Week 10 is here, and the Atlanta Falcons once again failed to get above .500 after a frustrating last-second loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 9. Atlanta is now 4-5 and in desperate need of a victory to keep pace in the NFC South race after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers limped to a narrow win over the Los Angeles Rams. The opponent, for the second time in what feels like two weeks, is the Carolina Panthers—who were just blown off the turf by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Here at The Falcoholic, we like to think we keep you all incredibly well-informed on all things Falcons. We’re not nearly as diligent in covering the Panthers, so I’ve enlisted the help of a Carolina expert: Walker Clement. Walker is a writer over at SB Nation’s Panthers site, Cat Scratch Reader.
I brought five questions to Walker to try to get a better read on how the Panthers have looked over the first six games, including his thoughts on the firing of Matt Rhule, the offense handing the reins to PJ Walker, and more. Read on for Walker’s answers.
Q1. The Panthers have seemingly come full circle on offense since playing the Falcons, with an offensive explosion against Atlanta followed by a total implosion against the Bengals. What went wrong against Cincinnati, and do you have any concerns heading into Week 10?
Walker Clement: The Panthers are bad and injured, to put it bluntly. PJ Walker has always been capable of flashes, but his lack of consistency has long been his achilles heel. No quarterback and a still hurt defense that also had an off day is an equation for bad football. We know through years of experience. My concerns heading into Week 10 are quite simple. Can a quarterback make accurate passes? Will the defense attend the game? The answers to those questions will heavily influence the outcome of a short week game against a familiar opponent.
Q2. It was announced that PJ Walker would start once again for Carolina after he was benched at halftime in the blowout loss to Cincinnati. How do you feel about the decision to go back to Walker, and do you expect him to have a short leash on Thursday Night Football?
Walker: What else were they going to do? Start Baker? He isn’t worse than Walker, but Mayfield also hasn’t been as good as Walker’s best this season. They could start Darnold, and likely will at some point, but the key to any good joke is timing. The right time for the Darnold punch(line) to land is likely sometime well into the second half of the season. Walker is the best chance they have to win a game, just don’t mistake that for being a good chance.
He put together enough flashes of positivity for a few weeks that we started to hope. Not hope that he was a franchise quarterback come out of nowhere, mind you, just that maybe he was a valuable asset at the position. Chaos, however, is never valuable at the quarterback position and Walker, or at least the Walker/Ben McAdoo pairing has proven to still be that.
Q3. The Panthers defense has long been the strength of the team, but they’re coming off back-to-back games allowing 37+ points. What has gone wrong in the past two weeks, and do you think Carolina can rebound this week?
Walker: I think injuries and lack of depth contributed to the high score in the Falcons game. I honestly think the Bengals game was a hangover game for a team that had lost all hope of success. Atlanta gave the Panthers a glimpse of competition and then used it to break out hearts. After that, the Bengals were both an actually good NFL team (apologies to the entirety of the NFC South) and next on the schedule.
Q4. Carolina has a few notable players on the injury report and just designated safety Jeremy Chinn to return off IR. Do you think Chinn could be activated for Thursday Night Football, and are there any other players whose availability could be in jeopardy this week?
Walker: The plan for a couple of weeks has been for Chinn to target this week as his return. We’ll see if that happens, but we likely won’t know anything officially until the gameday inactives are released.
As for other players, Juston Burris has been the starting safety in Chinn’s absence opposite Xavier Woods. He has missed all practices this week with a concussion and is not expected to play. If Chinn can’t suit up on Thursday then you can expect to see a lot of Myles Hartsfield, the Panthers jack-of-all-trades defensive back.
Q5. The Falcons are currently 2.5-point road favorites on Thursday Night Football, which is odd considering the Panthers should have beaten Atlanta two weeks ago. What’s your prediction for the game?
Walker: A bloodbath. The Falcons are going to put the Panthers to bed by halftime and everybody gets to go home early. You see, last time I predicted something hilarious and outside of both team’s norms and that is what we got. This time I’m predicting what I want instead of what I think will happen (which is a slow first half followed by the Falcons pulling away in the third quarter, for reference), on the assumption that I am the power behind the last successful prediction and not the decades of Panthers-Falcons data I based it on.
I’m all for a good game, but my dogs are still mad at daylight saving time ending and I just want a normal night to help them settle into the new routine. As a Panthers fan deeply invested in our 2022 prospects, this is my highest and most relevant priority.
Many thanks to Walker Clement for taking the time to answer my questions. You can follow him at @MetaphorGuy, and if you’re in the mood for a Panthers perspective on things, follow Cat Scratch Reader at @CatScratchReadr.