1.) What a difference an off-season makes. What's the best way to summarize how the Panthers are performing so poorly this year when the future was looking bright last year?
Jaxon: Though the defense has let us down at key times the biggest failure has been by the offense. They have looked out of sync all season and it starts up front. Even before losing C Ryan Kalil the offensive line was making mistakes and just not opening up any holes for the running game. Consequently the read option has been scrapped and more traditional running plays are being utilized. Without Kalil we've moved RG Geoff Hangartner to C and had tried RT Byron Bell at RG and Garry Williams at RT. Williams struggled so he's been benched, Bell is back at RT (very glad about that) and Jeff Byers is playing RG. It's a patchwork line up but it seemed perform better against the Bears than previous weeks.
2.) Is there concern about Cam Newton's maturity and prolonged success....or this a matter of a team in disarray?
Though at times it seems Cam has regressed overall his stats are not bad. He's just made some terrible plays at the worst time, like the pick 6 last week (though you can blame the WR for that too). Many have questioned the play calling as it seemed the Panthers try to get too cute sometimes with their misdirection, etc...As of last week that has been simplified. Whereas Cam had struggled hitting his check downs he did better last week.
We still feel Cam is a franchise QB who can win in this league but his maturity level still needs to rise. He still makes some mistakes but he is cutting them down. We feel if the team can all do their job consistently the same week the team can win. We just haven't been able to do that when it counts down the stretch with the game on the line.
3.) What's the likelihood Rivera is out as head coach and who would you like/expect to see in there?
Even if the Panthers finish strong this season I think it's likely he is gone in the offseason. History tells us the next GM will most likely want to hand select his coach. Jerry Richardson will give his GM the freedom he needs to make whatever changes the GM wants but he will also expect results sooner than later. If the new GM likes Rivera and the Panthers somehow turn this season round then he has a 10% chance of staying in my view.
4.) The Redskins defense has been atrocious all season....mainly due to lack of pass rush. Even with the loss of Ryan Kalil, the Panthers OLine ranks around 12th for average yards per run and fewest sacks. Are there are any weak links that other teams have been taking advantage of?
The offensive line is weakest at the OG position, in particular on the right side. Rookie LG Amini Silatolu has improved a lot the past couple weeks but is still prone to missing assignments. The Redskins don't necessarily need sacks, just some pressure up the middle but you still have to contain Newton. If you can keep him throwing short then you can force some errors from him. If the Panthers deep ball has been missing for most of the season until last week. If they start going deep then it might be a long afternoon for the Skin defense. But if they can keep Newton in the pocket and force him to throw check downs then that has worked for opposing teams so far this season. Newton throws the deep ball better than he throws the check downs.
5.) What's your prediction for the game and why?
I didn't think the Panthers had a chance last week against the Bears but though they lost they gave me hope. I think this is the week they turn it around and put it all together and eke out a win. It will be a score fest but...
Panthers 34 Redskins 31
I think that's every week but one now that a prediction score has had "31" in it.
Based on reading this, I don't feel so good about this game now.