The Bengals are gearing up for a clash of cats when the Panthers host Cincinnati this Sunday. Carolina is (1-1) coming of a crushing loss to the Falcons. They look pretty beat up on paper, but that is no reason to doubt a team led by Cam Newton at quarterback.
We caught up with Walker Clement of Cat Scratch Reader, SB Nation’s Panthers website, to get his perspective of the Bengals vs. Panthers game.
Patrick Judis: Cam Newton has been carrying the offense so far this season. He is not only the leader in passing yards, but he leads Carolina in rushing yards and is tied for the most rushing attempts. Is that something you think will continue?
Walker Clement: I am very confident that Newton will continue to lead the team in passing yards. Whether or not he leads the Panthers in rushing will depend on the game. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner is obviously not afraid to let Cam use his legs, but he is also enamored with the speed and shiftiness that Christian McCaffrey brings to the table. The running back had 102 yards receiving on 14 catches last week. You can expect one of those two guys to be the offensive MVP every week. Turner is slowly figuring out how to use both talents to their best advantage, good luck if he strikes the right balance against the Bengals.
PJ: Defensively the Panthers did a pretty good job at containing Julio Jones. What were some thing they did to accomplish that, and do you think they can replicate it with A.J. Green?
WC: They can replicate the process, but I’m not familiar enough with Green’s skillset to guarantee that they can replicate the success. The majority of the Falcons game saw Jones being shadowed by the Panthers’ top corner, James Bradberry. Years past saw Bradberry stick to one side of the field and the Falcons would move Jones around and torch the Panthers by exploiting mismatches. Of course, years past also saw the Panthers have an otherwise stifling defense. Their absence was the reason for the Panthers close loss.
PJ: As far as the Panthers’ pass-catchers go, they don’t have many big names after Greg Olsen’s injury. Who are some of the most dangerous guys in the passing game that Bengals’ fans should be worried about?
WC: First round pick D.J. Moore had a bit of a coming out party last week, turning his first catch into a 51 yard touchdown. The Panthers have made a lot of noise this week about wanting to get him more involved in the game plan, even though he still looks like a rookie on a lot of plays. Your real threat, as mentioned above, is Christian McCaffrey. He is too fast for linebackers, too physical for your average corner, and the Panthers love to target him. They are the threats.
The Panthers have a roster of semi-reliable role players after those two. I say semi-reliable because Devin Funchess, Torrey Smith, and Jarius Wright can be generally relied upon to be in the right place on a given play. It is a bit of a toss up, so to speak, as to whether or not they will catch a ball that hits them in their hands. If you’re looking for a guy to get open right at the sticks on a third down then Wright seems to be the guy for now.
PJ: The Panthers are dealing with some injuries along their offensive line. What do you think they will do to try and protect Newton on Sunday?
WC: Our best guess is that last week they performed some sort of blood sacrifice or other dark magic ritual. The Panthers signed their starting left tackle off the street — he hadn’t been on an NFL practice field since last November — on the Wednesday prior to the game. Their right tackle spent training camp as their left guard and was the left tackle for Week 1. Their top right guard missed the game with a concussion. The Panthers surrendered only two sacks and forced the Falcons to blitz to pressure Newton.
PJ: What is your prediction for the game?
WC: If the Panthers run out of livestock, virgins, or first born children to ensure the success of their line, then this game could get ugly for Carolina very quickly. Since they are at home, however, I’m assuming they can drag somebody out of the crowd. The Panthers lost last week because their defense had one of the more off weeks that we have seen since Ron Rivera took over the team in 2011. Meanwhile, the offense is actually starting to look more coherent and consistent than it has ever been under Newton. I have some faith in the offense’s continued improvement and in the defense’s return to form.
I’ll take the Panthers by a touchdown, 20-13.
Thanks again to Walker Clement for taking out the time to answer our questions. You can check out more of his stuff at Cat Scratch Reader.