Quarterback Kyle Allen will look to tighten his grasp on the starting job with a rebound performance this weekend.
In the wake of the team’s worst regular season defeat since last year’s calamitous road game in Pittsburgh, the Carolina Panthers (4-3) find themselves yet again at a crossroads regarding the future of the quarterback position. This time however, there appears to be no backup plan should Kyle Allen fail to perform.
Despite posting the worst start of his young career last week, Allen is almost assuredly the team’s starting signal-caller for the foreseeable future after the Panthers confirmed that Cam Newton’s timetable for return from injury remains indefinite. Though 2019 third-round draft pick Will Grier remains an option, one would be hard-pressed to imagine a scenario that involved the Panthers starting Grier with any intent to remain competitive in the NFC playoff race.
This is not to say that Kyle Allen has locked up the position entirely, not after posting a career-worst QBR of 4.7 in Week 8’s 51-13 beat down by the San Francisco 49ers. Allen’s three interceptions and seven sacks completely stalled the team’s offensive production and rekindled concerns over whether the undrafted second-year quarterback could keep the Panthers in the hunt for either a division title or a wild card playoff berth.
Week 9’s matchup with the Tennessee Titans will be crucial to Carolina’s playoff hopes.
For Allen and the Panthers, much is riding on their Week 9 home game against the visiting Tennessee Titans (4-4), who themselves locked into a tight AFC South division race. Carolina trails the division-leading New Orleans Saints by 2.5 games with both head-to-head meetings remaining on the slate, and both head-to-head meetings with the bottom-dwelling Atlanta Falcons are also yet to come. A victory over the Titans would go a long way towards galvanizing confidence in the Panthers as a potential NFC playoff team.
With rumors swirling that Newton may not play again in 2019, the team is Allen’s to control. Another poor showing in Week 9 would likely end any remaining perception of Carolina as a serious contender in the NFC and seriously jeopardize the team’s capacity to play meaningful football in January. The team was inactive at the trade deadline; as such, it will be up to Allen to protect the football and make smarter decisions against the Titans.
Establishing a return to consistency may be crucial in establishing confidence over the back-half of a grueling 2019 schedule. In addition to their four remaining division games with Atlanta and New Orleans, the Panthers will face a slew of potential playoff teams, with matchups against the Green Bay Packers on the road in Week 10 and a home game against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 15. Of the team’s remaining nine games, only three will be played against teams with a losing record (Atlanta twice and the Washington Redskins on December 1st in Charlotte).
Key to Victory: Improving the Run Defense
Though all eyes will rest on Kyle Allen’s attempt at a solid comeback performance, the true test for the Panthers will come in their ability to stop the run. Carolina ranks in the bottom third of the league in average rushing yards allowed per game, a ranking not aided by their Week 8 loss to the 49ers. The Panthers defense yielded 232 yards on the ground, along with five rushing touchdowns by three different 49ers players. More distressing was the 6.1 average yards per carry, a statistic that must be rectified should the Panthers hope to contend for a playoff spot.
The Titans rest in the middle of the league in both rushing attempts and yards gained, but the benching of former-first round quarterback selection, Marcus Mariota, may lead to an increased workload for halfback Derrick Henry. If the Panthers fail to get better production out of their rush defense, Henry could wreak havoc on a Carolina squad already struggling against the run.
Defensive tackles Vernon Butler and Gerald McCoy spent most of the week limited in practice according to the official team injury report, but were unrestricted in team activities on Friday and should be ready to play. Rookie Christian Miller remains questionable to play with a lingering ankle injury. The team will be without the services of defensive end Mario Addison, who will miss Sunday’s game after suffering a death in the family.
Christian McCaffrey will likely see a heavy workload again in Week 9, who is coming off his third-straight 100+ yard rushing performance. McCaffrey now has 8 rushing touchdowns and 735 rushing yards on the season; he now sits north of 1,000 all-purpose yards. McCaffrey’s ability to provide a safety valve for Kyle Allen could prove vital: Tennessee is one of eleven teams in the league to hold opponents under the century mark in rushing thus far in 2019. The Panthers will continue to rely heavily on McCaffrey while dealing with a dinged up receiving corps: receiver Curtis Samuel, who dealt with a shoulder injury this week.
Kickoff between the Panthers and Titans is scheduled for 1:00 PM Sunday on CBS. The Panthers currently sit as the favorite to win according to Vegas odds makers, giving 3.5 points to the visiting Titans. Carolina will be looking to notch its second home victory of the 2019 campaign in Week 9; Tennessee will attempt to win its third game on the road and keep pace with the AFC South-leading Indianapolis Colts, whom the Panthers will visit on December 22nd in Week 16.