As is our custom, we turned to SB Nation's enemy blog for the week to talk about the game ahead. This week it's our old friend Jaxon at Cat Scratch Reader, answering questions about his beloved Carolina Panthers.
Dave Choate: It's my understanding that Cam Newton is playing hurt, to some degree. Is this effecting his play and/or his confidence, or is that primarily the doing of the offensive line?
Jaxon: Whether Newton is hurt or not has been a hot topic this past week. Rivera was incredulous post-game when it was suggested Newton was injured, like it was total news to him. We in turn got lectured on the difference between 'playing hurt' and being injured. Rivera apparently needs his staff to tell him when his QB is really hurt instead of simply reading the anguish on his face throughout the game.
It was obvious to a national audience Newton was getting pummeled and in pain but I guess we should expect that to be the norm maybe? At least until Newton gets 'injured', which won't be long given the sad state of the offensive line. So yeah, it's piss poor line play that has snow-balled into a 'crisis of trust' between the QB and his pass protection.
Dave Choate: Oh, that offensive line. Is it as grim as it looked against the Eagles, and how do you see the Panthers tweaking their game plan to give Newton more breathing room against a so-so Falcons defense?
Jaxon: If the Panthers were going to tweak anything they should have done it weeks ago, so yes it is as grim as it gets. Instead we still see the same 3 and 4 step drops as WRs run the same routes over and over. The only thing that would help Newton at this point is a solid running game which is one positive about facing the Falcons. I'm hopeful Jonathan Stewart has a big game Sunday because otherwise it will be another long afternoon for Newton.
Dave Choate: Everyone's interested to see how Thomas DeCoud will fare against the Falcons after spending six seasons in Atlanta. How has he done for the Panthers in 2014?
Jaxon: Pretty poorly, actually. PFF has given him mostly failing grades as he gives up catch after catch. He's a pretty good tackler in run support but his coverage bounces between horrid and sloppy.
Dave Choate: Who should we be looking out for on offense and defense? This Panthers team is nigh-unrecognizable in some facets to the average Falcons fan.
Jaxon: On offense, Mike Shula will be a complete moron if he doesn't target TE Greg Olsen 8 to 10 times. Watch out for the deep jump ball to rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin, who is more prone to dropping the short passes than the long ones. He will catch them but doesn't have the speed to take it to the house after the catch. I would also expect more passes to RBs Williams and Stewart.
On defense, the rushing defense has improved the last few games but not the pass rush. Early the Panthers will try to get pressure with just four but it if doesn't work McDermott will bring heat later. One bright spot is CB Josh Norman has developed into a pretty good cover corner. He shut down Jeremy Maclin last week and came within a big toe of a nice INT. Otherwise the secondary is a dumpster fire.
Dave Choate: What's your predicted outcome for this game, and ultimately the Panthers season?
Jaxon: I try to remain upbeat in the face of losing but I'm finding it real hard at this point. While I think the Panthers will eek out a victory Sunday I still see a losing season being the final result. I'm thinking 6-9-1 at this point.
Panthers 30 Falcons 28