Another week of football, and another week of our Interview with the Enemy series. This week, Walker Clement of Cat Scratch Reader answers 5 quick questions before our Week 17 showdown: the New Orleans Saints facing the division rival Carolina Panthers with a shot for the NFC’s #1 seed.
Are we going to see Christian McCaffrey this week?
No. Keep your fingers crossed for 2021 as this year has just been a series of minor injuries. There is no reason to believe that he won’t be back to full speed next year. No reason at all. Except that he is a highly paid running back who saw an obscene usage rate for years on end while the Panthers watched Cam Newton slowly implode from poorly managed injuries. Yup, I’d bet money he’ll be faster than ever next year. He might even lose or put on a few pounds, depending on what you want to hear about him.
Any chance the Panthers take it easy on the Saints on Sunday?
No, Matt Rhule has every intention of winning in December. The first week of January is part of December, now, by the way. Fortunately for the Saints, the Panthers will be without their top four options at left tackle. Russell Okung, Trent Scott, Greg Little, and Dennis Daley (normally a guard), are all injured. Another guard, Michael Schofield, will be tasked with protecting Teddy Bridgewater’s blindside. It’s not great. The Panthers will put together a drive or two, but I’d expect more than that from the Saints against the Panthers defense—even accounting for their recent defensive successes.
How is our old pal Teddy Bridgewater doing for you?
He’s fine. He walked into a complicated, and honestly impossible, situation with the fan base. On the one hand, he isn’t Cam Newton. On the other hand, he isn’t Cam Newton. It was always going to be a tough act to follow. The real knock on Bridgewater is that he has seemed to regress as the season has gone on. He relies more on check down throws and is less willing to attempt pushing the ball downfield than in the opening games. Bridgewater definitely isn’t the answer in Charlotte, and recent comments from owner David Tepper have made it clear that he knows it.
If you were Sean Payton, how would you game plan to attack the 49ers defense?
Is it weird that I don’t know? The Panthers defense has been finding new levels to play on week after week since their shut out of the Detroit Lions. They are a bunch of young and hobbled kids. They barely have a defensive line rotation. Their starting middle linebacker is an active detriment to their run defense. And yet. And yet they keep turning strengths into weaknesses and finding ways to let their stars make plays.
I think the best plan, counterintuitive to today’s NFL, is to focus on the running game at the start. Screens and misdirection plays could also be useful. These shouldn’t be expected to be aggressively successful, just to put stress on the thin defensive line and wear them down so that the Saints can open up their offense in the second half when they want to leave the Panthers in the dust.
What is your prediction for the game? Who wins? Final score?
The Saints should win this. The Panthers have nearly won a half dozen games that they shouldn’t have and, ultimately, they haven’t. I’m not convinced they’ll be able to keep it close with the Saints, but even if they do, this team has proven that they struggle with those games, too. Final score will be 27 to 13, Saints.
Thank-you, Walker, for taking the time to answer our questions. Saints fans, make sure you check out Walker and the work his guys are doing over at Cat Scratch Reader. You can follow Cat Scratch Reader on Twitter @CatScratchReadr, and of course you can follow me @ChrisDunnells.