Carolina Panthers Wilting Under Pressure

Miami Dolphins ER Jaelan Phillips
Miami Dolphins ER Jaelan Phillips
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 12 - Let's talk about the Carolina Panthers, just for a moment.

After starting the year a surprisng 3-0 and briefly being the talk of the league—though the wonks here at Football Outsiders cautioned people about their poor strength of schedule—Carolina has absolutely fallen apart. That 3-0 beginning was immediately followed up by a four-game losing streak, and they haven't won consecutive games since September. Sitting at 5-7 going into their bye week, it's not that they're out of playoff contention in a wacky NFC, but their chances are slim and gone, and slim may have just left town. Our latest playoff odds give them just a 1.7% chance of making the postseason, and they pretty much have to run the table if they want to be playing in January.

The main culprit, of course, has been the offense. They had an above-average DVOA of 5.7% over that three-game winning streak to start the season—that's in hindsight, with opponent adjustments. Over the last two months, they have fallen to -33.9%, the worst in the league—yes, worse than Houston and Detroit, though it's very close. This is very bad, and things are not likely to get better now that Christian McCaffrey has been ruled out for the season.

It's very easy to point fingers and blame the quarterbacks. Fun, too! Here are the worst Loser League days from Panthers quarterbacks this season:

Single-Digit Loser League Days, Carolina QBs, 2020
Player Week Opp Cmp Att Yds TD INT Sk Points
Sam Darnold 5 PHI 21 37 177 1 3 3 7
Sam Darnold 7 NYG 16 25 112 0 1 3 3
Sam Darnold 9 NE 16 33 172 0 3 1 2
P.J. Walker 10 ARI 22 29 167 0 1 0 4
Cam Newton 12 MIA 5 21 92 0 2 1 6
P.J. Walker 12 MIA 5 10 87 0 1 4 2

Six single-digit days from the Panthers quarterback room isn't the worst in the league so far—the Bears have eight, and the Jets have also hit six. But both those teams are breaking in rookie quarterbacks, and the Bears are likely about a month away from completely overhauling their entire coaching staff. "Come see the Panthers: more competent than the Chicago Bears" may not be the selling point you're looking for, here.

Both Cam Newton and P.J. Walker had days of note against the Dolphins. Newton had a 23.8% completion rate, the worst for any quarterback with at least 20 pass attempts since Joey Harrington went 5-for-22 back in 2004.

25% Completion Days in the Past 30 Years
Year Player Team Opp Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD INT
2021 Cam Newton CAR MIA 5 21 23.8% 92 0 2
2015 Peyton Manning DEN KC 5 20 25.0% 35 0 4
2004 Joey Harrington DET GB 5 22 22.7% 47 0 0
2003 Tim Hasselbeck WAS DAL 6 26 23.1% 56 0 4
2003 Mike McMahon DET DAL 5 20 25.0% 51 0 1
2002 David Carr HOU SD 6 25 24.0% 87 0 2
2000 Anthony Wright DAL TEN 5 20 25.0% 35 0 2
1999 Rich Gannon OAK MIA 7 28 25.0% 130 0 1
1996 Danny Kanell NYG NO 5 20 25.0% 52 0 1
1995 Jim Kelly BUF CAR 4 21 19.0% 176 1 3
Minimum 20 pass attempts

With only a quarter of play, Walker doesn't quite top any historic leaderboards—or even 2021 leaderboards—but four sacks in a quarter is quite bad. He had a sack rate of 28.6%, placing him in the top 10 highest sack rate days of the past decade (minimum 10 pass attempts)

Highest Sack Rates, 2012-2021
Year Player Team Opp Cmp Att Sk Sk%
2018 Marcus Mariota TEN BAL 10 15 11 42.3%
2017 Tom Savage HOU JAX 7 13 6 31.6%
2012 Greg McElroy NYJ SD 14 24 11 31.4%
2021 Justin Fields CHI CLE 6 20 9 31.0%
2021 P.J. Walker CAR MIA 5 10 4 28.6%
2020 Ryan Finley CIN WAS 3 10 4 28.6%
2013 Russell Wilson SEA STL 10 18 7 28.0%
2018 Ryan Tannehill MIA MIN 11 24 9 27.3%
2017 T.J. Yates HOU PIT 7 16 6 27.3%
2017 Sam Bradford MIN CHI 5 11 4 26.7%
Minimum 10 pass attempts

How unfortunate for the Panthers. They have tried so hard to fix their quarterback position and have ended up with an all-time bust in Darnold, a washed-up former superstar in Newton, and an XFL refugee in Walker. That has to be it—there can't possibly be another common factor in the poor quarterback performance the Panthers have had to struggle through this season, right?




Let's rerack a little. The Panthers have allowed the most pressures in the league with 134 and the second-highest pressure rate at 29.0%. They are 28th in ESPN's pass block win rate; 24th in our adjusted sack rate. Let's put Taylor Moton to the side for one moment; he had a bad day against Miami, but a typical starting lineman-type bad day. The other four Panthers starting linemen—Trent Scott, Michael Jordan, Dennis Daley, and Pat Elflein—were turnstiles, barely even slowing down Miami's pass rush. It's no surprise that Newton was scattering passes all over the field, or that Walker was absorbing linemen directly into his ribcage. We have all seen bad pass protection days before, but Scott and Jordan, especially, looked not only like they were not starting-caliber linemen, but like they hadn't even really been told what football was, and had been introduced to the sport about an hour before game time.

So maybe that puts the Panthers' quarterback situation into a little clearer view. Per Sportradar, Darnold has been pressured on 28.8% of his dropbacks, the third-highest rate this season. Walker is actually up at 31.7%, though he doesn't have enough attempts to qualify for the leaderboard. The Dolphins disaster pushed Newton up to 27.3%. It would be difficult for any quarterback to work under those kinds of conditions, and, well, neither Darnold nor Newton have ever been particularly adept at handling that sort of thing. Newton had a -132.4% DVOA under pressure last season, third-worst in the league, and both Newton and Darnold were in the bottom 10 in both 2018 and 2019. No one is going to look great behind the sieve that is currently standing in as Carolina's offensive line, but if you are going to get massive pressure, you want to have a quarterback who excels at both getting out of trouble and making quick, accurate throws—a Patrick Mahomes or a Russell Wilson type, or even a Ryan Fitzpatrick type if you assume Pro Bowl quarterbacks do not grow on trees. For all Newton has historically done well, and for all people want to see in Darnold, grace under fire is not one of their positive attributes.

So, they're off the hook, right? Well, no. Newton was forced to throw quickly early and often against Miami, and that's on the line, but the quality of those throws was more on Newton, and he was just flat-out missing guys all afternoon. You don't have a sub-25% completion rate if you're putting the ball on guys and letting them make plays; you might have a low yards per attempt and a terrible DVOA, but you should be able to give guys a chance to catch the ball. And taking four sacks in a quarter isn't a great look for Walker either; comparing Walker's sack rate to Newton's behind the same line is a great data point in the "sacks are a quarterback stat" argument. All three passers have been bad in their own unique ways, and while the offensive line is exacerbating things, don't mistake "the Panthers need four new offensive linemen" for "the Panthers are probably OK at quarterback."

For the record, the team with the worst offensive DVOA to ever make the playoffs was the 2020 Washington Football Team, at -21.8%. The worst offensive DVOA to ever make the playoffs without being gifted a spot by the disaster that was the 2020 NFC East belongs to the 2016 Houston Texans at -21.1%. You can absolutely make a playoff run with a bad offense and a top-10 defense, given the right circumstances. But if the Panthers want to pretend their season still has relevance, they're going to have to get more out of their line than they have seen the last two months.

Week 12's Biggest Losers


Worst of the Worst
P.J. Walker (2) just pips Cam Newton (6) to the line, thanks to just barely squeezing over the 10-attempt minimum. Newton was worse on the day, but that was not a pretty fourth quarter for Walker.

Other Loser Leaders
Jalen Hurts (7) basically gets all his value from 77 rushing yards. As a passer, though, he was dreadful, with three interceptions, two of them basically in the end zone. It's entirely possible that Hurts gets the week off to nurse a sore ankle and then take advantage of the bye week, which would bring The Mustache Gardner Minshew into the starting lineup for a week. Tempting, that…

With no skill position players available, Ryan Tannehill (9) basically could get nothing going all day, ending with just 93 yards passing. The one thing that was sort of working for the Titans was the ground game, which further limited Tannehill's ability to score points; he had just 21 attempts on the day despite the loss.

Loser Flop
With a potential blowout in the cards, Mac Jones (24) looked like a safe backup pick for a low yardage total, with the Patriots trying to drain clock throughout the latter half of the game. Nope! Jones set a new career-high with 310 yards passing, adding a pair of touchdowns to Kendrick Bourne to boot. Most of Jones' past month and a half has shown him as an effective game manager; not one with a ton of volume, but one who made the most out of what he got. Against the Titans, he actually got to drop back and throw 30-plus times, and he made the most of it.


Worst of the Worst
I thought we all agreed to never mention the Ravens-Browns game again? But here's Latavius Murray (1) with an eight-carry, 14-yard day; basically the dream Loser League performance. In case you're wondering, Murray has had 77 carries this season, with a long of 14. Zero explosiveness left in his legs at this point.

Other Loser Leaders
Murray wasn't the only Ravens back to get nothing going, with Devonta Freeman (5) also managing to do very little with his touches. The Ravens offense, in general, was in neutral all Sunday night. The Ravens were one of two teams to have a pair of running backs top the list this week, along with the ever-efficient Texans duo of David Johnson (4) and Rex Burkhead (4).

It was a bad week for stars, too. Christian McCaffrey (3) had his season end with a bit of a thud; he's now on IR and will miss the rest of the year. Aaron Jones (2) is still working his way back into health after his MCL tear, and is currently playing second-banana behind AJ Dillon. Nick Chubb (3) was another victim of the Ravens-Browns quagmire, and with the Browns basically never having the ball, Chubb put up a very uncharacteristic eight-carry, 16-yard day. Saquon Barkley (5) had one 32-yard run that made the highlight reel … and 12 other carries for a combined 8 yards.

Tony Jones (2), Najee Harris (3), Devin Singletary (4), Phillip Lindsay (4), and Rhamondre Stevenson (4) round out your low scorers.

Loser Flop
Myles Gaskin (16) had a so-so day actually carrying the ball; 16 carries for 49 yards isn't much to talk about. But a pair of touchdowns—his second and third of the year—shoot his value through the roof. It was thought that adding Phillip Lindsay would eat into Gaskin's usage and make him a more interesting Loser target. Maybe next week.

Worst of the Worst
We have the rare receiver negative score! Zach Pascal (-1) had two catches on seven targets, resulting in 12 yards … and a lost fumble, as Mike Edwards did a great jump punching the ball out on Pascal's longest play of the game.

Other Loser Leaders
The Goose Egg Brigade of Deonte Harris, Chester Rogers, and Chris Godwin have to share the "other" category this week behind Pascal. The one-point scorers were Robby Anderson, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Courtland Sutton, Khalif Raymond, Allen Lazard, Albert Wilson, D'Wayne Eskridge, DK Metcalf, and Mike Evans.

Loser Flop
Tee Higgins (17) finally, finally had his first 100-yard day of the season as the Steelers backup corners just couldn't slow down the Cincinnati passing attack. It turns out that, given a secondary entirely uninterested in providing coverage, that yes, someone not named Ja'Marr Chase can produce for the Bengals. Fun fact!


Worst of the Worst
Randy Bullock (-6) had one of the nicest *doinks* you'll ever hear on the second of his two missed kicks on the day.

Other Loser Leaders
Greg Joseph (-3) missed an extra point for the Vikings, and a big one at that—it put Minnesota down eight points rather than seven, and caused them to have to mess around with unsuccessful two-point conversions the rest of the day. Joey Slye (-2) also missed an extra point, but his successful field goal keeps him behind Joseph. Dustin Hopkins (-1), meanwhile, missed just the one field goal to put himself in negative numbers.

Greg Zuerlein, Ka'imi Fairbairn, Brian Johnson, Wil Lutz, Brett Maher, and Cody Parkey all earned 0 points—you'll recognize those last four as the Saints kickers, all of whom avoided the penalty because none of them attempted a kick last week.

Loser Flop
You don't get extra points for the importance of your kicks, but if you did, Daniel Carson (18) would likely still be your high scorer this week. Carlson made five field goals and three extra points, including a 56-yarder to give the Raiders a lead with less than two minutes to go on Thanksgiving.

Week 12 Contest Results

Well, aaaaaaallllrighty then. Your No. 1 team for Week 12 was Lahoo Saher—16 points isn't the world's lowest score, but in a generally higher-scoring week, it was more than enough to clear everyone else out of the way. Lahoo Saher got off to a poor start on Thanksgiving with Trevor Siemian's late-game … "heroics" is the wrong word, so let's go with "competence," costing him 10 points. But from there, everything else was near-perfect: Latavius Murray (1), Rex Burkhead (4), Chester Rogers (0), Deonte Harris (0), and the ever-consistent Jason Myers (1).

It was a huge week for someone who has been lurking just outside the top five all season long and his third straight week of 20 or fewer points. This has put one of our many resident Eagles fans on pace for possibly winning a trip to the Big Game at the end of the year, even if his team probably will be staying at home. For now, he can celebrate with a FO shirt and 2,200 Madden Ultimate Team points—may I suggest celebrating your victory with the addition of a Latavius Murray to your roster?

Your top five for Week 12:

1. Lahoo Saher (16)
2. Force Majeure Bitch (17)
3. BigRichie Wants to Play Double Survival Too! (18)
4. DS (21)
5. Octuplicate (22)

I will say, building a top-five Loser League team is one of the more interesting ways I have ever seen to request a feature, and hopefully I can convince the Powers That Be to reward you for your efforts, BigRichie.

In the overall standings, the Mojo Momenteers remain in first place … barely. A 44-point day from them nearly wiped out their entire lead; they're clinging on to a one-point advantage in the race for the grand prize. They really got stuck at running back, where both Alex Collins and Myles Gaskin scored the penalty or worse, but they were even let down by the Jets and typically solid performers Zach Wilson (11) and Matthew Wright (6). Sometimes, the right strategy doesn't always lead to the right results, and the Momenteers end up giving back nearly their entire cushion.

Fortunately, as I said, it was a higher-scoring week along the board. Both Octuplicate and Lahoo Saher managed to climb up the rankings with their top-five days from Week 12—Octuplicate highly benefitted from Randy Bullock (-6) to make up for middling selections at running back and receiver. But the rest of last week's top five also put up middling days, if no outright disasters—AlecV had 35 points, another Zach Wilson victim; Aaron Schatz Has a Posse had 41 with Baker Mayfield (14) and Jared Goff (14) under center; In the Hunt had 44 after both James Washington and Olamide Zaccheaus hit the penalties. If you were going to have a 40-point week from the lead, in other words, this was it.

Twenty teams have 430 points or less; all of them need to gain fewer than 10 points a week to catch the Momenteers atop the standings, so they are your front runners at this point in time. But as we saw in Week 12, you can easily gain more than 10 points if the standard Loser League fodder have surprisingly competent days. This thing is far from over, or from being close to over.

Your top five to this point:

1. Mojo Momenteers (372)
2. Octuplicate (373)
3. AlecV (381)
4. Aaron Schatz Has a Posse (390)
5. Lahoo Saher (394)

You can check your results and the rest of the Loserboard here!

Plays for Week 13

Remember to set your roster for Week 13!

We pick on rookies too much here. And we are going to continue to do so! Zach Wilson was a disappointment this last week thanks to his rushing touchdown, but it was that and a 46-yard catch-and-run to Braxton Berrios that made up most of his value. The rest of the day, when he wasn't missing wide-open receivers, he was bouncing the ball off of his receivers' backs into the hands of waiting Texans. No hesitation whatsoever about going back to him once again.

I'm also going with Mac Jones, but that's far more about the Buffalo defense, even minus Tre'Davious White, than it is about Jones. The Bills have been, by far, the toughest defense for fantasy quarterbacks to play against, averaging just 10.5 points per game—they're the only team to allow fewer than 14 touchdown passes this season, at just eight. Jones is coming off of a high-volume day, but before that he had four straight games between 139 and 217 passing yards. I like his volume to drop back off as the Patriots attack the Bills on the ground, limiting Jones' value significantly.

Other promising picks: Jared Goff (v. MIN), Trevor Lawrence (@LAR)

My concern about Alex Collins is whether or not the Seahawks are going to have the ball enough to give him eight carries; Seattle runs the fewest plays in the league, and the 49ers have made a mantra out of long, clock-killing drives. Collins only had seven carries against Washington on Monday Night, but no one else is there to take carries away, and you know Pete Carroll likes doubling down on the rushing attack when things are going poorly—and things are, indeed, going poorly in Seattle.

I'm going with Rex Burkhead as my Texans running back of the week—David Johnson's banged up, so all the volume in Houston's anemic rushing attack looks to go through him now. Twelve carries for 27 yards against the Jets! Imagine what a competent team like Indy might do to him!

And, speaking of Texans, ex-Texans back Phillip Lindsay gets my pick even after his move to Miami. He's the clear second back behind Myles Gaskin, limiting his volume, but Miami runs a lot, and may have some clock-killing drives against a very mediocre Giants team this week.

Other promising picks: Tevin Coleman (v. PHI), Latavius Murray (@PIT), Sony Michel (v. JAX)

I do love stacking my quarterbacks and receivers. Jakobi Meyers pairs with Mac Jones—in Jones' high-volume day, Meyers had five catches for 98 yards—but the Patriots want to be a run-first team, and against the Bills' passing defense, I expect Meyers to get maybe four of five targets, limiting the damage he can do. Jamison Crowder, meanwhile, matches Zach Wilson nicely—theoretically, at least. Somehow, Wilson only looked Crowder's way one time against the Texans, which seems crazy, right? I expect working him back into the offense to be more of a priority for the Jets this week, and one that's not going to pay a lot of dividends.

Cole Beasley is my buffer to try to avoid a penalty this week. Beasley has just one touchdown this year as Josh Allen has looked elsewhere when needing to score points. But Beasley does typically get enough targets so that the penalty is not a concern, making him a good solid pick for four or five points. That's obviously not ideal from a wideout situation, but I like having someone who is consistently going to get a below-average score, letting me swing for the fences with other picks.

Other promising picks: Amon-Ra St. Brown (v. MIN), Sterling Shephard (@MIA), The Entire Jacksonville Receiving Corps (@LAR)

I have picked Matthew Wright and Matt Ammendola week after week after week now. Have the Jaguars or Jets offenses gotten good yet? No? Then I'm good.

Other promising picks: Dustin Hopkins (@CIN), Ka'imi Fairbairn (v. IND)


11 comments, Last at 02 Dec 2021, 1:18pm

1 If so

My Loser League campaign will have been a resounding success! And who wants to go to the Super Bowl, anyway? (will the Loser winner actually have to ROOM! with Aaron?!?)

2 Explain the Panthers.

We know they're a dumpster fire.

But how is Matt Rhule 3-0 versus Kliff Kingsbury?

Is this just a bad personnel match-up for the Cardinals?


3 Fumbles

Is the -2 points for fumbles or lost fumbles?  The rules say "-2 points for each fumble or interception" but above you refer to Zach Pascal getting -1 points on "two catches on seven targets, resulting in 12 yards … and a lost fumble"

I ask because D'Andre Swift had 3 carries for 0 yards (0 points, +15 penalty), 3 catches for 9 yards (0 points), and one fumble, but no fumbles lost; my scoresheet is showing him with 15 points, but since the rules say "fumble or interception", not "lost fumble or interception", I thought he'd get 13.

7 That can't be right

If a player gets 6 rushes for 12 yards and a TD, he gets the points for the yardage and TD; if a receiver catches one 80-yard TD bomb on their only target, they get the 14 points for the catch plus the 15 for the penalty.  I don't think that positive points would count but negative points wouldn't.

8 The -2 points is for lost…

In reply to by DGL

The -2 points is for lost fumbles.  You're right; that could be more clear in the rules!  I'll see if I can't make that more clear in future.

10 I hope...

I hope for your (and your lawyers') sake that no week (or, heaven forbid, the season standings) comes down to a 2-point difference between first and second place where the second place team has a player that fumbled but didn't lose the fumble.

5 Hooray!  My aptitude in…

Hooray!  My aptitude in picking lahoo sahers in fantasy finally paid off.  I really thought I wouldn't win the week once Siemien and Goff both scored at least 10, but fortunately I got lucky with all the other positions.  

Hey Bryan - gotta say, that a LOT goes in to this article each week, and I really appreciate your time and effort.  Thank you!