Head coach Ron Rivera confirmed that the Panthers will not be making a change at quarterback, sticking with Kyle Allen for another week while Cam Newton continues to recover from his foot injury.
The offensive line, however, is another story.
Carolina’s line has been in a state of flux the entire season.
Four different players have started at left tackle in the first seven games, including rookies Dennis Daley and Greg Little.
Taylor Moton became left tackle number four on Sunday, making just his second career start there. That change lasted all of two possessions — and two sacks — before Daley was moved back there.
Daley didn’t do much better. By the end of the day, Carolina had surrendered seven sacks, more than twice the number they’d allowed in any previous game this year.
Rivera said the team is sticking with Daley, possibly because there are no other candidates at the moment.
“Dennis Daley is our best option at left tackle,” he said. “He made several mistakes yesterday, but he did play well at times and he showed why we have so much faith in him. The hardest part for him was he missed a couple days of practice, and he’s a young guy so he’s got to practice. He’s got to be on the field learning and growing.”
Like many other members of the line, Daley has been battling injury, missing time due to a groin problem. Little, who started in Houston in Week Four, hasn’t played since after entering the NFL’s concussion protocol.
Guard Trai Turner missed three games with a back injury, which led to a shuffling of the starting linemen, resulting in the revolving door — in the lineup and for San Francisco pass rushers — at left tackle.
“We have some young guys we feel can play the position as well. We have to make sure we work everybody in and give everybody an opportunity to grow and develop,” Rivera said. “That’s kind of where we are with the young tackles.”
The Panthers’ line currently ranks 23rd in the NFL and 13th in the NFC, according to Football Outsiders. The teams ranked below them have a combined 21-48 record. Only Kansas City has a worse line ranking and a winning record.
With one or two yards to go, either on the goal line or for a first down, Carolina has only converted one-third of the time it’s run the ball, a rate that’s second-to-last in the NFL, ahead of Washington. By comparison, the NFL average is a 63% success rate, 30 percentage points higher than the Panthers.
The Panthers have also been stuffed for a loss or no gain on 21 percent of runs, which ranks in the bottom third in the league.
The problem at left tackle also shows up glaringly in the Football Outsiders numbers. On runs to the left side, the Panthers gain just 1.6 yards, well below the NFL average of 4.1 yards and second to last in the league, ahead of only the Bears.
There’s light on the horizon. Turner’s return will be a boost.
“It was good to have Trai back in there,” Rivera said. “He’s really only had one practice in pads in the last five weeks. He played a physical game, gave us all he could. He’s getting back into the swing of things.”
The other interior linemen have been solid as well.
“Matt (Paradis, the center for all seven games) has done a nice job,” Rivera said. “He’s really come a long way. One guy that’s played really well that you haven’t talked about at all, which is really good, is (guard) Greg Van Roten. He played well (Sunday), if you can say anybody did. He was physical. He did a good job on his pulls, a nice job helping his left tackle on the inside, protecting inside, and he worked well with the center.”
There’s also the rookie Daley, a sixth-round pick who is getting a trial by fire.
Rivera is confident he’ll get better, and there’s only one way for it to happen.
“Work,” the coach said. “Work, work. It takes at least 5,000 reps for something to become second nature. He’s probably not even close to that number. But he’ll get it. He’s a good young man. He works hard. He’s smart. He understands the game, but he does have a lot to learn.”
Unfortunately for the Panthers, the learning process is taking place with the team’s quarterbacks in the crosshairs.