The Bills kept targeting the Panthers’ young linebackers. How did they hold up?

Here’s what we learned about Panthers backup QBs and running backs after preseason beat down

Brendan Marks breaks down the back-up quarterback and running back situation in the wake of the loss to the Buffalo Bills in preseason skirmish.
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Brendan Marks breaks down the back-up quarterback and running back situation in the wake of the loss to the Buffalo Bills in preseason skirmish.

Picked upon? Sure, Carolina Panthers inside linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr., knows the Buffalo Bills were targeting him Friday.

Starting linebackers Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson sat out the 27-14 home preseason loss. The Bills kept running formations and shifts that drew other defensive players away from Carter, leaving him exposed.

A 16-yard rush by Buffalo running back T.J. Yeldon hurt the Panthers early. Much of the Bills’ total 94 rushing yards came late, via third-string quarterback Tyree Jackson. But there was a lesson in this — both for Carter and all his defensive teammates.

“I knew it was going to happen,” Carter said of the Bills going after him. “I did a lot of film study on my own. Talked a lot to Luke, too. You knew when Cole Beasley was brought in (in frequent three-receiver sets), it was going to be a seam option.

“They did a good job of making the Mike (i.e. middle) backer work tonight.”

The Panthers are a defense in transition. After years of being primarily a 4-3 alignment, coach Ron Rivera chose to shake up the scheme, using far more 3-4. Rivera said during training camp in Spartanburg the defense became so predictable to opponents it was “stagnant.”

That means widespread readjustment. The coaches are trying to strike a balance between integrating the new defense and looking to minimize injury risk to key players. As Rivera said of sitting several veterans Friday, “We don’t have enough Luke Kuechlys” to play him extensively before the regular season starts.

That meant numerous snaps Friday for Carter and fellow inside linebacker Andre Smith, who will back up Kuechly and Thompson in the regular season. Carter ended up a leading tackler for the Panthers with seven unassisted, but he was also beaten a couple of times.

“I feel like the run defense was pretty stout,” Carter said. “Of course, we had some runs we could have been a little more sure on. I had one, myself, on the goal line where I could have been better in.”

Rivera says he understood Carter took the brunt of what the Bills tried to do, but Carter wasn’t necessarily at fault.

“When you look at what they did against our starters, they really just worked on the ‘Mike’ linebackers. That was tough. They gave you three receivers on one side, they put a fast receiver on the inside and matched them up against our Mike linebacker. I wanted to see how they would do.”

That experimentation is coming to a close. Rivera said Kuechly and several other key Panthers will play Thursday against the New England Patriots.

“The big thing is we have a lot of young guys who need to turn the corner,” Rivera said of Friday.

“These first two (preseason) games were really about giving those young guys chances.”