Panthers QB Sam Darnold’s clean pocket and red zone numbers are troubling

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If the Carolina Panthers are going to break their three-year streak of losing records, they’ll need their new starting quarterback Sam Darnold to be a significant upgrade over Teddy Bridgewater. While Darnold has more raw talent than Teddy, the numbers he’s posted so far in his career don’t indicate that he’s any better. In fact, in some ways he’s worse.

We already know Darnold has a tough time when he’s forced to throw outside of the pocket – he was named the NFL’s worst passer in those situations by Doug Farrar at Touchdown Wire. Unfortuantely, Darnold has also had issues when he’s kept clean.

According to Pro Football Focus, Darnold has the lowest passing grade (55.7) from a clean pocket since the 2018 season. Bridgewater ranked No. 32 in that stat last year, while Darnold ranked dead last at No. 39.

Perhaps the most critical area that needs improvement for Carolina’s offense is in the red zone. In 2020, they consistently had trouble getting over the goal line and finished the year No. 28 in red zone scoring percentage. This is another area Darnold has struggled in, though. PFF says Darnold’s passer rating in the red zone (77.6) is also the lowest in the league going back to 2018.

When they gave up three draft picks to the Jets to get him, the Panthers were betting on Darnold growing into a better QB now that he has an improved supporting cast around him. While he has shown occasional flashes of brilliance, his numbers to date don’t justify that faith.

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