What We Saw: Panthers at Texans

...or, What We Wish We Didn't See! The Panthers overcome the Texans in a dour affair in Houston.

Panthers @ Texans

Final Score: Panthers 24, Texans 9

Writer: Benjamin Haller (@benjaminhaller1 on Twitter)

 

Sam Darnold and the 2-0 Carolina Panthers rolled into NRG Stadium for the contest with rookie quarterback Davis Mills and the veteran-laden Houston Texans. As a spectacle, the game will be remembered as one of the worst Thursday Night Football contests we have ever seen. The schedulers did us no favors with this one.

Darnold and the Panthers sliced up the Texans’ soft coverage in the first quarter to take a deserved lead as the former Jets quarterback ran the ball in himself in the red zone. However, on the next offensive drive star Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey limped off with a hamstring injury and did not return โ€“ he appeared to be in a great deal of discomfort as he gingerly made his way back to the locker rooms. Bad news for everyone involved in football, real or fantasy. The Panthers immediately looked stunted and their momentum disappeared.

 

On the other side of the ball, the Texans looked extremely reluctant to allow Mills to throw the ball โ€“ he had only attempted four throws until the final drive of the first half. Then, out of nowhere Mills marched down the field going 4-0f-5 in a 7-play, 64-yard scoring drive that resulted in a touchdown pass to Anthony Miller to bring the Texans within a point at the half.

The quality of the young Panthers team took control in the second half as Carolina comfortably moved to 3-0 thanks to another score from Darnold and a bit of history from rookie tight end Tommy Tremble.

 

The Texans looked devoid of any true playmakers besides Brandin Cooks and are firmly staring at a long, hard season clouded by the uncertainty of the situation regarding franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson. Mills can come out of the start with his head held high after taking some big licks from an aggressive Panthers defense, but he never looked like doing much damage throughout the contest.

 

Carolina Panthers

 

Quarterback

 

Sam Darnold: 23/34, 304 yards, 3 sacks | 8 carries, 11 yards, 2 TD

 

It was quite the night for Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold, who marched in two rushing touchdowns and passed for over 300 yards without turning the ball over. Darnold is relishing the new start under Matt Rhule in Carolina and looks extremely comfortable in Joe Brady‘s eclectic offense. Darnold took advantage of the Texans playing soft coverage to pepper DJ Moore with intermediate throws that moved the chains before running in the first score of the game. Brady drew up a designed keeper for Darnold, using star running back Christian McCaffreyย as a decoy that the Texans fell for hook, line, and sinker.

 

Darnold showed prowess across the field, hitting six different receivers in a solid outing through the air. Though he didn’t throw for a touchdown, Darnold looks to be progressing nicely as a passer in this offense. It is nice to see him pushing the ball further down the field to exploit spaces outside the hashes, something he simply failed to do under Adam Gase in New York.

 

He capped off a lovely night in terms of fantasy production with a quarterback sneak for his second touchdown of the game โ€“ Darnold joins Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb atop of the NFL leaderboard for rushing touchdowns with 3. Darnold is looking like a decent option in all formats right now.

 

Running Back

 

Chuba Hubbard: 11 carries, 52 yards | 5 targets, 3 receptions, 27 yards

Christian McCaffrey: 7 carries, 31 yards | 2 targets, 2 receptions, 9 yards

Royce Freeman: 5 carries, 17 yards | 1 target, 1 reception, 8 yards

 

Christian McCaffrey had tallied nine touches for 40 yards through the first quarter before exiting with what looks like a nasty hamstring injury. It was clear he was in for a big night, which makes the injury all the more disappointing for one of the best backs in football. Fantasy managers hung their heads in despair at the replay footage that clearly shows the hamstring muscle popping under the skin on the back of McCaffrey’s leg. We await the news but it is safe to say he will miss multiple weeks.

Rookie Chuba Hubbard was given the responsibility of leading the backfield in favor of veteran Royce Freeman. The 2021 fourth-round selection out of Oklahoma State performed admirably against a below-average defense and registered 4.7 yards/carry on 11 touches out of the backfield. He had a nice 14-yard run in the red zone to set up Darnold’s second rushing touchdown of the night.

 

Hubbard will be the number one waiver wire pickup going into next week. I was impressed with his vision and ability to drive through his lanes and keep his eye on the defensive movements to maximize his yardage.

 

Hubbard was stuffed on a fourth-and-one midway through the second quarter to turn the ball over on downs at the Houston 5-yard line. He would have potentially seen a carry to run the ball in if he had made it.

 

Freeman, on the other hand, looked pedestrian at best. He was stuffed at the goal line before Darnold converted for his second score, so he may still get opportunities in short-yardage situations. But that should not affect Howard’s role as McCaffrey’s replacement.

 

Wide Receiver/Tight End

 

DJ Moore: 12 targets, 8 receptions, 126 yards | 1 carry, -1 yard

Terrace Marshall Jr.: 5 targets, 4 receptions, 48 yards

Tommy Tremble: 1 target, 1 reception, 30 yards | 1 carry, 7 yards, TD

Alex Eriksen: 1 target, 1 reception, 25 yards

Dan Arnold: 4 targets, 2 receptions, 23 yards

Robby Anderson: 2 targets, 1 reception, 8 yards

 

It was all too easy for Darnold to connect with his favorite target in the passing game, DJ Moore. The 2018 first-round pick out of Maryland has balled out in the first three games of the season and looked to be in for a record-setting night after totaling 100 yards early in the second quarter. His final line was a little disappointing considering this statistic. Moore now has 20 catches through three games for 285 yards and a score. He should see a target increase with McCaffrey out of the lineup too. He is a PPR monster.

 

Rookie Terrace Marshall Jr. had his most productive day as a professional catching four of his five targets for 48 yards. The wideout out of LSU looks to be settling in as the WR3 in Carolina. He is a good route runner, blocks well, and seems to be in the good books of Matt Rhule, who loved his application in college. He could be an attractive FLEX option in favorable matchups.

 

Tommy Tremble wasn’t a guy anyone had on their radar to be fantasy relevant in this game, let alone in the running game. But, Tremble got the nod to carry the rock in for Carolina’s second score of the night. The rookie also hauled in a nice 30-yard grab in the passing game. He is definitely someone to keep an eye on in the coming weeks as the Panthers look to replace McCaffrey’s production.

 

The fantasy bust from this game was undoubtedly Robby Anderson. After hauling in a big score in Week 1, Anderson has caught just four balls on eight targets for a measly 46 yards. He saw just two looks in this game. Without a deep ball touchdown, he is quickly falling away as a WR2 option.

 

Houston Texans

 

Quarterback

 

Davis Mills: 19/28, 168 yards, TD, 4 sacks | 1 carry, 0 yards

 

As far as first games go for rookie quarterbacks who are drafted as backups or projects, this was fairly promising for Davis Mills. The 2021 third-round selection out of Stanford acquitted himself when asked to in the passing game, however, that wasn’t very often. Attempting just 28 passes, the majority of Davis’ yardage came in the final drive of the first half as hit Brandon Cooks repeatedly for big gains to get the Texans across midfield for the first time in the game.

 

Mills went through his progressions nicely on the touchdown throw, moving to his second read and nailing a pass to forgotten-fantasy favorite Anthony Miller for a score in the back of the end zone.

 

The Texans only had four possessions in the second half and two of them were punts, including a decision to punt instead of trying a 57-yard field goal. The Panthers marched straight up the field and scored a touchdown to make that decision look even worse. It was hard to get a true feeling about where Mills is at, and this team obviously went way over the top trying to protect him. He was sacked four times, including twice from Panthers’ big-money free-agent Haason Reddick. This hit is an absolute beast!

 

The next few weeks should give us more indication about Mills but for now, he can hold his head high and concentrate on improving.

 

Running Back

 

Mark Ingram: 6 carries, 21 yards | 1 target, 1 reception, -1 yard

David Johnson: 2 carries, 11 yards

Phillip Lindsay: 7 carries, 5 yards

Rex Burkhead: 1 target, 1 reception, 5 yards

 

This running back room doesn’t deserve these words written about them to be fair. None of the three experienced backs โ€“ Mark Ingram, David Johnson, and Phillip Lindsay โ€“ showed any NFL-caliber talent at all in limited action in this contest. Not helped by a terrible game plan aimed at limiting the damage that could happen with a rookie quarterback, Houston’s run game did not help Mills out either.

This is a backfield to avoid completely. Although, some would call Johnson’s 5.5 yards/carry a win!?

 

Wide Receiver/Tight End

 

Brandin Cooks: 11 targets, 9 receptions, 112 yards

Jordan Akins: 5 targets, 4 receptions, 32 yards

Anthony Miller: 6 targets, 4 receptions, 20 yards, TD

Chris Conley: 1 target

 

Brandin Cooks is the diamond in the rough of this offense. He seems to be quarterback-proof in terms of fantasy production and is thriving on the field from being handed all the go-to targets in the passing game. Mills certainly looked his way on every first read, connecting with the former Saints and Rams wideout nine times. Cooks has 312 receiving yards through the first three games of the season and is a WR1 in terms of fantasy for the foreseeable future no matter who the quarterback is.

 

You do feel sorry for him though, this offense is him and a whole lot of nothing. I’m sorry, I can’t believe in Anthony Miller again.

 

Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

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