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Mayfield's transition to Carolina anything but smooth so far

(AP Photo/John Munson)

By STEVE REED

AP Sports Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Baker Mayfield's transition to the Carolina Panthers hasn't been a smooth one.

The No. 1 overall pick in 2018 is near the bottom of the league in quarterback rating and completion percentage.

And despite coming off their first win of the season, the Panthers' passing game is averaging a paltry 161.3 yards per game.

"Not good enough yet," Mayfield said when asked to assess his play through three games.

Perhaps it's that Mayfield missed all of OTAs and minicamp with his new team, but the quarterback hasn't been on the same page with his receivers and too often hasn't trusted his offensive line to provide protection when it has been there, too often needlessly shifting in a clean pocket.

Miscommunication on passing routes is commonplace. Batted balls are a regularity. And third downs are an adventure.

"Our passing game, specifically third down, is not anywhere where we want it to be," Panthers coach Matt Rhule said.

But Rhule said despite Carolina's many issues in the passing game, it's unfair to point the finger solely at the fifth-year quarterback.

"Some of it falls on Baker in terms of his feet and being on time and taking some throws when they are there," Rhule said. "But the wideout play has to really improve this week. We need to play better at that position."

Rhule also added, "the line has to do a really good job of making him feel confident with the pocket in front of him."

D.J. Moore is Carolina's No. 1 wide receiver. The Panthers gave him a three-year, $61.9 million contract this past offseason to be a playmaker after he had three straight seasons with at least 1,150 yards receiving. But through three games, Moore has a mere 88 yards on seven receptions and one touchdown.

Moore shrugged at Rhule's comments about the receivers needing to get open, saying "it all goes hand in hand in the passing game. You have to get on the same page no matter what. It's all just pitch and catch."

Mayfield insists the Panthers are close to clicking.

This week could go a long way toward resolving some of their problems in the passing game.

The Arizona Cardinals are giving up 281 yards per game through the air and have allowed seven passing touchdowns in three games while failing to intercept a pass.

Mayfield knows he'll have to handle the Cardinals' blitz package to be successful, an area the Panthers have struggled in.

Opposing teams have been relentless with blitzing Mayfield and he expects that will likely continue until the Panthers are able to exploit opposing defenses with some big plays.

"That's kind of the nature of the beast, especially with the teams that we have been playing and the pressure packages," Mayfield said. "They are going to bring stuff and continue to do so until we can show we can stop it and get the ball out."

It's unclear if Mayfield will have his top running back at his disposal this week.

Christian McCaffrey missed his second straight day of practice with a quadriceps injury and his status for Arizona is uncertain. If he can't play, Chuba Hubbard and D'Onta Foreman are expected to carry the load.

The Panthers should know more on his status on Friday.

Regardless, Rhule is confident Mayfield is in for a big week and will continue to improve as the season progresses.

"To me it's just we have to keep playing together," Rhule said. "Baker is an alpha. He's a competitor and a winner. The more reps we have with the guys being around each other, the better and better they are going to be."

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Updated September 29, 2022

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