Carolina Panthers

Panthers scouting report: D-line must stop Leonard Fournette, end Minshew Mania

A scouting report on the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars, who meet Sunday at Bank of America Stadium as both teams look to get over .500:

When the Panthers pass the ball ...

They’ll need to follow the same quick-passing script they did against the Texans. The Jaguars are tied for sixth in the league in sacks (with the Texans, coincidentally) and know how to pressure opposing quarterbacks. Kyle Allen will need to not only get the ball out of his hands quickly, but make sure he has a tight grip on it before he does — five fumbles in two games is, as he said, “unacceptable.” If Jalen Ramsey doesn’t end up playing, there’s an opportunity for DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel to create after the catch.

Advantage: Jaguars

When the Panthers run the ball...

It’ll be all Christian McCaffrey, all the time. McCaffrey leads the NFL in rushing yards (411), scrimmage yards (629) and touches by a running back (111). As long as Cam Newton is out nursing a Lisfranc injury in his left foot, this Panthers offense runs through McCaffrey. Jacksonville allows about 100 rushing yards per game, but they’ve yet to face a back of McCaffrey’s caliber this season.

Advantage: Panthers

When the Jaguars pass the ball ...

The Panthers’ defensive line needs to get immediate pressure on quarterback Gardner Minshew. He has been one of the league’s most efficient quarterbacks after taking over for the injured Nick Foles, and his pocket presence is impressive for a sixth-round rookie. Luke Kuechly said this week that Minshew is stronger than he looks and capable of slipping out of sacks, so Carolina’s front seven must be aware of that. Still, 14 sacks in two games indicates this defensive group has found a rhythm, and Minshew may be facing his toughest defense to date.

Advantage: Panthers

When the Jaguars run the ball ...

It’ll re-spark a discussion that dates back to the 2017 NFL Draft as to whether Leonard Fournette or McCaffrey is the better NFL back. Fournette was chosen No. 4 overall that year, four spots ahead of McCaffrey, but he hasn’t had the consistent success at the pro level that McCaffrey has. Fournette is a huge, powerful runner, and he went for 225 rushing yards last week in a win over Denver. The Panthers have regressed somewhat in run defense and are allowing 130.8 yards per game on the ground. If they can’t slow Fournette, it could be a long afternoon.

Advantage: Jaguars

Special teams

The Panthers have unearthed a special talent in kicker Joey Slye, who has now converted 10 straight field goals after missing the first try of his NFL career. Slye has the leg strength to connect from 60-plus yards out, but consistency has always been his struggle dating back to college. Jags kicker Josh Lambo has also had a tremendous start to the year; he and Slye have 10 made field goals and converted all of their PAT’s, although Lambo hasn’t yet missed a field goal. If this game comes down to a late kick, both teams are in good hands.

Advantage: Push

Coaching

Ron Rivera has found some momentum the last two games as a play caller, and he’ll look to keep that up against a Jaguars defense that is much less explosive than others Carolina has faced. Given Jacksonville’s preferred personnel, Rivera should employ more of the team’s base 3-4 front than he has combined in Carolina’s first four games. Doug Marrone has had to deal with a number of distractions so far this season, and his team has played inconsistently. Especially with the Panthers’ home struggles dating back to last season’s losing streak, Rivera should be especially motivated come Sunday.

Advantage: Panthers

Prediction

The battle of the backup quarterbacks promises to be interesting. Minshew and Allen have potential to make splashy, exciting plays ... but as young, relatively unproven passers, there’s potential for both to make mistakes in the face of defensive pressure. Realistically, this one probably comes down to which defense forces the opposing offense to be more one-dimensional. Stopping Fournette is a tall task, but the Panthers’ front seven is playing as well as any in the NFL right now, and that should make life hard for Minshew, too.

Panthers 27, Jaguars 20

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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