CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Much of what plagued Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold in Sunday’s 21-18 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles can be blamed on being pressured on a season-high 43% of his dropbacks.
But not all of it can be blamed on the pressure -- and Darnold, who threw as many interceptions Sunday as he totaled in the first four games (three), knows it.
Two plays in particular, Darnold would like to have back. One was a third-and-3 attempt to wide receiver Robby Anderson that came the play before the Eagles blocked a punt to set up the winning touchdown with 2:38 remaining.
The other was a first-and-10 attempt to Anderson near the sideline with about two minutes left that resulted in his third interception.
After that, Anderson was captured on the sideline by the television broadcast waving his arms and yelling. It’s unclear at whom his anger was directed, but wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson was in the picture.
Coach Matt Rhule said there no repercussions Monday from Anderson getting upset, but he admitted the team has to find a way to get Anderson the ball more.
“He wanted us to double a move, stutter and go,’’ Rhule said. “No issue, as long as it stays within a certain realm.’’
After the game, Darnold simply said he was “going to keep that between Robby and everyone that was involved.’’
But Darnold didn’t deflect the attention from his performance back to the lack of protection from a reshuffled line that played poorly.
“I’ve got to keep staying patient,’’ Darnold said. “That’s the biggest thing, is pressing too much. ... When I go out there, I’ve just got to understand, let the game come to me. I’ve just got to stay within myself.’’
The third-and-3 pass to Anderson was one of those moments.
“Missed him,’’ said Darnold, who completed a season-low 56.8% of his passes after compiling a 67.8% rate the first four games. “Missed him. Got to put the ball on him. It was the perfect call. I’ve just got to put it on him.’’
“That's a bad ball,’’ he said. “ Robby came open. We have to throw and catch.’’
Not handling pocket pressure well was one of the issues that defined Darnold’s career with the Jets. It’s one of the things the Panthers (3-2) have worked to change this season.
Other than the third quarter of the Week 4 loss to Dallas, they did a decent job the first four games. However, Darnold was under duress from the get-go in this one with right tackle Taylor Moton replacing injured left tackle Cameron Erving (neck) and rookie Brady Christensen making his first NFL start on the right side.
He scrambled out of the pocket three times in the first quarter alone to get rid of the ball. At one point he’d been pressured on 49% of his dropbacks.
There also were several dropped passes and a couple of holding penalties to negate big runs by rookie back Chuba Hubbard that hurt Darnold’s effort.
Darnold pointed the finger at himself.
“There was a lot of instances where I felt like I was hanging on to the ball too long, and I’ve got to get it out,’’ he said.
According to ESPN Stats and Information, Darnold was much more efficient Sunday with quick deliveries. At one point, he was 11-of-11 for 79 yards and a touchdown when he threw in under 2.5 seconds.
When over 2.5 seconds, he was 5-of-17 for 45 yards and two interceptions. All three of his interceptions came on passes that traveled more than 5 yards in the air.
“There’s a bunch of things that go into it,’’ Darnold said. “I’ve got to watch the tape to really tell you the truth on some of those.’’
One thing is clear: Darnold is more effective when given adequate time to throw, and he’s better when Pro Bowl running back Christian McCaffrey is on the field.
McCaffrey missed his second straight game Sunday with a hamstring injury. He is expected to be back Week 6 against the Minnesota Vikings, and that could be key.
With McCaffrey on the field, Darnold has taken only two sacks on 69 dropbacks (2.9%). Without McCaffrey, he’s taken 12 sacks on 134 dropbacks (8.9 %).
All six of his interceptions this season have come without McCaffrey on the field.
Again, Darnold didn’t make excuses, instead praising Hubbard for his play on a day when he rushed for 101 yards and caught five passes for 33 yards.
But Rhule understands the importance of protecting Darnold.
“We’ve got to get good to the point the quarterback feels good to stay in the pocket,’’ he said.
And Darnold needs to get to the point where he doesn’t throw interceptions when under pressure.
“We can’t go out there and make mistakes, make penalties,’’ Darnold said. “And I can’t go out there and turn the ball over and expect to win. So that’s just that.’’
Whether it was pressure or not, Rhule said Darnold was “out of whack’’ early on Sunday and just needs to play within the system.
“Sam needs to take what’s given him,’’ he said. “If we do that we’ll get back on track quickly.’’