CHARLOTTE — Panthers quarterback Baker Mayfield might have a little more pressure on him this week for a few reasons, but he's trying to simplify things as much as he can.
Because he knows the Cardinals are going to try to do their part to add to any pressure he might feel.
Mayfield, coming off three uneven passing games and with the possibility of not having running back Christian McCaffrey after he missed practice Thursday, and also a hurricane creating some weather questions, knows what's coming when the Cardinals roll into town.
While Arizona doesn't have traditional sack numbers (just two sacks on the season, both by defensive end JJ Watt, and they're 31st in sacks per pass play), they are one of the league's most aggressive teams in terms of blitzing. Considering the issues the Panthers had late in the Giants game against Don "Wink" Martindale's pressures; it's obviously something they're concentrating on this week.
"To me, when you face teams like this, they're trying to create huge negative plays," Mayfield said Thursday. "Eliminating all the disastrous plays, don't make a bad situation worse when they're bringing those pressures. That's what they're trying to do, is get you to freak out and just throw the ball up or cause a fumble.
"So spin the ball up quickly, take good care of ball security, and that's a huge emphasis against a team like this."
What he can't worry about are the incoming rains which are expected to hit the area tonight, as Hurricane Ian becomes a factor here.
"We'll do some wet ball drills, stuff like that, just to get guys used to it," Mayfield said with a shrug. "Fortunately, I had four years of experience in some very interesting weather up in Cleveland, so I'm used to that kind of thing. To me, rain is not as big of a factor as wind. So we'll see what happens Sunday; we can't control that. The good thing is, they have to deal with it too."
– McCaffrey did not practice for the second straight day, after he landed on the injury report with a thigh issue. This week's absence has left a lane for Chuba Hubbard, D'Onta Foreman, and the latest addition to the room Raheem Blackshear.
For Foreman, who has just four carries for 14 yards through the first three games, it's all about staying prepared for when his number is called, regardless of McCaffrey's status.
"I'm just prepared to play like I am each and every week," Foreman said. "I mean, I'm always up every week, so I prepare the same way. Unfortunately, Christian is down right now, but at the end of the day, it doesn't affect or change the way I prepare for the game."
McCaffrey has taken the bulk of rushing snaps for the Panthers through the first three weeks, with 243 yards on 50 attempts, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He finished with over 100 yards rushing in Week 2 against the Giants and Week 3 against New Orleans, marking his first back-to-back weeks over 100 rush yards since 2019.
Foreman and Hubbard have totaled the same number of attempts this season, with four each. Hubbard has taken his four carries for 28 yards, including a 14-yard rush last week against the Saints.
Foreman said he didn't know what the snap distribution plan would be if McCaffrey couldn't go, but that doesn't change his preparation.
"I'm just out here to do my job," Foreman said. "To go out there and play hard, (and) whenever my number's called, lock-in, and do the best I can do."
The two do have contrasting styles, as Foreman showed last year in Tennessee (when he replaced an injured Derrick Henry) that he could be something resembling an every-down back.
— Of all the areas the Panthers wanted to improve defensively this year, their work in the red zone was near the top of the list.
That was an issue last year, as they were 29th in the league in touchdown percentage allowed inside the 20 (67.3 percent). But this season, they're third in the league, allowing four touchdowns in 11 trips (36.4 percent) and 43 total points.
Holding the Giants to a couple of field goals after turnovers early in that game was an example of what they're going for, and defensive coordinator Phil Snow said he liked seeing the results of an offseason emphasis.
"Well, we've spent a lot of time on red zone the last six months," defensive coordinator Phil Snow said Thursday. "So, the players have invested a lot of time in it, and so have we as a coaching staff, so hopefully we continue to play decent down in that area. You know, if you hold people to field goals, you'll play pretty good on defense, so we've got to continue to do that.
"What we're doing is a little different; the execution is better by the players, the understanding of that area is getting better. I think the whole thing has gotten better."
— Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo wasn't biting when someone asked about last week's criticism by ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, who suggested the Panthers were predictable based on McCaffrey's alignment behind Mayfield.
He said that since head coach Matt Rhule addressed it last week, he didn't feel the need to, but added: "I do know this, if you're terrified of critics, trying new things probably isn't the right thing for you. I'm not really worried about that."
He also said he's been encouraged by what he's seen in practice from Mayfield and the receivers this week, as they try to get on the same page to improve the passing game.
"Baker's definitely making progress in terms of his footwork and fundamentals," McAdoo said. "Are we where we want to be right now? No. But we're making progress. Yesterday was a good day for us, not just in 7-on-7, but the team stuff. We're progressing, we're working through it, and we want to take another step this week."
— Cornerback Stantley Thomas-Oliver III said the news is largely good from his family, who rode out Hurricane Ian from their home in Punta Gorda, Fla. (which was close enough to the center of the storm that Jim Cantore was there yesterday).
Thomas-Oliver said he spoke to family members today, and that while there was some relatively minor damage to the house, everyone was safe and healthy.
— The Panthers had a legendary linebacker at practice for the second straight day, with Luke Kuechly on the sidelines for practice. Thomas Davis was here Wednesday.
View photos from Thursday's practice as the Panthers prepare to take on the Cardinals this weekend.