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Scouting the enemy: Carolina Panthers

Sam Darnold’s first start for the Panthers is against the Broncos. Will this be his legacy game against the talented defense or will the Broncos bounce back into the win column?

Denver Broncos v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The last time the Denver Broncos faced off against the Carolina Panthers was in 2020, with the Broncos pulling out a 32-27 win in Carolina.

Drew Lock had one of his best games as a Bronco, throwing for 280 yards and four touchdowns. KJ Hamler caught two of those touchdowns - his only catches that game - while Tim Patrick and Nick Vannett also had touchdown grabs. On the defensive side, the Broncos were all over future Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater who was sacked four times by Denver. The Broncos' discipline and passing game were what propelled them to the win.

Panthers’ 2022 moves

Key gains: RB D’onta Foreman, P Johnny Hekker, OL Bradley Bozeman, OG Austin Corbett, DT Matt Ioannidis, LB Corey Littleton, LB Damien Wilson, S Xavier Woods, QB Baker Mayfield

Key losses: RB Christian McCaffery, WR Robby Anderson, LB Haason Reddick, CB Stephon Gilmore, LB Jermaine Carter

2022 Draft: round one: (6) OT Ikem Ekwonu; round three: (94) QB Matt Corral; round four: (120) LB Brandon Smith; round six: (189) DE Amare Barno; (199) OL Cade Mays; round seven: (242) CB Kalon Barnes.

Panthers 2022 season so far

The Panthers currently hold a 3-8 record and are last in the NFC South. Their wins come against the Falcons, Buccaneers, and Saints. They have run through a series of quarterbacks so far this year, including Baker Mayfield, P.J. Walker, and now Sam Darnold. Each has started one game for the Panthers this year.

Offensively, the Panthers are led by D.J. Moore, who is their go-to guy in the passing game. He has 42 catches for 502 yards and three touchdowns. He also has 82 targets, with the second most going to Terrace Marshall at 31. Foreman has also really stepped up into Christain McCaffery’s place as he now has 450 rushing yards plus four touchdowns.

Defensively it does get a little bit better. Shaq Thompson currently leads the team in tackles with 83. Of course, there is also Brian Burns, who has eight sacks this year, double the second most on the team. There is also a pretty good cornerback trio in Carolina with Donte Jackson, Jaycee Horn, and CJ Henderson. Combined the threesome has 11 pass breakups and five interceptions this year.

Tanner’s three keys to victory

  1. The defense will have to enforce its will

This defense has been special all season long, allowing only an average of 17 points per game and 186 passing yards per game - some of the best stats in the NFL. If the Denver defense slows down Moore with Pat Surtain, the Panthers will be forced to run the ball. This will mean the Broncos’ run defense will need to step up (after getting gashed again by Josh Jacobs last week) in order to give the offense the win.

2. Latavius Murray gets going

Frankly the passing game so far this year has not been kind to the Denver Broncos, with only seven touchdowns and 2,227 passing yards from Russell Wilson. So the run game will have to be a focus of this offense and can eventually open up the passing game as the Panthers defend the run more and more.

3. Survive the game with no injuries

The Broncos' health has been a massive issue all year as Denver is the most injured team in the NFL. With the number of injuries the Broncos currently have, the team cannot afford another player going down.

Tanner’s game prediction

I think this game could be the end of Hackett’s time as a Broncos head coach. I predict that Sam Darnold will have a legacy game, and be the most surprising thing about the matchup on Sunday since both offenses are not good.

This game is going to be a barn burner, but after the last game with Klint Kubiak calling plays, it gave me a little bit of hope that this offense can become competent as a unit. Latavius Murray, I think, could rush for about 100 yards and a touchdown or two. Kendall Hinton will also have several nice gains in the game as well.

After halftime with the Broncos leading, Hackett as per usual won’t make any adjustments and then the Panthers will start to click. Denver’s offensive line won’t give Wilson any time, and the Panthers edge rushers, led by Brian Burns, will have multiple sacks.

Broncos will choke away the game, and Carolina wins 23-17.