workload while he recovers from his high-ankle sprain. Obviously, the Panthers would rather have their All-Pro running back available, but they should be content with the production they are receiving from the other running backs on their roster.
Panthers Offensive Line Has Improved
For years, the offensive line of the Carolina Panthers has been an issue and it seemed as if the unit’s struggles would continue in 2020. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
After having their ups and downs through weeks one and two, the Panthers offensive line desperately needed a good showing on Sunday. And that’s exactly what they did. Despite being down two starters in Russell Okung and Dennis Daley, the Panthers offensive line held up well against the Chargers impressive pass rush. The unit was able to stifle Joey Bosa and company for the majority of the time and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was able to hang in a clean pocket and make the throws necessary to win the game. The offensive line also performed will in the run-game.
Panthers Defensive Front Has Breakout Game
Coming into Sunday’s matchup, the Panthers defensive unit had struggled overall and they had yet to sack an opposing quarterback in 2020. They finished Sunday’s game with two. For Phil Snow and his guys, it was a make or break game.
The Panthers defensive line flashed signs of promise in the the squad’s win versus the Chargers, with young guys like Brian Burns and Derrick Brown reeking havoc on a weak Chargers offensive line. The Panthers ended the game with eight quarterback hits in addition to those two sacks, a solid day for an improving defensive unit. Brian Burns accounted for one of the team’s sacks on Sunday, when the second-year defensive end took Justin Herbert to the ground, which resulted in a strip-sack. Longtime backup Marquis Haynes also contributed and had the team’s second sack.
The Panthers linebacking corps still obviously has a ways to go, though they weren’t awful on Sunday. Lead linebacker Shaq Thompson had a monster game versus the Chargers. The veteran linebacker finished with 13 tackles, eight of those were solo tackles. Thompson also forced a key turnover late in the second quarter. The Washington product also had two passes defended.
Panthers Secondary Shows Flashes of Improvement
While injuries continue to plague Carolina’s secondary, the unit as a whole played well. Led by lead cornerback Donte Jackson, the Panthers secondary was able to stifle out much of the Chargers pass offense. Jackson had himself quite the day, before suffering yet another injury. The young corner finished with one interception, one tackle, and two passes defended. While it’s unclear what his current status is, the Panthers are hoping to get him back before their Week 4 matchup.
Rookie Jeremy Chinn was impressive in the first two weeks of the season, and that continued during Sunday’s win. The hybrid linebacker lined up at multiple spots, which is quite impressive for a first year player. Chinn played 100% of Carolina’s defensive snaps on Sunday, resulting in 12 total tackles, with six of them being solo endeavors.
All in all, Sunday’s performance by the Carolina defense was a welcome surprise to many. After struggling prior to Sunday’s matchup, the flashes of improvement shown by the Panthers defensive unit during their win versus the Chargers are encouraging. If the Panthers defense can continue to improve on a week-to-week basis, there’s really no telling how good this unit can become.