Written by Clark Gerber, WRAL Sports contributor.
After a mere 12 matches, I am prepared to state that the Carolina Panthers are facing a predicament with Bryce Young.
However, not in the manner that you may be expecting.
The newcomer has faced difficulties with passing the ball this season, particularly in recent games. In his last five games, Young has not been able to reach 200 yards, only scoring 2 touchdowns, throwing 5 interceptions, and facing 22 sacks.
It has been far from attractive, to say the least.
Some of the reasons for this can be attributed to inadequate performance from the offensive line and receivers who struggle to create openings. This is a valid argument, and it may be wise to be patient in addressing these concerns.
Unfortunately, one of Young’s other weaknesses has become extremely apparent, and I fear it will never get better.
I am referring to his physical stature.
Listed at 5’10”, 194 pounds (and let’s be honest, that weight is probably inflated), Bryce Young is historically small for an NFL quarterback. Let alone a No. 1 overall draft pick.
Despite concerns, Young’s height has not significantly affected the number of passes he has batted (only 4) thus far.
Unfortunately, this has made him ineffective in situations where the team needs to gain short yardage, greatly hindering their performance.
Week 13 at Tampa Bay
On Sunday, the Panthers were in a favorable position against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They were only down by 3 points with over two minutes left in the game and were facing a 3rd & 1 at their own 40-yard line.
Chuba Hubbard had already exceeded 100 rushing yards, making a first down seem like a highly likely outcome … until the play calls were received.
On the third down, a play-action bootleg was executed. Young moved towards the right side and searched for Ian Thomas or Stephen Sullivan as his only options. However, to his surprise, neither of them were available. The ball was thrown away.
On the fourth down, the quarterback performed a shotgun dropback. However, with no open receivers, Young rolled to the right and attempted to throw a pass to Adam Thielen. Unfortunately, the pass was intercepted, ultimately crushing the Panthers’ chances of making a comeback.
The sequence in question understandably angered Panthers fans. Throughout the game, Hubbard had been the team’s top performer on offense and it was expected that he would have at least one touch on either of these two plays.
It is important to mention that the Panthers were unsuccessful on several attempts to gain a small amount of yardage earlier in the game, which likely influenced Thomas Brown’s reluctance to run the ball in a critical moment.
The Panthers had a total of seven plays against the Bucs where they only needed one yard for a first down or touchdown (referred to as “& 1” plays).
Only two of them were converted.
You may be wondering, “How does that relate to Bryce Young’s physical stature?”
The solution consists of two words: Quarterback and Sneak.
A deceptive major issue
The utilization of QB sneaks is currently at a record high in the NFL.
It is widely considered the most efficient method for gaining yards in short situations, and it appears to be improving even further.
A Yale study found that the success rate of QB sneak conversions from 1998 to 2015 was 82.8% across all teams in the league.
Between 2015 and 2019, there was an increase in success rate to approximately 88% (in comparison to 68% for all other running plays).
Last year, the Eagles became well-known for their use of the “tush push” or “brotherly shove” technique, resulting in a remarkable 93.5% success rate for their quarterback sneaks.
Such a powerful tool, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, this does not apply to the Panthers.
Only one quarterback sneak has been executed during the entire season. This play featured Andy Dalton as the quarterback, rather than rookie Bryce Young, due to concerns about his vulnerability.
They believe he is too little to accomplish it.
The seemingly harmless footnote from Week 2 has now become a potential handicap for Carolina in crucial short yardage scenarios, as seen on Sunday.
The brutal numbers
I reviewed all of the “& 1” plays made by the Panthers this season and anticipated discovering an offense performing below the league’s average.
What I discovered was even more concerning than anticipated. See for yourself:
In the entire season, there were a total of 47 events, of which 26 were successful (55%). Out of 29 running plays, 18 were successful (62%), while out of 14 passing plays, 7 were successful (50%). There was also 1 offside and 3 false starts.
Following the break, our record was 14 wins out of 30 games played (47%). We had a success rate of 9 out of 16 run plays (56%) and 4 out of 11 pass plays (36%). In addition, there was 1 instance of an offside penalty and 2 false starts.
This is not only extremely poor, but it is also showing a negative trend!
Defensive teams are discovering that when Bryce Young is playing, the QB sneak is not a concern. This enables them to focus on other areas and prevent the Panthers from scoring more frequently.
Consider the impact on Sunday’s game if Carolina is able to successfully execute a QB sneak.
Their drive for a field goal in the second quarter will most likely result in a touchdown.
This indicates that if Mike Evans had scored a 75-yard point in the third quarter, it would have only brought Tampa Bay to a tie, not given them the lead.
On the last drive, a quick 1-yard run would have given the Panthers the opportunity to advance and keep possession of the ball, increasing the chances of a successful Eddy Pineiro field goal to end the game.
While it may appear insignificant, football matches are ultimately determined by these crucial moments, particularly in the NFL.
It is often said that football is a sport of small margins. Unless Young can magically transform into the next Patrick Mahomes, the Panthers can anticipate consistently falling just short.