Each week, Colts.com will speak with a writer who covers the team the Colts are set to play that upcoming Sunday.
In Week 9, the Colts are facing the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte. To gain more insight, we caught up with Augusta Stone, a staff writer for Panthers.com.
Colts.com: The Panthers notched their first win of the season this past Sunday against the Houston Texans. After a 0-6 start to the season, what has the victory done for the team's confidence?
Augusta Stone: That first win definitely sprung momentum here. The locker room hadn't lost faith, but I'm sure it didn't hurt for them to see their effort finally result in a win. More than anything, it was probably a boost for offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, who was calling plays for the first time after Frank Reich handed the duties off to him before the team's Week 7 bye. Getting a young offensive coordinator like Brown more involved in the development of their rookie quarterback, Bryce Young, and seeing that decision result in a win, can only give them more confidence moving forward.
Colts.com: It can be tough seeing your team get off to a slow start to the season, especially for a coach like Frank Reich who has had a lot of success in the NFL. How have you seen him handle the team's early-season struggles?
Augusta Stone: This wasn't Frank Reich's first time leading a team that didn't find early success. As the Colts probably know well, Reich led his first team in Indianapolis to a playoff berth and a 10-win regular season record after a 1-5 start in 2018. I'm not saying that the 1-6 Panthers are making a playoff run or winning nine more games, but I am saying that Reich has previously shown he can turn the beat around after a lackluster start. He's also not the type to get down (or really up, either) whether the team is losing consecutively or earning its first win. The locker room respects that mentality, as Panthers.com senior writer Darin Gantt is writing in a story this week. It's a good recipe for staying together through that less-than-ideal stretch here in Charlotte.
Colts.com: As with any rookie, there are going to be some growing pains. However, it looks like Bryce Young has gotten more comfortable over the past couple of games. What has his development been like through his first six NFL games?
Augusta Stone: That's certainly a fair assessment of the rookie quarterback, who had his share of rookie moments to start the year. But Bryce Young's growing up before our very eyes, and we saw him start to come out even more in the first win last week. I think one of the biggest improvements for Young through his last two outings has been protecting the ball. He'd committed some sort of turnover, be it a lost fumble, an interception, or both, through his first four starts. (He missed Week 3 at Seattle due to an ankle injury.) But against Miami and Houston, he was safe with the ball, efficient as a passer, and as calm as ever – which paid off dividends in Carolina's game-winning drive last week against the Texans. Young's also finding more wide receivers not named Adam Thielen. He completed the longest pass of his career last weekend to rookie wideout Jonathan Mingo, and he's getting other pass-catchers involved, such as tight end Tommy Tremble.
Colts.com: Even though the defense has seen its fair share of injuries, pass rusher Brian Burns remains a consistent force. When Burns is clicking, how big of an impact does he have on the team?
Augusta Stone: Brian Burns is one of the Panthers' central pieces on defense and the kind of player they're wanting to build around for the future. When he's at 100 percent, Burns is all over the quarterback. He gave Atlanta's Desmond Ridder a time in Week 1, sacking him twice at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The less awesome news for Carolina is that Burns hasn't been 100 percent since injuring his elbow before the Texans game last week. A bright spot is that he still mustered a sack against Houston quarterback C.J. Stroud (with the injury), but Burns is still working through it this week.
Colts.com: So far this season, the Panthers are allowing an average of 28.4 points per game, the third-highest total in the NFL. On the opposite sideline, the Colts offense is averaging 25.6 points per game, the sixth-highest mark in the NFL. What will it take for the Panthers' defense to slow the Colts' offense down?
Augusta Stone: They're going to want to see the kind of play they saw from linebacker Frankie Luvu in last week's game, that's for sure. Luvu earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for a 12-tackle game that also came with a sack, a quarterback hit, and two pass break-ups. If Luvu is swarming around the ball like he was last week, Carolina should be quite pleased. The Panthers held Houston to just 13 points when they were averaging 21.3 heading into Week 8, so that should give them a boost as they plan for the Colts.