Thu, 08 Dec 2022

Notebook: More focus on improving third downs

Carolina Panthers
23 Sep 2022, 21:44 GMT+10

Darin Gantt

CHARLOTTE - Panthers offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo knows what's coming, and he knows what they've done so far hasn't been good enough.

The Panthers are 29th in the league in third-down conversions, gaining what they need on just 6-of-23 attempts this year (and 0-for-5 in the second half at New York last week). So naturally, that was the first question he was asked in Thursday's press conference.

"Obviously, we need to convert at a higher rate to stay on the field," McAdoo said. That's something we've spent some time already working on this week. And that's something we're going to keep throwing effort at it. We're still in the middle of figuring out who we are on offense, and third down is a big part of that. So I need to do a better job of putting guys in positions to make plays.

"It was a rough afternoon last week. But we'll learn from it, and we'll grow from it."

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Toward that end, they've looked at different combinations of receivers this week, after just six snaps in the first two games from guys not named DJ Moore, Robbie Anderson, or Shi Smith.

"We've worked a lot of guys in this week," McAdoo said. "We need to do a better job of getting guys in there, and that starts with me. We certainly have a lot of trust in our players, not just the three we've been throwing out there for the most part.

"But we're looking to get more attempts at the plate, staying on the field on third down, but we have trust in our guys and want to give them a chance to go out and make plays."

The Panthers have struggled in general on third downs this year, but they've often been in third-and-longs which makes conversions more difficult.

Oddly enough, they're ranked first in the league in yards per first down play (8.0), but that average is skewed by the fact Anderson's 75-yard touchdown against the Browns and Christian McCaffrey's 49-yard run against the Giants came on first downs.

Take those two plays for 124 yards out, and they've gained 5.6 yards per first down, which would still rank 13th in the league, but they've been hampered by some ill-timed penalties and negative plays which have kept the offense from finding a rhythm.

- McCaffrey might have been listed as limited because of his ankle Thursday, but his funny bone remains intact and a full participant. There are few things anyone hates more than McCaffrey hates being asked injury questions, but he grinned Thursday in the locker room after practice and said, "I feel great."

"I think at this point, if I went to take a leak during practice, I'd end up on the report," he joked.

When word of perhaps McCaffrey's best (public) one-liner went around the locker room, his teammates got in on the act.

After Moore needed a little of quarterback Baker Mayfield's locker room space to do an interview (Moore's locker is tucked in a corner behind a scale, preventing large crowds from gathering), Mayfield cracked: "Put me on the report - hurt feelings."

McCaffrey's normally fairly straight-laced in these settings, which is understandable given the context of many of his press conferences, but he was in a good mood Thursday.

While discussing the current locker room competition in the game Anagrams, he threw defensive end Brian Burns under the bus when asked if he was a superior player. "To him, yeah," he said. "I'm not number one in the locker room, though. Andre Roberts is an assassin at Anagrams. He's also a lot older, though (34), so he's a little bit wiser, and has more time, and he's learned a few more words than us over the years."

Ladies and gentlemen, he'll be here all week (especially Sunday). Try the veal, and don't forget to tip your waiters and waitresses.

- Speaking of Burns, defensive coordinator Phil Snow said the amount of coverage the defensive end played last week in New York was largely because of the RPO-heavy offense the Giants were using, as he wanted to mix up his drops and his rushes to give them different looks.

Burns still had two sacks, and Snow said he'd been impressed with the way he has developed more of a bull rush.

"He's two-dimensional now," Snow said. "He's gained 10 pounds, he's a lot stronger, so in the past, he was more of just a speed guy, but now he can go to power too."

- New acquisition Raheem Blackshear was in a running backs meeting with the Buffalo Bills Wednesday morning when he got the call that the Panthers wanted to sign him to the active roster. Whether he was supposed to have a phone in a meeting is another question, but he laughed and said, "I had to go to the bathroom."

Now, he has to get his stuff here.

Blackshear said he threw "my cleats and my toothbrush" in a bag and jumped on an 8 a.m. flight to Charlotte Thursday, so he was here a few hours before he took the practice field wearing his new number 20 jersey. He did pack some things in his car and is having that shipped to Charlotte, so he'll actually have some of his stuff.

"I had to get to work," he said.

Blackshear grew up in Philadelphia, and initially committed to play at Temple, but switched to Rutgers when Panthers head coach Matt Rhule went to Baylor. But he went to the same high school (Archbishop Wood) as practice squad tight end Colin Thompson, and knows Moore and PJ Walker from the Philly connection.

- Moore and a lot of players were asked about the upcoming three-game homestand (the Panthers host the Cardinals and then the 49ers after Sunday's game against the Saints), and he said it was a chance to change the tone after two losses to open the season.

"It's time to stop losing," Moore said. "And just go out there and stack back-to-back wins in the bank."

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