Contrary to what you might know, the Carolina Panthers are not a paramilitary division hidden among the Appalachians looking to overthrow the government of Laos. That would be silly if they were, considering the distance of an entire continent and ocean between them and Laos.
To get to the bottom of this awkward situation, we have reached out to Cat Scratch Reader’s Walker Clement. His answers to this mysterious football team follow below.
1. How hard does your defense sack?
They sack pretty hard, Chris. It’s difficult to give up 50 points to the Steelers if you don’t sack out loud. Their defensive line has been caught daydreaming about Bingo a few times, it’s what you get when you rely on a 38-year-old Julius Peppers to be a foundational part of your pass rush.
That said, the Panthers have shown a knack for manufacturing pressure with creative blitz packages. More than one game has been saved by a timely sack from a corner or a safety. It’s a coin toss, game to game, as to whether or not the pass rush will be effective. The Panthers win when it is.
2. Cam Newton is alive, and clearly a quarterback. But is he, at this exact moment in space and time, E L I T E?
Yes. The Steelers game was the first game of 2018 where an interception was actually his fault. Otherwise he has been stellar, sometimes in spite of his supporting cast. Now that he has skill players with elite speed and the ability to gain yards after the catch, the sky is his limit.
Short of some Space Jam-level shenanigans, Cam has the juice to run with any quarterback in the league right now. The only things that have held his offense back so far have been a shaky offensive line and a few receivers who started the season with the dropsies.
3. How would you match up the Panthers defensive backs against the Lions receivers?
(Editor’s note: Walker got the two sides mixed up here, so he talks about the Panthers receivers vs. the Lions DBs)
About 30 yards off the line of scrimmage. Christian McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel, and DJ Moore have the ability to sprint past almost anybody, and the Panthers are moving towards using them interchangeably. McCaffrey is still going to be the top dog at running back, but they are running a lot of sweeps, reverses, and screens to put defenses on their heels while giving these track stars the ball in space.
The Panthers haven’t had perfect success running these plays every week, but they are nearly impossible to defend when well executed. If the Lions defensive backs are 30+ yards off the line of scrimmage then they will at least have a chance to read the play correctly.
4. What’s been the one thing above all else that’s kept the Panthers in this hunt in the NFC South?
His name is Chris Clark. He is the fourth guy plugged into the starting left tackle position for the Panthers. He was signed off the street on Wednesday of Week 2 and has played almost every offensive snap since. He has averaged being adequate for most of those snaps which has allowed the Panthers to have fighting chance in almost every game
His worst game of the season was against Pittsburgh last week. Clark and left guard Greg van Roten crumbled against the varied blitzes of the Steelers and headlined the protection failures that led to Cam being sacked 5 times. Clark is a reason the Panthers are in the race and he can just as easily be a reason why they aren’t.
5. Have you ever been on a riverboat?
I’m not much of a gambler, but, then again, neither is Ron Rivera. He lives up to that just about as well as Patricia has lived up to his “scion of Belichek” [sic] reputation so far.
Thanks to Clement for putting up with our nonsense.