CHARLOTTE - The Panthers have seen enough of Bryce Young throughout the pre-draft process and since he's arrived to know that he's perfectly capable of throwing a good deep ball.
He just didn't complete any of them last week, which had a trickle-down effect on the entire offense.
He didn't complete anything deeper than 14 yards, and only had a couple of attempts beyond 20. Both his interceptions were on mid-range passes across the middle by Falcons safety Jessie Bates III, who said they anticipated the Panthers to keep things short for the rookie quarterback to ease him into his first game. And much of what they tried to do against the Falcons was of the quick-pass variety, with Young leaving his first game with a meager 3.8 yards per pass attempt, the difference between quick passing and barely passing at all.
The only starting quarterbacks in the league last week with smaller yards per attempt numbers were Joe Burrow (2.6) and Daniel Jones (3.7), and their teams lost by a combined score of 64-3.
So the Panthers know they need to fix it, and the sooner the better.
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If it stays like that, it's going to become harder to run. But the Panthers are hoping for some remedies in the downfield passing game, beginning with getting DJ Chark Jr. back on the field this week.
"You know, every time I step on the field, I feel like I can make a difference," Chark said Thursday. "But last week was just tough because you don't really have, it's hard to game plan in Week 1. We haven't seen them on film, so they came out with some wrinkles and sitting down on a lot of things.
"But I feel like I can at least try to help, at least back up coverage a little bit, get other guys open. That's something that is needed in the game. So, not that the guys out there couldn't do that because they can, it's just a game plan and if they choose to do that, we have to be able to make a team pay when they do that."
Chark himself represents the easiest way to do that, and the downfield connections between him and Young were a staple of Spartanburg practices. But sending the big fast guy deep isn't the only way to create space in a defense, and Panthers offensive coordinator Thomas Brown talked about being able to use shifts in formation and motion to do part of it.
And Brown defended the rest of the receivers here, saying they can clean up a few mistakes from the two deep shots they took downfield, and can use Terrace Marshall Jr. and Jonathan Mingo and others to get downfield as well. The Panthers rotate multiple receivers through multiple roles to reduce the predictability of the offense, and Brown said that diversity is helpful.
"I mean, obviously DJ has been a big part of what we've been building so far, and was highly effective for us through all of Phase One, Phase Two, Phase Three and OTAs and obviously the training camp as well, but we'll see how that goes," Brown said. "We'll still have a healthy rotation in general with all our wideouts.
"I think we have great versatility, in our receiver room overall. So yes, he (Chark) does bring something different to the table, but every guy we have that's going to be on the grass, brings something different to the table, which we're all excited about."
Again, if they can't get the safety from squatting on shorts routes in the box, they won't be able to run the way they did in Atlanta either (154 yards, with 4.8 per rush that's greater than the average per pass attempt), so getting the problem fixed is important.
Backup quarterback Andy Dalton said those motions and formations can also be helpful in working against the leverage the defense is trying to play. And he also knows from playing with Bates for two seasons in Cincinnati that even the best safeties are still susceptible to the same things.
"I think the best way to get him back up is to beat him deep, right?" Dalton said. "And if you can do that, that clears everything. I mean, that helps (Miles Sanders), that helps Bryce. . . .
"It's just, you've got to find the right time, get the right coverage and all that and everything that goes into it. But you have to be willing to call a shot, something deeper down the field and we have to understand all right, if it's there take it, if it's not, we have to check it out and play the next play."
Chark said that it's also important to remember that it was Young's first game, so he's building a base of experience with everyone. When Chark returned to practice late in OTAs, there was an adjustment period before he and Young got to the point of their regular connections in camp.
"People also ought to realize this is his first game and just going out there and it's not practice, you know," he said. "In practice you can make a mistake and it's OK and in the game, it's magnified. So for him, you have to get him comfortable with being able to take those shots and things like that. They don't just happen overnight.
"So it's our job to continue to work it, work it at practice and make it happen at practice. So in the game you can't get the chance to make it happen in the game and then it can become a routine thing. But, it takes work, and I'm pretty sure by the time we get to midseason and he's got so many games on this, it'll be like second nature."