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Panthers look to unleash smothering defense in Houston, stifle another rookie quarterback

The Carolina Panthers (2-0) are riding the wave of their 2-0 win streak after their dominant 26-7 win over the New Orleans Saints less than a week ago. With just four days to prepare, they must now muster themselves to face the Houston Texans (1-1), who currently sit atop the AFC South, on Thursday night. The last meeting between the two teams produced a 16-10 win for the Panthers in game 4 of the 2019 season.

Houston, now led by first year head coach David Culley, dropped their week two matchup with Cleveland by a score of 31-21, bringing its record to 1-1. They also loss starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor who suffered a hamstring injury and did not return in the second half. The injury forced Davis Mills to see his first action of the 2021 season. Mills went 8-for-18 and threw one interception in the loss. Now he steps up to face the Panthers defense which, so far this season, has been one of the most disruptive forces facing NFL quarterbacks. Carolina leads the league with 10 sacks this season, the second most in franchise history through the first two games of a season (12 in 1998).

While it may look to many like a turkey shoot with regard to neutralizing rookie quarterback Davis Mills, Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule sees the young gunslinger as just another NFL quarterback that has the potential to do big things and that his group is more focused on the Texans' scheme than who's running it. "Obviously we prepared for him in the draft so we have a good look on him and the things he does really well," Rhule said.

"He has a big arm and he's extremely accurate."

One concern for Carolina is what Houston is able to do on 3rd downs. The Panthers are only 41.4% when converting on third down (t-14th) compared to the Texans' 57.1%( which ranks 2nd in the NFL. To live up to that efficiency, however, Houston will have to get through the Panthers top ranked run defense which currently has only given up 46.5 rushing yards per game.

The Panthers offense will definitely have their hands full with some recent movement there due to a Pat Elflein injury which will have him out of the lineup for at least three weeks. Denis Daley will move to left guard. One of the biggest items on Rhules' checklist has been better protection for Sam Darnold which unfortunately has come from the left side. Darnold, however, has completed 68% of his passes this season and is quickly erasing memories of his time with the New York Jets thanks to his improved mobility in the pocket.

Carolina has had some minor issues securing the football this year so that will have to be something they tighten up before Thursday. The Texans are currently tied for second place in the league with five takeaways.

Look for Christian McCaffrey to have a big game and possibly reach another milestone against the Texans' week run defense. Additionally, with one rushing touchdown and one receiving touchdown McCaffrey can be claim the top sport for games achieving that mark. (10)

The Panthers held New Orleans to 128 net yards Sunday, the fewest net yards allowed by the team since 2008. The defense has been in control regarding the pass rush which will be a tough task for Texans' left tackle, Laremy Tunsil. They've also even seen big improvements in the secondary, including key interceptions by Justin Burris and Jaycee Horn last week. However, they are still fine tuning. A.J. Bouey's return from suspension gives them added stability at the left corner position. But eight-year veteran receiver Brandin Cooks, who is averaging 15.0 yards per reception, provides a powerful outlet for Mills to keep the Texans threat level high. But if they Panthers can shut him down, it almost surely close the book on the Texans' passing game as Cooks is their most targeted receiver by far.

The last time the Panthers defense faced a rookie quarterback was in week one against Jets' Zach Wilson. Carolina sacked Wilson six times. So look for them to throw the kitchen sink at Mills with plenty of blitz packages from Carolina defensive coordinator Phil Snow.


September 23, 2021

8:20 p.m. E.T.

Houston, Texas

NRG Stadium


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