Carolina Panthers Week 1 Review – The Good and the Bad

I finally got a chance to do a bit more review and digging into the gamebook data from the Carolina Panthers week 1 loss to the Denver Broncos, comparing these data with week 1 games from 2011 – 2015; and also the Panthers’ season average for 2015.

Here are a few areas where the Panthers played notably above or below average :

1. Scoring


The Panthers got off to a very strong start in scoring in the first half, especially compared to recent week 1 games, but unfortunately one half does not a football game make.  The Panthers second half was very poor, both by week 1 and 2015 season averages.

Not being able to score another TD hurt the Panthers as well.  Obviously the Denver D had a lot to do with that, but a high touchdown success %, paired with solid field goal success was a key to Panthers wins last season, and both percentages were too low against Denver.  Give credit to Denver for scoring 3 touchdowns in spite of turning the ball over 3 times.  They were persistent on offense.

2. Rushing

Rushing was one of the big stories of the game, for both teams.  There’s reason for the Panthers to be encouraged re: their own rushing, but obviously also quite worried about their run defense, as has already been discussed in numerous articles:

wk1_gamebook2 - rushing.png

The Panthers had a lot of success in their rushing game – especially compared with recent week 1 averages.  It’s quite unusual for the Panthers to have such a percentage of rushing yards and such a high rushing effectiveness ratio (Rushing Yards % / Rushing Plays %).  Only twice last season (against Houston week 2, and in the week 16 loss to Atlanta) was the Panthers rushing effectiveness greater or equal to 1.  Certainly it’s encouraging that the Panthers established their run game to this extent early in the season.

BUT….  The Panthers’ run defense was surprisingly bad. Only against two teams in 2015 did the Carolina Panthers allow higher yards and yards per carry.  (Week 7 vs Philly;  Wk 15 vs. Giants)



Both teams struggled to pass, especially deep passes.    Here’s a look at the passing data for the Panthers.  What really strikes me is that attempts and completion numbers were pretty close to average, it’s the yardage and length of the passes that was so unusually low:

wk1_gamebook3 - passing.png

Passing figures were also low for the Broncos, but it’s hard to know how much of that to attribute to the Panthers Defense; or attribute it to the inexperience of a newbie QB.  (I’ll look at some defense stats below).


wk1_gamebook4 - big plays.png

One of the stats that really jumped off the page at me was the Panthers’ negative big play differential of -4 which equaled their worst performance of the 2015 season (Week 6 against Seattle;  week 16 loss to Atlanta).  The Carolina Panthers only had 3 runs of 10+ yards compared to the Broncos 6, and 0 deep passing completions (25+ yards) compared to the Broncos 1.   Big plays were a big part of the team’s success last season, with an average of 6 total big plays per game.  Against the Broncos the Panthers  only had 3.


5. Offense efficiency: 1st & 3rd downs and Red Zone Conversion:

Let’s look at the positive side once again.  The Carolina Panthers offense played remarkably well for a week 1 game.  In the 2016 season opener, the Panthers performed much better than their 2011 – 2015 week 1 average, and very close to or above their 2015 season average, when the Panthers led the NFL in scoring.

wk1_gamebook5 - offense efficiency.png

The Panthers WERE in position to win the game.  A missed field goal is very sad, but the offense did move the ball pretty well   Given that in recent seasons the Panthers offense has gotten stronger over the course of each season, these stat lines actually have to be pretty scary to Panthers opponents.

However, on the flip side, the Panthers needed to tighten up thier defense on the Broncos 3rd downs.  They allowed the Broncos to convert 50% of their 3rd downs:

wk1_gamebook5b - offense efficiency.png

The Panthers only allowed a similar or higher % in terms of opponents’ 3rd down % in 4 games last season (week 3 New Orleans; week 4 at Tampa; week 16 at Atlanta, week 17 vs Tampa).  By contrast in 7 games last season the Panthers held opponents to a 30% or lower 3rd down conversion %.


6.  Here’s  some interesting data from the drive charts:

There’s a bit of an all or nothing trend for the Panthers offense.  They dominated thoroughly on some drives (above average), but did have higher than normal % of futile drives (3 and outs or drives for no gain) as well.

wk1_gamebook6 - Panthers drives.png

The Panthers did a better than usual job for week 1 in scoring when they were deep in opponents territory.  But one glaring weakness was the inability to capitalize off of turnovers.  The Panthers led the league last year in net points off of turnovers, but against the Broncos the Panthers turned only 1 of 3 turnovers into points.  Ultimately that was a BIG difference in the game.

Looking at the Broncos drive data, it’s quite scary to be reminded how often the Broncos were deep in Panthers territory.  The Panthers were fortunate to come up with the 3 takeaways deep in their own territory to stop the Broncos from scoring more.  The Broncos missed lots of opportunities, thankfully.  It’s exciting that the Panthers DID make plays and force turnovers, no question, but there’s also no question that the Broncos gashed the Panthers D quite badly on some plays:

TWO THIRDS of Broncos drives crossed the Panthers 40 yard line!!!!   There was only one game in last year’s regular season where the Panthers allowed an opponent to cross the 40 more than 50% of the time:  the week 16 loss to Atlanta.

wk1_gamebook6b - Opponents drives.png

7.  Defensive Pressure:

Both teams had a total of 20 pressures / sacks / takeaways.  The big difference was in QB hurries.  The Panthers definitely need to get more pressure in terms of a pass rush.

wk1_gamebook7 - defensive pressures.png

Also the Broncos Pass Defense stats show why the Panthers couldn’t get much going in the passing game.


8.  Finally, the very sad sad story of PENALTIES:

Lastly, unfortunately, one cannot ignore the penalty stats for the game.  They are pretty telling.   I will never be one to jump up and down and scream that games are rigged or blame losses on the refs, but the one-sided nature of the penalty calls is pretty striking and it made a difference, fairly or unfairly….

wk1_gamebook8 - penalties.png

Only two teams the Panthers played last regular season (Indy week 8 and the Atlanta loss in week 16) had lower opponent penalty totals, and no game in the 2015 regular season had a similarly high penalty yard differential.    The highest penalty yard differential against the Panthers last season was 41 yards against the Giants.



So there you have an overview of some of the key themes and stats of the Carolina Panthers week 1 loss to the Broncos

Reasons to be encouraged:

1. Strong 1st half, got off to an early lead – much stronger than most of our recent week 1 games in that respect

2.  Panthers rushing game.  Moved the ball well.

3.  General offensive efficiency:  Panthers 1st downs; 3rd down conversions; Red Zone %  and general ability to convert good field position to points (except for the final missed FG).  Offense put the team in position to win.

4. Panthers takeaways.


Reasons to be discouraged:

1. Poor run defense / gave up 6 big plays (10+ yards rushing)

2. Not good enough in 3rd down defense;  Consistently allowed Broncos deep in Panther territory.

3. Penalties

4. Not enough pressure on the QB

5. Didn’t convert enough takeaways into points.

6. No vertical passing game

You can call me the Panthers Stat Lady. A passionate Panthers fan and a database geek... staying up to date with my favorite team from afar and having fun with number crunching too.