Carolina Panthers

Analysis: Call the Panthers’ offense what it was in loss to Bills – just plain bad

Here’s what we learned about Panthers backup QBs and running backs after preseason beat down

Brendan Marks breaks down the back-up quarterback and running back situation in the wake of the loss to the Buffalo Bills in preseason skirmish.
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Brendan Marks breaks down the back-up quarterback and running back situation in the wake of the loss to the Buffalo Bills in preseason skirmish.

One word or phrase couldn’t possibly describe the Carolina Panthers’ offensive ineptitude Friday night against the Buffalo Bills.

But a few stabs at it? Well in that case ...

How about dismal? Or off-kilter? Maybe out-of-whack? Heinous is probably a bit too far — but only if you weren’t one of the thousands of fans suffering through it live at Bank of America Stadium.

And realistically, when rehashing the gory details of Carolina’s 27-14 loss to Buffalo, practically every offensive player will earn their share of blame pie.

“Quite frankly, from my perspective,” coach Ron Rivera said, “I didn’t think some of the young guys stepped up when they had chances.”

Nowhere is that more applicable than with the team’s two backup quarterbacks, Kyle Allen and Will Grier. Both are competing for the coveted No. 2 job behind Cam Newton, who is still rehabbing from arthroscopic shoulder surgery he had in January. But from the way both have played throughout two preseason games, it’s difficult to say that either is truly deserving of the backup job.

Take Allen, for instance, who started against Chicago last week and against Buffalo on Friday. On his first series, he had Curtis Samuel — easily the most explosive player this summer — wide open in space with only green grass in front of him.

But he underthrew it. Incomplete.

“That one to Curtis,” Allen explained, “I saw the flat player (closer to the line of scrimmage) get out and I tried to get it in-between him and the flat player, and I just threw it short.

“I was a little disappointed today from an execution standpoint. We could’ve been a lot better, and that always starts with me.”

Allen then had his next pass swatted at the line by Bills first-round pick Ed Oliver. More of the same ensued on his next two drives, as he ultimately finished a disappointing 4-for-11 for just 32 yards.

“I just think it was little things here and there,” Allen continued. “It wasn’t one specific thing. I think it was just a bunch of different things we did to ourselves — I don’t think it was anything they did to us.”

It was more of the same with Grier. Unlike Allen, who had a handful of underthrows, the third-round rookie couldn’t keep his passes down, constantly sailing them over his targets.

And while that irked Rivera, it was far less damaging than the worst mistake Grier made Friday.

On Grier’s second attempt of the game midway through the second quarter, he dropped back and looked left at Torrey Smith on a short curl route. But for the second straight game, he made the wrong read. Grier threw the ball right as cornerback Kevin Johnson made a break on it, and Johnson, the former Wake Forest star, took the interception back 71 yards for a touchdown.

“That was just a bad decision on his part,” Rivera said. “The biggest thing (when naming a backup) would be decision making. Did they make quick decisions, did they make good decisions? More so than anything else, that would be the thing that will be looked at by Norv (Turner) and Scott (Turner).”

The interesting thing about Grier and Allen’s poor play was that the team had just spent two days of joint training camp practice with the Bills in Spartanburg. Rivera admitted he was somewhat surprised at their struggles, although he did say he thought both players generally made good decisions — the frustrating part was their inability to execute on those reads.

But Allen and Grier can’t take that putrid offensive showing on their shoulders alone. The offensive line gave them little support, even with the starting unit playing their first game together. Right tackle Taylor Moton was beaten badly on a spin move on one sack, and he was also called for a holding penalty. Right guard Trai Turner got a holding penalty of his own. Center Matt Paradis, signed this offseason to fill the void left by Ryan Kalil’s (temporary) retirement, got pushed backward one play to the point his helmet started coming off.

Not great.

Then backups Greg Little and Dennis Daley each were called for holding, and Little also was penalized for a chop block. If not for a dropped third-down catch by receiver/returner Jaydon Mickens, reserve guard Kofi Amichia would’ve been the fifth hold of the night.

Rivera disputed some of those “subjective” calls, but their effects remained: Debilitating drive killers.

Speaking of Mickens, he was far from the only receiver unable to hang onto a ball. Smith got two hands on one deep attempt, only for it to be knocked away by the defender’s fingertips. Andre Levrone had a drop late, too.

If all this sounds like piling on, it’s because it was.

As for what that symphony of futility looks like put together, a few choice statistics:

  • Two-for-13 on third down,
  • Only 3.9 average yards per play, compared to 5.9 for Buffalo,
  • And 258 total offensive yards, including 78 passing from fourth-string QB Taylor Heinicke in garbage time.

It was the exact opposite of what the Panthers would’ve liked to show.

“We just had a whole bunch of (hiccups),” receiver Jarius Wright said. “It was no one person, no one group. Man, it was just some of everybody making different mistakes at bad times. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board ... We just have to be very critical of ourselves.”

The saving grace here is the circumstance. It bears remembering that this is the preseason, a petri dish of stupid mistakes and learning curves. In fact, Rivera might even argue his team took more out of its two joint practices with Buffalo than it did from Friday’s game.

Not that that excuses a pitiful offensive showing, though.

Call the Panthers offense what it was Friday: Just plain bad.

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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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