CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Bryce Young’s longest pass completion in Week 1 went for 14 yards.
Panthers coach Frank Reich knows that needs to change Monday night when Carolina hosts the division-rival New Orleans Saints.
Young, the No. 1 overall pick, was limited to 146 yards passing in a 24-10 loss to Atlanta and threw two interceptions and one touchdown in his pro debut.
The lack of what Reich deems “chunk plays” in the passing game — considered gains of 20 or more yards — contributed to those poor numbers, as the Falcons repeatedly keyed on short throws over the middle while daring Young to beat them deep.
“ We need more explosive plays,” Reich said. “That’s not going to be acceptable, so we’ll have to do a much better job there.”
That won’t be easy Monday night, even with deep threat DJ Chark (hamstring) expected to make his season debut for Carolina in Week 2.
The Saints are coming off a hard-fought 16-15 win over the Tennessee Titans that was every bit as much of a struggle as the score suggests.
New Orleans allowed three chunk plays — one of those a 46-yard completion to running back Derrick Henry — but held the Titans out of the end zone. They also intercepted Ryan Tannehill three times.
Despite Young’s lack of production in Week 1, Saints linebacker Pete Werner saw enough of the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner at the college level to know he’s only going to get better.
“This is a team that you need to be on point, especially with a quarterback like this and how he’s got that big-play ability,” Werner said.
Added Saints coach Dennis Allen of Young: “One of the best things he did (at Alabama) was his ability to create in terms of off-rhythm or off-timing throws, be able to escape the pocket, be able to climb and escape. … For lack of a better term, some of the playground football that he’s able to create on the field was one of his best assets.”
While the Panthers couldn’t seem to get any big pass plays last Sunday, the Saints had no problem moving the football.
Derek Carr threw for 305 yards in his Saints debut and had five completions of 20 yards or more, including two for 40-plus yards.
NOT DOUBTING THOMAS
After two-time All-Pro Michael Thomas went out for most of last season with a foot injury, Chris Olave emerged as New Orleans’ leading receiver.
In Week 1, with Thomas back in the lineup, Olave was again the Saints’ most productive pass catcher with eight receptions for 112 yards. Thomas, still working his way back into form, was Carr’s second-most targeted receiver with eight passes intended for him. He caught five for 61 yards, including a 25-yarder.
This week, Olave surmised that the influence of Thomas’ return on the Saints’ passing game goes beyond the injury-plagued veteran’s statistics in his first game back.
“Every day he goes out there, he just looks better and better,” Olave said. “His presence and his competitive nature, I feel like it uplifts the whole offense.”
The Saints will face a Panthers secondary without top cornerback Jaycee Horn.
“They have multiple weapons on offense,” Panthers linebacker Shaq Thompson said.
BURNS READY TO ROLL
The Panthers waited most of last week to hear if star pass rusher Brian Burns would play amid a stalled contract renegotiation. The two-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker wound up playing against the Falcons and quickly proved why he’s so valuable with 1 1/2 sacks, a forced fumble and another tackle for a loss on third down.
Burns, who will play against the Saints, said earlier this offseason he wants to have 10 sacks by the 10th game.
The Saints this week put defensive end Payton Turner, a 2021 first-round draft choice, on injured reserve because of a turf toe injury in Week 1 that will require surgery and could sideline him for two to three months.
The transaction could mean more playing time for last spring’s second-round draft choice, Isaiah Foskey from Notre Dame. He was a healthy scratch last week.
“An opportunity has opened up for him,” Allen said of Foskey, but added. “Obviously, we have a couple of options also on the practice squad.”
On Wednesday, defensive end Kyle Phillips was promoted to the active roster.
Panthers kicker Eddy Pineiro has quietly put together an impressive streak of 20 straight made field goals.
His 94.3% field goal rate last year was the second highest both in the NFL and in team history for a single season, making him a valuable and reliable option for the Panthers.
The Saints are going with unproven Blake Grupe at kicker after trading veteran Wil Lutz to the Denver Broncos for a seventh-round draft pick. Grupe made all three field goals in Week 1, including a 52-yarder.
The Panthers love to run the ball between the tackles, but they’ll be without starting guards Austin Corbett and Brady Christensen, who are both on injured reserve.
Rookie Chandler Zavala and Cade Mays, who have started a combined three games in the NFL, are expected to start at the guard spots. Don’t be surprised if the Saints run a number of stunts at the Panthers designed to confuse the young linemen.
NEW ORLEANS (1-0) at CAROLINA (0-1)
Monday, 7:15 p.m. EDT ESPN
FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK NFL LINE: Saints by 3
AGAINST THE SPREAD: New Orleans 1-0; Carolina 0-1
SERIES RECORD: Saints lead 29-28
LAST MEETING: Panthers beat Saints 10-7 on Jan. 8.
LAST WEEK: Saints beat Titans 16-15; Panthers lost to Falcons 24-10
SAINTS OFFENSE: OVERALL (8), RUSH (28), PASS (5), SCORING (T-22).
SAINTS DEFENSE: OVERALL (17), RUSH (20), PASS (15), SCORING (7).
PANTHERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (17), RUSH (5), PASS (26), SCORING (28).
PANTHERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (5), RUSH (27), PASS (3), SCORING (T-22).
TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Saints plus-1; Panthers minus-3.
SAINTS PLAYER TO WATCH: WR Chris Olave continues to emerge as one of the league’s better young receivers. Despite working with a new QB in Derek Carr, Olave didn’t miss a beat to open his second NFL season catching eight passes for 112 yards against the Titans in Week 1. On Monday night he faces a Carolina defense without its top cornerback in Jaycee Horn. Horn is out with a hamstring injury, which could present opportunities for not only Olave, but also Michael Thomas and Rashid Shaheed. Horn’s replacement will be C.J. Henderson, who has shown a tendency to give up big plays downfield. Shaheed had 89 yards receiving and a touchdown in the opener, while Thomas added five catches for 61 yards.
PANTHERS PLAYER TO WATCH: Panthers QB Bryce Young threw two interceptions in his NFL debut on the road against the Falcons, but the No. 1 overall pick will look to rebound against one of the league’s stingier defenses. Young showed an ability to escape pressure with his feet in the opener, but struggled getting the ball downfield. Carolina’s longest pass play went for 14 yards and coach Frank Reich wants more chunk plays in Week 2.
KEY MATCHUP: Panthers guards Chandler Zavala and Cade Mays vs. Saints defensive line. Panthers starting guards Austin Corbett and Brady Christensen are both on injured reserve, so the team has been pressed into starting a pair of young players in Zavala and Mays. Zavala is a rookie making his second NFL start, while Mays in his second season but only started two games as a rookie.
KEY INJURIES: The Panthers are hoping to get WR DJ Chark back after his missed Week 1 with a hamstring injury. Chark is considered Carolina’s best deep threat, and could allow the team to push the ball down the field more. If healthy, Chark would start opposite Adam Thielen.
SERIES NOTES: The Panthers have won three of the past four meetings and can even the overall series with a win.
STATS AND STUFF: QB Derek Carr had his 34th 300-yard game of his career last week. … Olave is coming off his fourth game with at least 100 yards receiving. … Olave had career highs in catches (nine) and yards receiving (147) in his previous game in Carolina. … WR Michael Thomas has 531 receptions in 74 games and can pass Anquan Boldin (531) & Julio Jones (531) for most receptions by player in his first 85 games. … Thomas has caught at least 10 passes for 120 or more yards receiving in each of his past two Monday night games. … WR Rashid Shaheed had a career-high 100 scrimmage yards (89 receiving, 11 rushing) and his third career TD catch last week. … DE Cameron Jordan has 4 1/2 sacks in his past three games against Carolina… LB Demario Davis led the Saints with 10 tackles and had a tackle for loss last week. … DE Carl Granderson had 1 1/2 sacks in Week 1. … CB Marshon Lattimore had league-high four passes defensed and his 15th INT in Week 1. … S Marcus Maye had his seventh career INT last week. The most recent time the Panthers had a Monday night game in their home opener was 2004 against the Green Bay Packers. … QB Bryce Young was 20 of 38 for 146 yards with one touchdown in two interceptions in his NFL debut last Sunday. … RB Miles Sanders had 98 yards on 22 touches in his debut with the Panthers in Week 1. … WR Adam Theilen had just two catches for 12 yards in his first game with the Panthers. … Carolina had four sacks against Atlanta, all coming in the first half. … The Panthers defense allowed the Falcons to convert just 2 of 10 third down conversions. … Carolina’s three turnovers last week led to 17 Falcons points.
FANTASY TIP: Panthers TE Hayden Hurst could be a sneaky good pick based on his production in training camp and in Week 1. Hurst scored Carolina’s only touchdown vs. Atlanta and was targeted a team-high seven times and finished with 41 yards on five receptions. He is clearly developing into Bryce Young’s top choice in the red zone.