While the public still laments the absence of Carolina starting quarterback Cam Newton the team heads to Houston coming off their first win of the year. Newton’s backup, 23 year old Kyle Allen, will once again get the start for the Panthers coming off a very impressive performance against the Arizona Cardinals last week. Allen threw for 261 yards and 4 touchdowns while running back Christian McCaffrey ran for 153 yards and another touchdown.
Houston is 2-1 and coming off a solid 27-20 win over the Chargers in Los Angeles. That being said, I’m still not bullish on Houston for the long term. The offensive line is awful and has done a miserable job of protecting Deshaun Watson. Watson has been sacked 12 times already this year and while he was only sacked twice against the Chargers that has more to do with the poor LA pass rush than any improvement in his protection. They’ll get a dose of reality this weekend facing an aggressive Panthers front tied for second in the NFL with 12 sacks this season, one fewer than the two teams tied at #1 (New England and Jacksonville).
The Texans also have a shabby defense ranked #22 in total defense. That gives Allen a great opportunity to follow up on his showing last week. Allen is a different quarterback from Newton but his skill set–methodical, accurate passing–is likely what the Panthers need right now. When Newton is healthy there’s few in the game that can match his athleticism. With Newton not right physically he’s forced to become more of a drop back quarterback who relies on precision passing. In other words, until Cam gets healthy they need him to be Kyle Allen and that’s not really Newton’s skill set. With Allen able to ‘take what the defense gives him’ through the air it’ll open up more running lanes for Christian McCaffrey and all of a sudden the Panthers’ offense is dangerous again.
Newton’s current injury status notwithstanding, there’s nothing wrong with this Carolina team and they could go on a run from this point. Houston still has the same issues that they started the year with but so far they’ve been able to conceal them due to the matchups they’ve faced. Bill O’Brien still isn’t anything great in terms of preparation and even less so when it comes to in-game management. Ron Rivera is a much better coach and now that he’s got a healthy quarterback to run the offense he can do some damage. Panthers are 11-6 ATS in their last 17 as an underdog, 6-2 SU/5-2-1 ATS in their last 8 non-conference games and 9-4 ATS in their last 13 against opponents with winning records.