Taking the good with the bad
"Growing pains" were the main talking point of head coach Ron Rivera's post-game remarks on Sunday, and that message didn't change by Monday afternoon. During the Panthers 29-3 loss to the Falcons, a number of young players struggled – particularly quarterback Kyle Allen and left tackle Greg Little.
"When you play young players, you're going to have growing pains," Rivera said. "They're young guys, they're going to make mistakes. A couple weeks ago we had Dennis Daley out there doing the best he can and getting better with every snap."
Allen took over the Panthers' offense in Week 3, and a four-game win streak was enough to mask some of the second-year quarterback's early struggles. Since then, however, losses in three of the last four games have put the woes front and center. Allen's fumbles in his first few starts have recently transformed into a streak of interceptions, bringing Allen's season total to 14 turnovers in eight games.
"He was taking it very hard and taking it very personal," Rivera said of Allen. "Like a lot of us, he feels like he let a lot of people down, and we try to get him to understand it's not just you that's got to make plays, it's the whole team."
As much as these growing pains hurt the Panthers right now, Rivera is banking on the reps paying off for Allen – and Little – further down the road.
"It's one of these things, we have a young guy who's going to grow and develop," Rivera said. "The only way that happens is by playing and we have to accept that. We're going to take the good with the bad."
Explaining the play-calling
Sunday's loss featured the Panthers' largest run-pass discrepancy of the season, as Carolina only rushed the ball 15 times compared to 55 pass plays.
With an MVP candidate in the backfield, that ratio may initially raise some eyebrows. It's not like running back Christian McCaffrey was getting stuffed in the run game – he took 14 of those carries for 70 yards, for an average of 5.0 yards per carry.
However, even before the Panthers ended up on the wrong side of the scoreboard, the run game didn't look particularly appealing the way the Falcons were stacking the box.
"One of the things you wanted to do was try to get them out of the eight-man box," Rivera explained. "If you have success throwing the ball, eventually what happens to a team is they stop getting in an eight-man box and now you can run the ball a little bit more fluidly."
Hence the air-raid with Allen. Then later, after falling behind by 26 points, it clearly wasn't the best scenario for the Panthers to rely on a slower, ground and pound offense.
A step forward in the run defense
One of the positives Rivera was able to take away from Sunday's loss came in the run defense.
The Panthers entered the matchup allowing the sixth-most rushing yards in the league and were just a week removed from giving up 163 yards on the ground to Green Bay. The Panthers' D finally got back on track against the Falcons though, at least as far as stopping the run was concerned.
The Panthers held the Falcons to just 54 rushing yards on 26 attempts, marking the defense's second-best outing of the season against the run.
"That's how we should have been playing all along," Rivera said. "That's probably the toughest pill to swallow, because when we do the things we're supposed to, stay in our creases like we should, we fight through pressure, we play a gap-and-a-half technique, we fall back where we need to, we can be pretty good."
While pointing out positives, Rivera also made time to compliment safety Tre Boston's play against the Falcons.
"One of the guys I really highlighted today in our meeting was the way Tre Boston played," Rivera said. "I thought Tre came out and played a very, very good game. He was very physical, handled a lot of things that were thrown at him."
Boston led the Panthers with eight total tackles, including two vicious hits early in the game. Boston also added a tackle for loss and a pass defensed.
View the best photos behind-the-scenes from Carolina's Week 11 home game against Atlanta.