The Carolina Panthers are in many ways a team similar to the New York Giants. They are trying to turn things around after four consecutive losing seasons, while the Giants have had five.
One major difference is that the Giants have a new coach in Brian Daboll, while Carolina has a third-year coach on the hot seat in Matt Rhule. Let’s learn more about the Panthers as we do our ‘5 questions’ segment with Walker Clement of Cat Scratch Reader.
Ed: Losing on a 58-yard field goal is tough. What is your general feeling about how good/bad this Carolina team is going to be?
Walker: It is truly impossible to say. A new QB under center and an offseason of optimism has brought the team back around for at least the short term. Players had clearly quit on what became a 5-12 season last year amid poor leadership and an unending stream of quarterback injuries. So that’s something.
Last week’s abysmal run defense against the Browns leading into a match up with the reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week in running back Saquon Barkley is something else. We already have some fans questioning if owner David Tepper would fire current head coach Matt Rhule after an 0-3 or 0-4 start if that gives you any indication of where the fanbase is.
My take is that this is one of the most talented rosters that the Carolina Panthers have fielded in years. They are strong at positions of traditional weakness for them — secondary, wide receiver, possibly offensive tackle — and yet the long run of losing seasons at these points has taken its toll on our ability, as fans, to believe that success is possible. I think the difference between an inspiring season and another losing one is going to be leadership. It comes down to what Rhule, offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, and defensive coordinator Phil Snow can get out of these guys. These Panthers can be dangerous to successful teams. I think they can even be a successful team in their own right. That said, I would not, not even with somebody else’s money, place a bet right now that depended on them winning any specific game on their schedule this season.
Ed: How do you feel about Baker Mayfield as the Panthers’ QB? Is he a guy you would like to see be there for a while?
Walker: That’s a tough question this early. So far, yes. He has a combination of moxy and touch on his deep passes that has always appealed to me as a fan. But those are small things for how big of an effect they can have on the game. The other side of that coin is printed with the small things that have, when done well and routinely so, have an outsized impact on every play. I don’t know Mayfield well enough as a quarterback to say that he can be that guy, too. The details guy, the consistent guy. His reputation suggests maybe not, but I’ll let him prove that here before I pass judgment.
Ed: Is Matt Rhule the coach of the Panthers beyond this season?
Walker: I believe this team will be better equipped to compete in the NFL when Rhule is a successful college football coach. Tepper has made it clear that he will extend every opportunity to Rhule to prove me wrong in that belief. The common defense — or hope, really — for giving him at least three seasons is that his college programs have shown remarkable turnarounds in year three of his tenure. Often, those programs went from single win seasons to double digit win seasons in that span. What is skipped over in that explanation is that there was clear improvement between years one and two, as well. Personally, I don’t see going from 5-11 in year one to 5-12 in year two as an improvement. Then again, I’ve never been praised for my mathematical prowess.
Ed: If you could take one player off the Giants’ roster and put him in Carolina’s lineup, who would it be? Why?
Walker: If he were healthy, the answer would be Kayvon Thibodeaux. The Panthers are missing edge talent in their front seven and the Browns left us with the suggestion that such an absence could be a problem for the Panthers hopes of winning games of football.
As the Giants roster stands, however, the answer has to be Barkley. It’s not that the Panthers have a dearth of talent at the RB position, they are in fact quite stacked compared to much of the league. It’s more that Christian McCaffrey has not been the most reliably available back in a minute and the Panthers have struggled across multiple coaching staffs to field an effective offense that isn’t built around running a back into the ground. The obvious solution is to have two top tier backs, one for each half of the season. This might sound like a joke, but I’m really not kidding. We have multiple years of anecdotal data behind this theory. The Panthers have a clear skid pattern and I’m just trying to help them learn how to steer into it.
Ed: The Giants are 2.5-point favorites. Who wins? Why?
Walker: The Giants, by more than the home field advantage/field goal margin. If my overflowing optimism above didn’t clue you in, I can’t predict a win for the Panthers until I see more than one of them happen. It would help if they looked like they were on purpose, too.
The fact is that the Giants are built to take advantage of the Panthers weakness in run defense. That already suggests a long day. Match that up with offense, defense, and special teams units that are still trying to get their feet under them under the guidance of a coaching staff with an eye each on their next gig this season? Well, the only eternal springs our hope has known for a while are the leaks that started springing when the last administration ran our franchise quarterback into the ground.