CHARLOTTE, N.C. — 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.