Our Interview with the Enemy series concludes this week with Walker Clement from Cat Scratch Reader. Walker joins us to answer a few quick questions before the Carolina Panthers face the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
TH: With a current record of 6-10, missing the playoffs and looking back at the season as a whole, what do you feel has contributed to the Panthers’ struggles the most and other than a new head coach, what are their biggest needs looking ahead to improve next season?
WC: The decision to retain Matt Rhule after a disastrous 2021 season destined 2023 for a similar fate. That Steve Wilks was able to get any wins out of this roster—let alone enough to be competitive within the division—is a miracle that strongly recommends him for a head coaching job somewhere in this league, if Tepper doesn’t want him here. Having an offseason to implement his own systems, with his own assistants instead of a midweek trip to LA to salvage another man’s mess could make all the difference between what happened this year and what fans are hoping for next year.
As for the team’s biggest need? That’s easy. Sam Darnold’s beard has been good for a few weeks now, but he isn’t the long-term answer at quarterback. Whether there is an option that the Panthers can afford in 2023 or not, the team is going to have to replace Cam Newton at some point. Their attempts under Rhule were all aggressively half-assed and they certainly got what they paid for. It’s time to take the idea of fielding a quarterback seriously.
TH: Rhule was fired in October, with Steve Wilks taking over as interim coach. Several very familiar names have been thrown around for the Panthers possible new head coach including Sean Payton and Jim Harbough. What are your thoughts on who should take over next season?
WC: I gave my thoughts on Wilks above. He’s my 1A candidate, but I wouldn’t call him my ride-or-die. Payton is treated as a joke by most Panthers fans. First of all, we have little interest in instituting a bounty program in Charlotte. Second, the price to trade for him within the division would necessarily hamstring the Panthers once they had him. For what? A coach who has spent so long with a hall of fame quarterback that he is a legitimate question mark without one? I’m not trading any, let alone multiple, day one or two picks to pair him with Sam Darnold, PJ Walker, or Matt Corral. Harbaugh is interesting. Dude might be weird as all get out, but he certainly has track record of success in the NFL in a competitive division. He also had a reliably good quarterback to work with, but he was more involved with the development of Kaepernick than Payton was with Brees. I have a little more faith in his being able to work around the skillset of one of the rougher, but still talented, passers that will be available to the Panthers at the back end of the top ten picks in 2023. I suppose he’d be my second choice of the names that have been floated.
TH: Who do you feel is the Panthers’ MVP for this season and why?
WC: Jaycee Horn. He only had three interceptions, but that’s because he was targeted so little by opposing quarterbacks. The kid is an incredible corner who has, unfortunately, missed a lot of time to injury. Even having played only 16 games in his two seasons in the NFL, he’s already erasing half the field or a quarterback’s favorite target in a given game. His injury against the Detroit Lions basically ended both the Panthers and the Saints playoff hopes, distant as they may have been. Without a reliable corner left in the secondary (Donte Jackson is also on injured reserve), Mike Evans caught ten passes for 207 yards, including three of his four targets of 30+ yards for 150 yards and three touchdowns. The Bucs won the game, and thus the division, by six points. All because Horn broke his wrist the week before.
TH: What is the biggest obstacle the Panthers will face in order to defeat the Saints on Sunday?
WC: Ennui. This team believed when Wilks sold them on their ability to make the playoffs. Last week’s loss to the Bucs felt like it ended the season for the fans. I can only imagine the disappointment inside the locker room. The team that played the Lions and jumped out to a 14-0 lead on the Bucs would not be worried about Andy Dalton’s Saints. They’d be making Taysom Hill jokes on their way to the stadium. The emotional hangover from last week combined with their recently exposed coverage issues are a recipe for anything between an incredibly boring game and a disaster for the Panthers.
TH: According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Saints are 3.5-point favorites. Do you think they cover the spread and what is your final score prediction?
WC: I honestly have no idea. I know I just talked about the Panthers facing an emotional hangover from last week, but I also have a small feeling that the Panthers might show up to play. They have reiterated publicly this week the whole locker room’s desire to retain Wilks as their head coach. A dismal performance against the Saints could sink his chances to remove the interim tag from his job title. The answer will come in the first quarter. The Saints will, if they have any faith in Dalton’s arm, test the Panthers over the top and the Panthers will, if they can, show up and try to run the ball straight through the Saints defense. I’d trust whichever team starts hot to stay hot and whichever team doesn’t to never heat up. That is, of course, assuming that either team starts hot. Your guess is as good as mine on that one. Final score will be something like 23-7, but it is a coin flip as to who has which score.
Thank you again to Walker for taking the time to answer our questions. You can check out his work @CatScratchReadr.
Hope everyone has enjoyed this season’s Interview with the Enemy series. We will see you again in September.
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