Dave Choate: Big question this week: Does trading Kelvin Benjamin actually make any sense for this offense, did they get enough for him, and how does this change things for the passing attack?
Brian Beversluis: That’s a pretty loaded one. Well, I don’t think they got enough for Kelvin Benjamin, however the 3rd and 7th round picks could be used to move around in the draft, so who knows there.
I think from a long term perspective it does make sense, since Devin Funchess shares a similar skill set and is much younger. He’s also a more refined route runner than Benjamin. So hitching your wagon to one of the two makes sense. However, in the short term you gave away one of Cam Newton’s most trusted targets, and a guy he really liked off the field as well. Can’t be good for morale, and now you bank on somebody who is unproven to step up while Olsen is sidelined and Funchess adjusts to being a WR1.
Dave Choate: What's behind the aggressively anemic performance on the ground for this Panthers team? Is it blocking, decline from Stewart and growing pains for McCaffrey, or something more systemic?
Brian Beversluis: It’s a little bit of everything here. The run blocking has been particularly poor. I think part of that has to do with the extended absence of Ryan Kalil who makes many of the protection calls and call outs. Jonathan Stewart isn’t running with the same aggression and pounding McCaffery up the middle hasn’t worked out. From a coaching standpoint, Stewart has been getting outside runs more so than McCaffery. I think the rushing game looked better last week, but there’s a lot of work to be done.
Dave Choate: How are the Panthers going to ensure that Julio Jones doesn't ruin them forever, the way he did a year ago? You know, that game?
Brian Beversluis: Well the big answer is James Bradberry. He’s healthy, he’s a year more experienced, and Wilks trusts him on an island against WR1s. He shadowed Mike Evans for most of the last game and held him in check. Having a completely healthy secondary in general is going to help too. Daryl Worley and Captain Munnerlyn are a lot better than the monstrosity that took the field after Bradberry went down last season.
Dave Choate:The Falcons' pass rush has blown hot and cold this year. What kind of challenge can this Carolina offensive line put up against the likes of Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett?
Brian Beversluis: Well both Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell will have their hands full with Jarrett, especially without Ryan Kalil manning the middle. The other Kalil (despite a lot of flak) has actually been decent as a pass protector. Cam tends to hold onto the ball too long or drop too far in his depth under pressure, so not all of those blindside sacks are Kalil’s fault. Beasley might have a monster game against the tackles however, the speed rush could be a major issue.
Dave Choate: Who wins this one, and where do the Panthers finish up the season in the NFC South?
Brian Beversluis: I have a hard time picking the Panthers. I know both of these teams have had their struggles, but without Kelvin Benjamin I don’t think Carolina will come out swinging. I predict a close win by the Falcons, 21-13.
I could see the Panthers finishing at .500 or 12-4. That’s how up and down they’ve been. I see them finishing 9-7 when it’s all said and done at 2nd or 3rd place.