We dive into the state of the Panthers for this NFC South matchup
The Tampa Bay Bucs travel to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers in Week 7. The Bucs dropped to 3-3 following last week’s loss to the Steelers as the Panthers are hoping to find a way to improve their 1-5 record.
We fired off some questions regarding the state of Carolina’s team for Car Scratch Reader’s Walker Clement to see if he can shed some light on what’s going on with the Panthers heading into Week 7.
1. Wide receiver Robbie Anderson and the Panthers stole headlines this past Sunday when he was kicked out of the game. What exactly caused that relationship to go south before eventually being shopped and finally traded this week?
Robbie was always a highly opinionated guy, but he was also a Matt Rhule guy and for all his flaws, Rhule never lost the locker room. I think Sunday’s boiling over was a combination of losing his coach and not getting any targets during an otherwise abysmal offensive performance. Still. he should have expected that when he was primarily a deep target guy for the Panthers and the game plan last week didn’t feature any passes beyond the line of scrimmage. Heads up, you can probably expect more of that plan with PJ Walker starting again this weekend.
2. Carolina is on a coaching search. What was it about Matt Rhule that just didn’t work out and what is the organization looking for in their next head coach?
Rhule came in preaching a process through which he was going to build a successful program. That process, apparently titled ‘the Way of the Panther’, was apparently no more detailed than “let’s get better on third downs.” The guy was a grifter when it came to actual coaching and a motivator in the locker room beyond that. His players loved him, but the Panthers watched several high profile departures from the operations side over the last three years. They were all surprises and now we’re starting to piece together a maybe why.
I made a lot of Wizard of Oz references to the idiot behind the curtain as things started to melt down last year and I think it was even more obvious to people inside the building who weren’t drinking the Kool-Aid.
As for the next head coach? NFL experience is a first above all others. That doesn’t have to mean a former head coach, though I am partial to that candidate pool. A former offensive assistant, either longtime or highly successful, would also rank highly on the Panthers want list. After a long history of defensive coordinators and one Matt Rhule, the Panthers fan base is hungry for somebody who doesn’t demonize the forward pass.
That puts a lot of names on the list that Bucs fans might be familiar with. Guys from current Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris to y’alls offensive coordinator, Byron Leftwich. I think this search will be both exhaustive and exhausting.
3. There were expectations to some degree after the acquisition of quarterback Baker Mayfield that Carolina would be able to make some leaps forward but that hasn’t seem to transpire. What can you point to that has caused that to be the case and potentially not start this Sunday despite his possible return from injury?
First of all, Mayfield is not considered to be back from injury. Neither is Sam Darnold even though he has been designated to return from injured reserve. Both or either might be in the mix next week, but y’all get the PJ Walker show. Prepare for the least inspiring football of your life (not that it would have been much better with either of the other guys).
The simple explanation for what went wrong is Matt Rhule. Coaching got in the way of a lot of talent over the last couple of years and that dynamic only got amplified when the young genius, Joe Brady, was fired last season for trying to win (our best explanation for what happened) and ultimately replaced with the narrowly respected former Giants head coach, Ben McAdoo. Add on Mayfield who has seemed to regress in every way in his own right, and you have a recipe for an offense that looks at the Chicago Bears with jealousy.
McAdoo, to be clear, was a doomed hire from the start. He worked his way up to the Giants head coach job by virtue of Aaron Rodgers doing Prime Aaron Rodgers things. He flamed out of there in less than two years. His next job in football was three years later as the quarterbacks coach that helped the 2020 Jacksonville Jaguars secure the number one pick and Trevor Lawrence in 2021. He spent the 2021 season as a vaguely defined consultant with Mike McCarthy and the Dallas Cowboys before getting plucked by Rhule and placed into this position of prominence. To be clear, the resume implies a better performance than we have seen so far yet we have seen zero evidence through six games that coaching has been of any benefit to the offense.
4. Despite running back Christian McCaffrey always being a threat for Carolina, the trade rumors are out in force once again about the team shopping him around. Is this a move the Panthers should finish making? And if so, where would the team go from there after trading their franchise player? (NOTE: This question was asked prior to the trade late Thursday in which Walker provided an updated answer for us.)
The Panthers are fully committing to selling off their nonexistent present (and near future) in the hopes of having any future at all. While McCaffrey is, in my opinion, worth more than a handful of picks to a franchise, he certainly was no guarantee to stay healthy long enough to see this one become relevant again.
2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th round picks, plus cap relief in a couple years, are not a bad return for a player you can’t take advantage of right now.
I hate to see him go, but there is a strong chance that this is the best move for both teams.
5. The Bucs are an 11-point favorite at the time of this question. I haven’t been a fan of these double-digit spreads oddsmakers have been giving the Bucs due to their offensive issues. How do you see the Panthers playing Tampa Bay Sunday to make sure they are well under that spread?
Short of dosing the Bucs Gatorade tub with something Pepto couldn’t plug, I don’t think there is much of a chance at all. Either the Panthers open up the offense and Walker starts throwing interceptions down field or they don’t, and the Panthers threaten punter Johnny Hekker with a use injury. The Panthers passed over 40:00 on the game clock last Sunday between first downs. Three players on defense are tied with DJ Moore for number of touchdowns this season with one (Marquis Haynes, Frankie Luvu, Donte Jackson). The offense is bad, y’all. I cannot hammer that home enough.
Last week could get a pass because the team was also figuring itself out under freshly appointed interim head coach Steve Wilks and was on the road, but the fact is that last week looked like the continuation of the offense falling apart that started when Brady was fired last season. It wasn’t an aberration. Anything approaching competence when it comes to moving the ball, let alone scoring, on Sunday wil come as a complete and utter surprise to the ten Panthers fans who are still watching at this point.
The Panthers defense will put up a good fight, if healthy, in the first half on Sunday. But after four to six straight three-and-outs on offense—again, a precedented series of events—they will be gassed, leaving Leftwich and Brady to do as they please through the second half. Where they land against the spread is more up to their whims than any intentions that Panthers will be bringing.
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the over/under is currently set to 39.5 for this matchup.