It took us a while this week. . .and that’s my fault, as I had a lot of stuff going on. . .but we did get the opportunity this week to exchange some knowledge with the team that the Minnesota Vikings are playing this week.
Walker Clement is one of the writers over at Cat Scratch Reader, SB Nation’s home for everything relating to the Carolina Panthers. We swapped questions this week, and here are the answers that he sent to my questions. Once the answers I sent him get posted at CSR, I’ll put them up here.
1) New Panthers’ head coach Matt Rhule clearly missed his calling by not coaching an NFC North team, as the division is currently 75% Matt-based. With the Panthers having played 11 games in this new era, does Matt Rhule?
The jury is still out on whether or not he was the right hire for the future, but he has definitely excited the fanbase for at least his first season. The Panthers roster was in rough shape when Ron Rivera was fired and Rhule has come in and serviceably plugged the holes with Temple athletes. Next year we’re expecting a bunch of Baylor guys followed by an NFL roster in year three. The incredible thing is how competitive an NFL roster Temple was apparently able to field. We are all looking forward to what comes next. At the very least we know it won’t be a season full of playing for punts.
2) It is my understanding that the Panthers’ new quarterback is one Ted E. Bridgewater. That sounds like a guy that used to play for Minnesota and looked to have some promise until his leg almost fell off one day in practice, an incident that can be summarized as “because Vikings.” Are there similarities between the two and what do Panther fans think of their version?
Panthers fans are of a split mind over Ted E. On the one brain, he’s a highly efficient quarterback playing in the most intentional, points oriented offense that Panthers fans have ever had the pleasure to root for. On the other hand, a lot of us are still mourning the lost of the best player in franchise history: Cameron Jerrell Newton. Bridgewater has honestly done a tremendous job coming in and just being himself. He isn’t about trying to replace or carry on a legacy so much as he just wants to play his game and love his team. It has been a smoother transition than I considered possible and that is 100% a credit to him. The only real knock that fans have is his hesitancy to push the ball downfield. It’s a little early to tell if that is him or the offense he is being tasked with running, but it does seem like Mr Two Gloves is just the plain spoken, unassuming alterego of the somewhat lackluster superhero, Captain Checkdown. When he does take shots, though, the Panthers offense sings. The new staff under Rhule has shown a propensity to learn already, I’m willing to let Bridgewater play out his contract to show us he can, too.
3) Luke is no longer the father of the Panthers’ defense after spending years as one of the league’s best defensive players. How have the non-Luke defensive players for the Panthers adjusted to his absence this season?
Most of them don’t know him. Of the Panthers veterans, only Donte Jackson (out this week) and Kawaan Short (out every week) are veteran players who are on extensions from their rookie contracts. Tre Boston is a resigning who the Panthers let dance elsewhere for a few seasons. Other than that, it is by and large new faces. Tahir Whitehead has earned a lot of ire from fans in his attempts to replace Keuchly as one of the team’s biggest free agent signings on that side of the ball.. That he didn’t play a snap in the team’s only shutout of the season says something. We’re hoping to find out what that something is later today.
4) Christian Laettner was once the most hated player in college basketball (and Minnesota sports fans don’t have a lot of fond memories of him, either). Christian McCaffrey, on the other hand, is very popular with people in the Carolinas, and presumably other places as well. Why the discrepancy, and how does the latter being out with a shoulder injury affect the Panthers’ offense?
It helps that McCaffrey has no association with Duke. Though maybe he wants to visit their widely regarded as OK hospital for a second opinion on his shoulder. He’s been week to week for a few too many weeks now. As for the effect on the offense. . . weirdly? It opens things up and makes the Panthers harder to defend. With no McCaffrey to key on opposing defenses are often at a loss for what to expect on a given play. The Panthers have a surprising amount of talent at the skill positions and there are more snaps to go around when McCaffrey isn’t killing himself with 55 snaps per game.
5) With this game being mostly meaningless, partially because neither of these teams appears to be any good and partially because we’re all hurtling helplessly towards the great abyss and nothing really means anything, how do you think things play out at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon?
Hilariously, with any luck. Last week’s shutout of the Lions was just a treat, and not because we were watching aggressively disciplined and skilled football. Matt Stafford had a bum thumb, or a bum in his thumb, or some combination of those words. They also missed two long but makeable field goal attempts. It was silly all the way down and we loved it. The best kind of meaningless football—like meaningless sex, or raw turkeys on Thanksgiving—should make you laugh. I, for one, am rooting for a tie. You have to love a good tie. They make the best gifts.
Thanks again to Walker for taking the time to sit down and answer our questions, and we’ll try to get these out in a more timely fashion next week.