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5 Qs with Cat Scratch Reader

Can Teddy will the Panthers to victory without CMC?

Carolina Panthers v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Big shoutout to Walker Clement of Cat Scratch Reader, our Carolina Panthers site for at SB Nation, for answering this week’s edition of 5 Qs with the opponent.

Hope you guys enjoy!

1.) Teddy Bridgewater did a heck of a job in spot duty with the Saints when he went 5-0 while Drew Brees was out with an injury. He’s now two weeks into his first season as the starter in Carolina. How is the fan base reacting to his play through two weeks with the Panthers?

I would say that fans are overreacting. Most think his two gloves and skinny knees are washed up. Some because they miss Kyle Allen, more because they are still rightfully upset with how the team handled Cam Newton’s departure. It’s hard to step in and replace the greatest player a franchise has ever known. That Bridgewater is also stepping into a very young and talent-poor roster has done him no favors on that front.

Still, there are plenty of fans who defend him. It isn’t his fault the Panthers decided that a generational talent at quarterback wasn’t work mid-tier money for what was effectively a one year contract. Bridgewater is a guy whose history tells us he can be a competent quarterback so long as he isn’t asked to do too much. Unfortunately, the Panthers have too much to do with nobody else to ask at the moment, so we’re back to talking about a fine guy in a rough spot.

No matter how you cut it, there aren’t many fans who have high expectations for Bridgewater. He’ll be here until he either surprises the world or guides the team to a high enough draft pick to secure his replacement.

2.) You can’t replace a player like Christian McCaffrey but the Panthers have that job this week with him out for the next few weeks with a lower-body injury. Will backup Mike Davis be used in a similar way and how will the offense change without CMC in the lineup?

Mike Davis caught a career high seven passes, all in the fourth quarter, last week as the Buccaneers played a very generous prevent defense. That tells us precisely nothing about how he is going to be used on Sunday. The truth is that the Panthers have shown no inkling of what they might do with a running back not named McCaffrey through three offensive coordinators (Scott and Norv Turner, and now Joe Brady). I would expect the team to lean a little more heavily on the supposedly talented trio of receivers in the short passing game to replace McCaffrey’s production on early downs. Look for Curtis Samuel, the third of that trio, to be used in gadget plays that will be too cute by half on third downs. Coincidentally, “by half” is about how short they’ll come of the line to gain.

3.) Carolina’s defense has allowed 65 total points through their first two games against the Raiders and Buccaneers. What are the Panthers struggling with the most on that side of the ball? Is it just inexperience or is there somewhere else they’re lacking?

I think the Panthers are mostly struggling with defense. Their opening day starting roster was announced with a rookie cornerback, a rookie safety, a rookie defensive tackle, a rookie defensive end, and a second year defensive end, and that’s all on top of trying to replace Luke Kuechly at middle linebacker with a mid tier free agent signing.

Their fastest path to a turn around is repairing the pass rush. The Panthers are, through two weeks of play, the only team in the NFL who hasn’t recorded a sack. Even the Jets have a sack, and they’re the Jets! If Kawaan Short, the lone veteran presence on the defensive line, misses this week as he did last week then expect Phillip Rivers, sorry, Tyrod Taylor, sorry again, Justin Herbert (?) to have all day to throw.

4.) If you were the Chargers, how would you game plan against the Panthers offense/defense?

On offense, I would stick to Herbert’s strengths without showing off too much on film for future teams to plan against. Treating this as a preseason game should be sufficient to take care of the Panthers lack of experience and depth. Carolina did show up reasonably well in run defense against Tampa Bay last week, but I would treat that as an anomaly until they prove otherwise. Austin Ekeler should have a good day.

On defense, they should pin their ears out and blitz. They’ll either find Mike Davis taking a hand off or Bridgewater at the start of his progressions. The Panthers offensive line has been better at pass blocking than expected, but they will also be missing their starting left guard for the third game in a row. Odds are their surprisingly good performance will revert back to expectations sooner rather than later. If Bridgewater does start connecting on quick passes that take advantage of the added pressure then you can flip the script and wait for him to throw a few of his patented ducks. He has been a little shaky in his accuracy and velocity this season and that has made his game ripe for more turnovers than he has already produced.

5.) Give us a quick game summary of how you think this week’s matchup will go and a final score prediction.

I assume that Herbert will treat this as a true coming out party now that he has had a week’s practice where knows he is the starter. The Panthers have long been a team who obliges other teams narratives, be it the comeback story of an aging quarterback or the out of nowhere success of a second string running back. They’ve shown no inclination to be a different team in the opening act of Matt Rhule’s first season as head coach.

Final Score? 35-17, the Chargers win at home. Or at least they’ll win two and a half hours north of their home, but that’s a whole different topic.