As we head into Week 5 of the 2019 NFL season, the Jacksonville Jaguars (and Minshew Mania) make the trip to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers and the Jaguars both were established as NFL expansion franchises in 1993, and both began league competition in 1995.
To give us a little bit of perspective into this inter-conference matchup, we are talking to Walker Clement, assistant managing editor at Cat Scratch Reader — your source for all things Carolina Panthers.
1. Of course he is no Gardner Minshew (wink, wink) but Kyle Allen is Carolina’s young quarterback who is off to a 2-0 start this season (and 3-0 in his career). What do you like about Allen and what would you like to see him work on? Is there any chance the Jaguars see Cam Newton on Sunday, or is it the Kyle Allen show?
Walker: Allen is generally a very good decision maker, highlighted by the fact that he has yet to throw an interception. Don’t worry about that sound you are hearing right now. It’s just me knocking on every piece of wood in the Carolinas. That said, he did lose three fumbles while being sacked last week, so if he wants to improve his game then I’d like to see him start there.
As for Cam, there is a non-zero chance of his appearance at the game on Sunday. But that will most likely be on the sideline or possibly even in the booth with Norv Turner. They haven’t officially announced Allen as the starter for Week 5, but they probably won’t make an announcement. They probably won’t say anything until Newton is fully ready to return. Until then it is the Kyle Allen or, if the fan gets all the way clogged, the Will Grier show.
2. Another young player who is making his presence felt in the early season is first-round pick Brian Burns out of Florida State. What has Burns shown that has you excited? Are there any other players on defense that Jaguars fans need to look out for?
Walker: Burns is surprisingly fast. Even when you know to watch him at the snap and you’re expecting that first step to wow you, it still takes a second to pick your jaw off the floor. He only has 2.5 sacks in the first four games, but he also has nine quarterback hits. He’s a rookie still putting his game together. Those near misses are going to be more near than misses in short order. Another way to describe his speed for you is to mention that he has gotten a hand on at least three kicks this season. None of them have been officially recorded as blocks, but his deflections have forced several short punts in the order of seven to ten yard changes of field position. He’s a menace and we love him.
The rest of the Panthers defense is equally as scary. Dontari Poe is having a bit of a renaissance season playing back at his more natural zero technique/nose tackle position in a 3-4 front. Shaq Thompson is stepping up huge in the role vacated with the departure of team legend Thomas Davis. Luke Kuechly is Luke Kuechly, so good luck with that. And their corners are young, with both starters still on their rookie contracts, but great. Donte Jackson might be as fast as Burns and James Bradberry has turned into a legitimate lock down cornerback. He held Mike Evans (four catches, 41 yards) and Deandre Hopkins (five catches, 61 yards), the two best receivers the Panthers have faced so far, to very middling performances. That’s not to mention the best safety tandem the Panthers have had in years with Eric Reid and Tre Boston or the nine other players who have recorded a sack so far this season.
3. On the other side of the ball, Christian McCaffrey is the clear workhorse. But outside of him and Allen, who is the biggest key to victory for the Panthers on offense? And which player would you like to see step up or take on a bigger role?
Walker: (Running back) Reggie Bonnafon is the guy I’d like to see step up to take a bigger role. He is one of McCaffrey’s backups and he is having trouble seeing the field because the Panthers are playing Christian for 100 percent of the offensive snaps in most of their games. His usage projected across a whole season is terrifying if you have a long term rooting interest in him.
That said, because of McCaffrey’s share of the offensive load, there is no other key to the offense right now. With 27 carries and 10 receptions against the Texans last week, he out-touched the rest of the team combined by a significant margin. The Panthers have the skill position players for a more balanced offense with Greg Olsen’s clock still ticking and wide receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel looking better with each game. They just have yet to put together a complete offensive performance. That largely comes back to their current turmoil at quarterback, but it also comes down to the coaching staff’s obsession with McCaffrey.
4. What specific matchup(s) are you most looking forward to between the Jags and Panthers?
Walker: I’m hoping that (Jalen) Ramsey is playing this week because I want to see the Panthers young receivers work against one of the best defenders in the league. There was a lot of hype from them leading up to this season that hasn’t quite shown up on the field yet. Both Moore and Samuel have the speed and agility to be magic with the ball in their hands, but they haven’t consistently turned that into big plays. Working against Ramsey will give us a good idea of where their ceiling really is for the rest of 2019.
5. Through the first quarter of the season, what has surprised you most about this Panthers team? What are your expectations for the rest of the season (final record, division standing, playoff chances, etc.) ?
Walker: The first quarter of this season was all about the team learning to gel in spite of Newton’s injuries. He has been the heart of this team for years now, and seeing him hurt had a good chance of derailing team morale. Kudos to both Newton and the rest of the guys in that locker room for holding together and gutting out a couple of wins to keep the Panthers in the hunt until he is healthy enough to return. I don’t know what changed this year, but I wouldn’t have expected that kind of growth from any number of Panthers teams over the past few years.
Expectations are a beast of a whole different color. The NFC South is weird right now, which has me feeling pretty good about the Panthers’ chances to take that crown back. That is pending, of course, Newton’s healthy and triumphant return. If he stays gone, or the team takes a nosedive in his absence, then all bets are off. But Drew Brees is hurt, the Falcons are bad, and the Bucs are weirdly good (which never lasts).
The last time every team in the NFC South struggled was in 2014, my favorite year of Panthers football. The team went to the Super Bowl on the strength of a 15-1 record in 2015, but that doesn’t top the hilarious chaos of the Panthers making the playoffs as the NFC South division champions with a 7-8-1 record in 2014. That is why I have been avidly rooting for a tie in every game so far. It would be an omen of only silly things to come.
Bonus: score prediction?
Walker: Woof. That’s a tough one. I think the Panthers MO going forward will be reminiscent of their game against the Texans, so this will be another low scoring, defensive affair. In the end, Minshew’s ‘stache won’t actually have the magic to overcome the speed of the Panthers pass rush: Jaguars 14 Panthers 17.
A big thank you to Walker for providing his analysis and giving us a better picture of the 2019 version of the Carolina Panthers. Be sure to follow Cat Scratch Reader on Twitter to keep up with the whereabouts for this week’s opponent.