How does Carolina Panthers defense step up without Jaycee Horn?
Now we get to the obvious final two storylines.
First up: what does this defense do without their star cornerback? When healthy and on the field, Jaycee Horn performs like a top-10 player at the position.
When Ejiro Evero took the defensive coordinator post with the Carolina Panthers, the prominent similarity between this roster and that of the Denver Broncos was Horn and Patrick Surtain II. Both players are fully capable, and thrive, in man coverages, zone coverages, shadowing a team’s alpha pass catcher, roping off half of the field from the opponent – you name it, these guys can do it.
We didn’t get a look at what that Broncos defense would look like without Surtain for an extended period. But we’re face-to-face with our rendition of that problem now.
The play after Horn was forced off the field, veteran addition Troy Hill made a terrific open-field tackle on running back Bijan Robinson. The severity of the South Carolina product's injury wasn’t known at the time, but that play from the new Panther reminded fans that he was a capable NFL player within their secondary depth.
The team also went and signed Sam Webb off the Las Vegas Raiders practice squad, the transaction becoming official on Thursday. D’Shawn Jamison was a healthy inactive against Atlanta last week after being claimed off waivers, but he’s another player in the mix to see a bump in snaps potentially.
The player with the biggest spotlight on him now is C.J. Henderson. And I’m not sure that’s music to his ears, as far as attention, but this is the moment he’s in now.
First, the good with Henderson; he’s a terrific athlete. He possesses top-tier speed and agility, combined with fluidity in his hips and a willing attitude towards tackling.
When Henderson can keep the play in front of him, he demonstrates good scheme understanding and maintains his balance to take advantage of his physical traits and react quickly to the play.
When his mark gets behind him, Henderson has the recovery speed to catch back up – he often does, in fact. The problem has lied in his ability to track and make a play on the ball while maintaining positioning and knowing where he is relative to the receiver.
This secondary will have their hands full with this New Orleans Saints receiver corp. I presented Bryce Young’s average air yards per completion in the last slide, so it’s only fair to do the same for Derek Carr – who averaged 8.8 air yards per, good for third best in Week 1.
Chris Olave gave the Panthers trouble as a rookie and he got off to a nice start last week with a line of eight catches for 110 receiving yards on 10 targets. He was responsible for 34.1 percent of their air yards.
Rashid Shaheed may be a lesser-known commodity, but he’s an explosive playmaker for New Orleans. He went for five catches on six targets for 89 yards and a score.
Shaheed is less volume, but a lot of dangerous. Something that could cause the Panthers untold problems.
I expect the Saints to have a balanced offensive approach, as everyone in the league saw the Falcons rip off chunk play after chunk play on the ground in the season opener. But when the shots are taken, the weapons are there to be mindful of.
One aspect that I look for the Panthers to take advantage of to help the secondary – Brian Burns vs. Trevor Penning. The inconsistent offensive tackle recorded a 66 percent pass block win rate against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1, being charted for six quarterback pressures and allowing two sacks.
The Saints offensive line collectively struggled. Despite the Panthers being top-heavy on the defensive front, those two wrecking balls – Burns and Derrick Brown – are set up to knock them down.