Detroit Lions won't face Christian McCaffrey, but still must prepare for Panthers' speed

Carlos Monarrez, Detroit Free Press
·4 min read

The Carolina Panthers won’t have All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey on Sunday. And they might not have Pro Bowl quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

But that doesn’t mean the Detroit Lions won’t have to worry about other weapons on the Panthers’ offense when the two teams meet in Charlotte, N.C.

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Even though the Panthers are 3-7 and their offense ranks nowhere near the top of any significant category, receivers D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson are having fantastic years. Both are on pace to finish with at least 1,100 receiving yards this season.

“Different scheme here offensively — one of the most explosive offensive skill set groups in the league,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said in a conference call Thursday. “They’re top 5 as far as explosive plays. D.J. Moore, he’s fast, he can go vertical, he can really get behind the coverage.

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“Robby Anderson, we certainly know he can do that, too. I think the thing with Robby that’s been impressive to me is to see his development. Obviously remember him back at the Jets, but his development now with his route-running — I think he’s doing a really good job of getting in and out of his breaks, finding the space in the zones and really working some of that stuff. But speed is the first thing that stands out.”

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey runs toward the end zone to score.
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey runs toward the end zone to score.

When he was the defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, Patricia faced Anderson on the Jets in 2016-17, his first two seasons in the NFL. But he didn’t do much damage in four games. Anderson's most productive game by far was a four-catch, 76-yard effort in a 24-17 loss to the Pats in 2017.

Moore is coming off an 1,175-yard season and this year he leads the team with four receiving touchdowns and 18.9 yards per reception, which ranks third in the NFL.

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Patricia also was sure to mention versatile running back Curtis Samuel, who has blazing speed. Mike Davis will be the Panthers’ lead running back, but Samuel has a slightly better average at 4.3 yards per carry.

As far as Samuel’s speed, he was clocked by the NFL’s Next Gen Stats at reaching a top speed of 21.5 miles per hour on a jet sweep that went for a 14-yard touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs. It was the ninth-fastest speed measured in the first half of the NFL season.

Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore (12) celebrates his touchdown reception in the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore (12) celebrates his touchdown reception in the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

“This guy is kind of the Swiss Army knife of their offense,” Patricia said of Samuel, “and he can go vertical, he can run over routes and then he’s going to be in the backfield lined up in the home position to run the ball.

“So I think that’s the one thing for them that you see right away is just the speed, ability, for them to really stress the defense. That’s probably the biggest thing.”

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And that’s the good news for the Lions, because they at least know what to expect from those players. When it comes to the Panthers’ quarterback, it’s a different story because Bridgewater’s backups are somewhat unknown quantities.

Former XFL star P.J. Walker and second-year player Will Grier split reps in practice in place of Bridgewater, who reportedly suffered an MCL sprain near the end of last week’s 46-23 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Walker came in for Bridgewater and completed 2 of 4 passes for 12 yards on Sunday. Last year, Grier lost both of the games he started and completed 28 of 52 passes for 228 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions.

“Obviously Teddy Bridgewater will be No. 1,” Patricia said of preparing to face any of the Panthers’ three quarterbacks. “But when you look at those other guys — we have a phenomenal scouting department. We have a lot of information on these guys through the course of the year of what they’ve been and the evaluation of who they are as players.

“Then we’ll certainly go through whatever tape you can find available and kind of get that assessment and see if that still stacks up and is accurate to where they are now. From there, you try to project, ‘How does it fit in to the schematics of what they’re doing offensively?’ And try to do your best to prepare for that.”

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions won't see Christian McCaffrey, but must prep for speed