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Five things to watch at Detroit: Improving on offense

DJ Chark Jr.

CHARLOTTE – The Panthers start a two-week away stint with a trip up north this week.

Carolina (0-4, 0-2 NFC South) takes on the Detroit Lions (3-1, 1-0 NFC North) on Sunday at Ford Field, seeking out its first win of the season in a matchup with the NFC North leaders. 

Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. in Detroit. Fans can check out more information on how to watch here.

Here are five things to check out as you're watching.

Correcting the offense

The Panthers' offense is looking to see things begin to come together between their group of new pieces and new coaches this week, as the start of the season hasn't been particularly smooth. 

Rookie quarterback Bryce Young improved in the third start of his NFL career against Minnesota, though he committed a critical turnover in the second half.

Young lost the ball on a sack and watched as the Vikings returned it for a touchdown, taking a lead they wouldn't give up in Week 4. 

It was far from the first mistake of the season for the group still looking to tie up loose ends. But as offensive coordinator Thomas Brown pointed out, even though they have made mistakes, they haven't made the same ones consistently. But they need to get it buttoned up all around. 

"It's just having a clean operation when it comes to execution, down in and down out," Brown said. "It's not always the exact same mistake over and over again, but as far as us having all living guys working together at one time to be efficient down and down out." 

The offense has also continued to struggle to string together efficient scoring drives and muster explosive plays, averaging 282.5 yards per game (25th in the league). Heading into their fifth week together, the group will look to be more productive against Detroit. 

Carolina's most productive offensive performance came in Week 3, accumulating 378 yards when veteran backup Andy Dalton played at Seattle in place of an injured Young. In terms of yardage, the Panthers' offense peaked in Week 1 at Atlanta, putting up 281 yards.

DJ Chark

More from receivers

The Panthers will be looking for more production from their group of receivers when they go to Detroit. 

Carolina's top five pass-catchers include three wideouts, running back Miles Sanders, and tight end Hayden Hurst. Veteran wide receiver Adam Thielen is the only player who has caught more than 16 passes, putting up 287 yards on 27 catches through the first four games. 

DJ Chark Jr., who will play against his former team when the Panthers face the Lions, has caught just seven passes for 129 yards. Terrace Marshall Jr. has added 114 yards on 16 receptions. 

At the same time, head coach Frank Reich said he has belief in the group when asked if he was interested in adding the unit. 

And he outlined how his position differs from that of general manager Scott Fitterer in those situations this week.

If Fitterer needs to involve Reich in any conversations, he will. Otherwise, Reich said his philosophy has remained the same since he started coaching: He'll focus on the players he has.

"This is the same answer for me all the time, every year I've been in this position. Once we get in season, I just want the guys we got, you know what I mean?" Reich said. "I love the guys we've got. We've got the guys we need to win. That's why, to me there, it makes sense to have the division of the GM and head coach.

"Scott is always going to be working to do his job to initiate. He's certainly going to involve me in those decisions if something comes up. But those aren't things that I'm going to him initiating on. I'm not initiating those discussions with him. He's doing what he's doing, looking to do his job. I'm coaching the guys that we've got, and I'm happy about the guys we got."

Bryce Young's improvement

Young said he's keeping his attention on himself as he seeks to improve in his fourth NFL start. 

"I have to focus on myself, trying to be better, and improving," Young said. "To do that, I have to put energy in myself."

Young has steadily improved as the helm of the offense. He threw for 204 yards on a 78.13 completion percentage (25-of-32) and a 93.2 rating against Minnesota, all of which were season-best marks to that point. 

Before the Vikings game, Young had 146 yards, a touchdown, and two interceptions on 20-of-38 passing against Atlanta, and 153 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions on 22-of-33 passing against New Orleans. 

Young's rating has gone up from 48.8 to 87.1 and 93.2 against the Vikings, all steady improvements. He'll look to continue that against Detroit.

Defensive players battling injuries

Reich updated on multiple injuries across Carolina's defense before the trip to Detroit.

Safety Xavier Woods will miss a second-straight game with a hamstring injury sustained against Seattle. Cornerback Donte Jackson (shouler) was a full participant in Friday's practice but is questionable for Sunday as the team waits to "see how he responds," Reich said.

Linebacker Frankie Luvu (hip) was a limited participant in Friday's practice but received no injury designation, so he's expected to play at Detroit.

Defending the run

For all the things the Panthers’ defense does well, they're looking to improve against the run.

Carolina is allowing 4.7 rush yards per attempt, which stands at 29th in the NFL, and the unit will be tasked with a surging Lions' rush game on a high from a strong week against the Packers. 

David Montgomery scored three times and ran for 121 yards against Green Bay, as Detroit's game against the Packers helped bolster their top-10 rushing offense, averaging 136.5 yards per game. 

The Panthers will be tasked with improving their defense against the run, as they're allowing 136.3 yards rushing per game, ranked 27th in the league.

View photos from the Panthers' practice on Thursday.

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