Panthers playing bad, boring brand of offense, but Frank Reich says they’re close

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 18: Bryce Young #9 of the Carolina Panthers loses the ball after taking a hit during a football game against the New Orleans Saints at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina on Sep 18, 2023.  (Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
By Joseph Person
Sep. 19, 2023

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There were boos before halftime when Frank Reich ran out the clock rather than try a couple of long passes from the Carolina Panthers’ 19-yard line.

It took exactly two games before Reich was asked whether he might cede the play calling to offensive coordinator Thomas Brown. For the record, Reich said after a 20-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints that he won’t.


After the Panthers traded DJ Moore and the farm to Chicago for the No. 1 pick, the thinking was Bryce Young would usher in a new, exciting era for a franchise that has been lost in the NFL’s hinterlands since Cam Newton’s health began to fail him.

But just as bad as the Panthers’ 0-2 start is this: They are a boring team to watch play offense.

Throws at or behind the line of scrimmage. A rookie quarterback still feeling his way. An offensive line being held together with splints and duct tape. Wide receivers being asked to stretch the field horizontally and only occasionally vertically.

Jonathan Mingo caught three passes for 26 yards Monday, including a 22-yarder to account for the Panthers’ longest passing play, but was unable to haul in this Bryce Young pass. (Bob Donnan / USA Today)

Reich knows what it looks like. But he said he also knows his way out of the muck.

“I’ve seen this before. It’s not that far away. It looks bad, but I don’t believe it’s that far away. We make a couple plays here and there, and the next thing you know, you’ve got 28, 30 points,” Reich said. “I know we have the players and the coaches to do it. I have zero doubt about that. It’s just we have to execute better on offense.”

The Panthers’ first “Monday Night Football” game in five years came against a Saints team quarterbacked by a guy the Panthers flirted with before deciding to go the draft-and-develop route. While the Panthers reset at quarterback, the Saints — with the NFC’s oldest roster — gave Derek Carr $60 million guaranteed to try to keep their narrow championship window open.

And while the 32-year-old Carr finished with more passing yards and big plays than Young, the ex-Raiders quarterback didn’t look anything like a Super Bowl quarterback Monday, despite a supporting cast of playmakers that is superior to what Young is working with his first year.

Both Young and Carr were sacked four times and the pressure disrupted both offenses. The difference is Carr has 10 years of NFL experience; Young has two games.


The Panthers have scored two total touchdowns in two games, tied with the Houston Texans for last in the NFL (the Jets, Steelers and Bengals each have only two offensive touchdowns, but have also scored TDs on defense or special teams). The Texans, of course, also are starting a rookie quarterback in C.J. Stroud, drafted one spot behind Young in April.

Had the Saints (2-0) not gone into a prevent defense at the end of the game, the Panthers very well might have that dubious touchdown mark all to themselves.

“Our struggle on offense, it’s not one person,” Reich said. “I know how hard it is to play that position. I’ve been around it a long time and I know how dependent it is on everything.”



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Young completed 22-of-33 passes for 153 yards. He was 8-of-10 passing with a touchdown on the final drive when the Saints played soft coverage while protecting an 11-point lead. For a Panthers offense looking for any smidgen of progress, that will have to do.

“You try to build on positive things,” Young said. “But it’s not going to carry over for any points on Sunday (at Seattle).”

The Panthers act like the downfield throw is something they’re not allowed to do. After taking two deep shots in Week 1, they tried three against the Saints. When Young hit rookie Jonathan Mingo for 22 yards on the last drive, it was the Panthers’ longest completion of the season.

Meanwhile, Carr had two completions longer than 40 yards — to Rashid Shaheed (45 yards) and Chris Olave (42).

Wideout DJ Chark said the Panthers have to be better at “knowing the right time to pull the trigger and being a little bit more aggressive.”

“That’s on all of us, not to point the finger at anyone,” he added. “We know as an offense we have to find a way to get those big plays, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a lot of air yards. Just find a way to get explosives — 15-yard plays. We haven’t done that consistently yet. Luckily for us, we still have a lot of season left.”


Chark said there were times Monday when the Panthers had a vertical route called and Young didn’t have enough time in the pocket, then others when the protection was good but the Panthers didn’t get the right defensive look.

Young, whose 4.2 yards per pass attempt are tied with Joe Burrow for last in the league, took the blame for the lack of big plays in the passing game.

“That’s just on me, making sure that when it’s there, I take advantage of it,” he said. “Hitting throws. And then a miss (to Mingo), obviously, I have to do a better job of that. There is down-the-field stuff that gets called that maybe I don’t get all the way through it or as far as just — whatever it may be, but it’s on me.”

The offensive line didn’t give him much help. Starting a pair of replacement guards with starters Austin Corbett and Brady Christensen both out, the Panthers allowed Young to be hit seven times against a Saints defense that only rushed four most of the game.

“We’ve gotta protect 9,” running back Miles Sanders said, referring to Young’s jersey number. “Nine was on the ground too much today.”

“They didn’t blitz not one time today,” Sanders added. “(The Saints’) defense had a better day. Their D-line had a better day today. And I’m pretty sure everybody else on the offense will own up to that.”

There were encouraging signs. Young picked up 26 yards on a third-down scramble for the Panthers’ longest play in two games. Chark pointed to an 18-yard pass interference penalty on the Saints as something good that can come from downfield shots.

The Panthers wasted a scoring opportunity in the second quarter after Vonn Bell picked off Carr in Saints territory for the first interception by a Panthers safety since 2021. But the Panthers gave the ball back four plays later when Carl Granderson beat left tackle Ikem Ekwonu and sacked Young, whose fumble was recovered by New Orleans.


A couple of minutes later, some of the fans at Bank of America Stadium voiced their displeasure when Reich elected not to be aggressive in a 3-point game in the final minute of the half. Reich, a former quarterback who’s played and coached a long time in this league, understands that the QB and coach get the heat when things go poorly.

“We want to give the fans wins and an exciting brand of football. That’s what we’re gonna do. That’s what we’re planning on doing. It’s a process,” Reich said. “We’re two games into a 17-game season. Things haven’t gotten the way we want it to go. But nobody’s throwing in the towel. It’s a long year.”

Bell signed with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2020 just before the Bengals took Burrow first in the draft. Bell watched Burrow lose seven of his first 10 starts before tearing his ACL in Week 11. The next season the Bengals lost to the Los Angeles Rams by a field goal in the Super Bowl.

“Things weren’t always pretty (in 2020). But you seen strides. Then the next year (Burrow) came out there — Super Bowl,” Bell said. “Yeah man, I have no worry, no doubt and no fear.”

(Top photo of Bryce Young: David Jensen / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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Joseph Person

Joe Person is a staff writer for The Athletic covering the Carolina Panthers. He has covered the team since 2010, previously for the Charlotte Observer. A native of Williamsport, Pa., Joe is a graduate of William & Mary, known for producing presidents and NFL head coaches. Follow Joseph on Twitter @josephperson