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5 Qs, 5 As with Cat Scratch Reader

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Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Before Pete Carroll arrived in Seattle in 2010, the Seahawks and Panthers met four times. Under Carroll, the Seahawks have played Carolina nine times. In those contests, Seattle has posted a 7-2 record, including 1-1 in the postseason, but 4-0 in Carolina in the regular season.

This Sunday, Carroll is hoping to make it 8-2 and 5-0, which would seal the Seahawks seventh trip to the postseason in the Russell Wilson era and keep them alive for the NFC West and a bye week. The Panthers have not been so lucky this year, starting 5-3 but losing five straight as backup quarterback Kyle Allen has proven to be a lot more of the backup you’d have expected than the one who started with four straight wins.

To learn more about Allen, the players around him, and interim head coach Perry Fewell, who took over for the fired Ron Rivera last week, I sent five Qs over to Walker Clement of Cat Scratch Reader. In return, he sent me back five quick As.

Q: It’s been an interesting year for the Panthers to examine a world without Cam Newton and a 5-1 start for Kyle Allen has turned into five straight losses. There was some talk about giving 3rd round pick Will Grier a start but that won’t be the case this week vs the Seahawks. What is the biggest weakness of Allen that seems to be getting exploited here by opposing defenses, as he’s thrown at least one pick in 6 of his last 7 games and has been sacked 44 times in 11 games? And why isn’t it bad enough for Grier to have gotten an opportunity yet?

A: We’ll start with Grier first. Nobody knows just how bad Grier has been in practice, but it could simply be that there is no point in playing him. The other option is that the remaining coaches are as old school as Rivera and Allen earned their respect. They will give him every chance to earn a job next year even as his continued play threatens those chances all the more.

As for why that continued play is getting so much worse? He has inconsistent accuracy and arm strength. That is probably deteriorating by the week as the strain of playing a full season of football is settling on his throwing shoulder. Allen started the season struggling to not under throw deep balls and he hasn’t exactly gotten better outside of a few lucky, moonshot completions.

That degree of chaos in his throwing game is what has led to his large number of turnovers more than his decision making. Wide open receivers have often translated to highly contested catches that go the other way. Allen started his first five or so games without throwing a pick and that was more blind luck than it was skill.

Q: The Panthers have the NFL’s worst run defense, giving up 24 rushing touchdowns and 5.3 yards per carry. I’ve seen that the loss of Kawann Short after two games is cited as the main reason for this, but does Carolina not having other answer in the front-7 to stop running backs or is it mostly made up of pass rushers? (An area of great strength for the Panthers, as they rank 2nd in sacks.)

A: They are heavily tilted towards pass rusher, but Short hasn’t been their only injury, either. Gerald McCoy, Mario Addison, Shaq Thompson, Brian Burns, Vernon Butler, and Bruce Irvin have all missed significant time due to injury. Dontari Poe, who had been their best run-plugging nose tackle, has also found himself on injured reserve for much or the season.

Basically, they are light and fast because that is where their depth was. This was an intentional gamble because 2018 saw a team that was old and slow. Unfortunately for the Panthers, their ironically thin depth of heavier guys was stressed this season.

Q: D.J. Moore seems a very talented receiver, Christian McCaffrey a constant threat in the passing game as a running back, but how would you rate Curtis Samuel and Greg Olsen as the 3rd and 4th options? Is Olsen the same threat that he used to be and is Samuel developing as an ideal number two receiver? It doesn’t appear that Carolina has another receiver for a defense to worry about, including Jarius Wright. Is there?

A: Well, Greg Olsen is out with a concussion so I probably wouldn’t rate him for this game at all. Curtis Samuel is a guy who has struggled to find a place in this offense because Allen can’t throw him deep and the Panthers have been absolutely terrible at designing and running screens since Rob Chudzinski left after 2012. He would be the number 2 receiver in a better situation.

Jarius Wright exists in a unique quantum state wherein he is our number one receiver on third down and not on our roster on other downs. We firmly believe that if he is targeted on first or second down that it is a sign of the end times.

The only other name of note on the Panthers roster is tight end Ian Thomas. The 2018 draft pick has flashed enormous potential but struggled to see the field behind Olsen. This Sunday will mark his first game without Olsen this season so we are all hoping for him to be heavily involved in the game plan as the Panthers try to assess their young talent with an eye to the future.

Q: What’s at least one thing about the Panthers this year that is much better than expected? A strength to build off of for 2020, a player that you have high hopes for that you maybe didn’t before the season began?

A: Brian Burns is canned lightning. The kid is outrageously fast and he strikes with very little warning. First round draft picks aren’t supposed to be ‘surprisingly good,’ but the Panthers have long struggled to draft actually talented pass rushers and they nailed it with him.

His season stats are a little low, but that’s because he missed a lot of time this season with a broken wrist. Before the injury, he was on pace to be a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year contender between his sacks and multiple blocked punts. That was all just in the first four weeks of the season.

Q: Do you expect the team to be any different with Perry Fewell instead of Ron Rivera? Did you see any difference in Fewell’s debut last week and has there been any mention or thought of Carolina having a different approach than they would have had were Rivera to stay on for the final four games?

A: I expect no difference. Rivera hired coaches that we are all cut from the same cloth. It often felt like if you shuffled the staff, without firing anybody, that you would get the same game out of them no matter who landed in which position.

Rivera departure was more of a wake than a celebration inside the building. Their conduct over the remaining weeks is expected to be more of a tribute to him than any radical departure from the strategies that ultimately got him fired.

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