The Panthers are a team that always seems to be in the playoff hunt early in the season, but their likelihood of making it to the playoffs depends on their team health and the status of their division rival Saints, Falcons, and Buccaneers, at least one of whom seems to get hot almost every year. The Panthers currently have a 1-3 record within the NFC South after losing a close game to the Saints last week, which combined with their overall 5-6 record probably eliminates them from playoff contention. Injuries (notably to QB Cam Newton) have derailed the Panthers season yet again, though one positive for the Panthers is the emergence of backup QB Kyle Allen.
Allen was signed as a UDFA by the Panthers in 2018, before being waived, signed by the Jets, waived again, and re-signed by the Panthers, eventually starting his first NFL game week 17 in relief of backup QB Tyler Heinecke and leading the Panthers to a surprise victory over the Saints. He has since taken the reins as the starting QB in Cam Newton’s absence, and some question whether or not he should keep the job, particularly if Cam’s health will always be in question. I personally think Allen looks like a bit of a limited QB who is not up to peak Cam Newton’s ability, but if Cam’s health is truly in doubt, going with Allen in the hopes that he eventually develops like Kirk Cousins from capable backup to a QB who can win with a good team around him may not be a bad idea.
I asked Walker Clement of Cat Scratch Reader five questions to better understand the state of the Panthers and what to look for in this game.
1. What significant injuries are the Panthers dealing with and how will that change the way they play on Sunday?
It might be easier to list the players who aren’t injured. Cam Newton, kicker Graham Gano, defensive tackle/end Kawaan Short, and nose tackle Dontari Poe are all on injured reserve. The rest of the Panthers defensive line and secondary have spent significant time either on the injury report or missing from games. Their offensive line is no better. This is the third time their second string offensive tackle, 2019 second round pick Greg Little, is trying to return from injury to be a starter. Their first string left tackle, Daryl Williams, has been benched, hopefully permanently, for poor performance and their third string left tackle, 2019 sixth round pick Dennis Daley, missed last weeks game after having played the most snaps at left tackle of any Panther this season. They will also be missing left guard Greg Van Roton. It is further unclear what the current status of right tackle Taylor Moton is after he missed some time during last week’s game with an injury.
After all of that, Washington doesn’t need to worry about personnel availability affecting the Panthers plans for Sunday. For one, they are used to this status by now and playing injured effectively *is* the plan. For two, the Panthers haven’t shown the capacity for situational adjustments in years. It would odd to expect them to start now.
2. The Panthers have never had fewer than 6 regular season wins with Ron Rivera as head coach, but have also not won a Super Bowl in the 8 years of his tenure. What do Panthers fans think of his strengths and weaknesses as a head coach and what should be his future with the team?
Well, outside of the previously mentioned inability to adjust in game? He is a dinosaur of a coach that is being dragged by a new owner, kicking and screaming all the way, to an understanding that ‘mathetmatics’ is a useful tool in a sport that so objectively measures success through statistics. Rivera is one of the best motivators in the NFL and he has earned the loyalty of every athlete in his locker room. Nobody has anything but nice things to say about Rivera the person. He is also a brilliant defensive coordinator (minus, again, the ability to adjust). Unfortunately, nice guys and defense don’t win championships in the NFL anymore. His future, per an ever-growing section of the fanbase, should be with another organization. We would wish him well there.
3. The Panthers were featured in Amazon Prime’s All Or Nothing this past season. What were the most interesting things Panthers fans learned about their team from the show and how did you come away from it feeling differently about your team?
It was a great show to reinforce things we already knew about the team. Cam Newton has been a lightning rod for criticism since he came to the Carolinas. Some of it has been earned. Most of it has been absolutely disingenuous crap. All Or Nothing showed that Newton is the furthest thing from a distraction, even when a season’s entire storyline gets taken over by questions about his health. Newton’s leadership of both the team and the quarterback room was a direct refutation of the claims that he is selfish, childish, or anything other than, you know, in possession of a unique sense of sartorial style.
4. Dave Gettleman was GM of the Panthers from 2013 - 2017, before being fired and replaced by Marty Hurney as interim GM and now (it seems) full-time GM. Two part question: what did Panthers fans think of Dave Gettleman and who really controls the Panthers front office going forward?
Gettleman was the “cap wizard” brought in to right the ship and make the hard choices after Hurney, in his first stint as Panthers GM (2002-2012), left the team in a load of financial trouble. He did that, but his brusque manner and inability to connect to his team left the locker room in a bit of disarray. That, and a few whiffs in the draft, were why he was ultimately released. As a GM, though, Gettleman proved to have a great eye for undrafted free agent and cheap veteran talent. He built a number of better-than-they-should-have-been rosters with diamond in the rough safeties and offensive linemen. Hurney’s re-hire was an eye roll moment for fans of a franchise that wanted change. That was a decision made by former ownership that was heavily invested in the status quo.
As for who controls the front office going forward, there isn’t a clear answer right now. Ron Rivera obviously has a lot of power in the organization now that he is on his third (but also second?) general manager. He and Hurney are fond of each other and have a good working relationship, so there aren’t any power struggles per se. The biggest question is whether or not David Tepper, now in his second season owning the Panthers, will make changes. If he does then they are expected to be wholesale, with both Rivera and Hurney being shown the door.
5. If you were head coach of the Redskins, how would you gameplan for this matchup and what would you do to exploit weaknesses on the Panthers?
Offensively, I would run the ball as creatively as possible. That means misdirections, sweeps, and options would be favored over shorter passes or screens. That is how the 49ers ate the Panthers alive in Week 8. The Panthers strength on defense is currently in their secondary and pass rush. Their interior defensive line is beaten to a pulp and their edge players are young and could be more disciplined in the running game. Get Luke Kuechly to take a false first step and they can probably manage about 5 or 6 yards per carry. I know the Washington offense hasn’t been the most efficient this season, but that at least moves the ball.
Defensively, blitz every play. Put pressure on the offensive line and clog all of the gaps they try to open for McCaffrey. As long as somebody is waiting with a little bit of depth in case McCaffrey breaks free then you’ll stop 85% of the Panthers plays or force them to try to pass. Kyle Allen is a historically limited passer. He had a great game against the Saints last week but that performance is currently an outlier. Your best bet to beating the Panthers is making Allen prove that it wasn’t.
Thanksgiving bonus: I had a serious brain fart in this 5 Questions and forgot to ask Walker about Kyle Allen. I realized my mistake too late, and I think by the time I followed up with the question, Walker was on Turkey-day vacation. However, he was asked about Allen 2 weeks ago by The Falcoholic, so I’ll re-print his answer from that article:
Allen has been a surprise for the Panthers this season. He’d be an easy under dog to root for if a certain section of Panthers fans would stop ignoring his flaws and preaching that he is the second coming. They happen to be the same section that thinks Cam Newton isn’t a leader because he either “plays the game the wrong way” or “wears hats.”
The good about Allen is that he has the quote/unquote moxie of a starting quarterback which allows him to project the requisite confidence to lead an NFL offense after making mistakes. The weakness in his game as a passer comes in passing the football. He is a competent thrower when targeting players within approximately five to ten yards of the line of scrimmage. He begins to lose accuracy and power when pushing the ball any further down field than that. If you recall the hype around the Panthers from the preseason then you’ll know this was supposed to be third year wide receiver Curtis Samuel’s break out year as a deep threat. Instead, he has spent much of the season falling down and tripping over defenders while trying to come back to or defend underthrown balls that are closer to the defenders he burned than they are to him.
Overall, Allen is a well above average backup quarterback who has proven himself clearly capable of starting for a few weeks in place of a franchise quarterback. The longer he is exposed to NFL defenses, however, the more turnovers and fewer touchdowns he will produce.
Thanks again to Walker Clement for taking time out of his day to answer our questions about the Panthers. And Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
As of right now, Vegas has the Panthers as 10 point favorites over the Redkins. How would you bet?
This poll is closed
Panthers win by more than 10 points
Panthers win by 10 points or fewer
Redskins win outright
As of now, Vegas has the over/under for this game at 40 points. Which would you bet?
This poll is closed
40 or more total points are scored (both sides combined)
Fewer than 40 total points are scored (both sides combined)