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Scouting the Browns’ Week 14 opponent: Carolina Panthers - Our Q&A with Cat Scratch Reader

We ask about the Panthers’ huge slump, the stellar season that rookie D.J. Moore is having, the weaknesses on Carolina’s defense, and more.

Seattle Seahawks v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns are back home to take on the Carolina Panthers. To help preview a few topics from the Buccaneers’ perspective, we reached out to Walker Clement from Cat Scratch Reader and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!

Seattle Seahawks v Carolina Panthers
Ron Rivera needs to get the Panthers together.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Chris: “After a 6-2 start, the Panthers have lost 4 games in a row. What do fans attribute as the main reason for their downfall? Is Cam Newton to blame at all?”

Walker: “The defense and play-calling in the red zone are almost equally responsible for the recent slump. The Panthers’ pass rushers, even with plenty of help from blitzing linebackers and defensive backs, are failing to apply pressure with any consistency. Their style of defense relies on pressure to force short or ill-advised throws that the Panthers secondary, playing largely in soft zones, can then tackle for minimum gains. Instead, quarterbacks have had as much time as they could want to find the cracks in those zones to move the ball at will. Last week’s game against Tampa Bay saw this happen repeatedly, in heartbreaking fashion, on third and long.

Th red zone play calling has been also been disappointing. The Panthers are one of the most diverse and creative offenses in the league between the 20s. Cam Newton has been one of the most efficient passers in the red zone. Knowing all of that, Norv Turner has turned into a pumpkin every time he is in the shadow of the uprights, calling runs for Christian McCaffrey out of jumbo sets reminiscent of the 1990s.”

Seattle Seahawks v Carolina Panthers
D.J. Moore has lived up to his first-round potential.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Chris: “The Panthers drafted WR D.J. Moore with the 24th overall pick of this year’s draft. How has the rookie receiver fared?”

Walker: “Phenomenally, to be honest. Moore is quickly emerging as one of the most exciting young play makers in this league. I recently spoke with Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter about Moore’s development. Carter said he expects “Cam Newton and D.J. Moore [to be] one of the special combinations in this league.” The biggest thing I was looking forward to with this weekend’s game was to see him match up against the Browns’ star rookie corner, Denzel Ward. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that he gets cleared from the concussion protocol in time to play.”

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
Chris Clark has been the Panthers’ left tackle most of this season.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Chris: “What is the strength and weakness of the Panthers’ offensive line?”

Walker:Taylor Moton and Trai Turner, the right tackle and right guard, are the strength of the offensive line. They are excellent blockers in the passing and running games and move well in space, a key component to many of Carolina’s more exciting plays. The opposite side of the line is, well, their opposite. Chris Clark was signed off of his couch on Wednesday of week 2 and has played almost every snap for the Panthers since then at left tackle. Saying that he has performed well above expectations isn’t the same thing as saying that he has performed well. Next to him is, usually, left guard Greg van Roten. He also started the season looking better than he has in the last few games. The Browns’ key to winning this game is to send extra rushers at the left side of the Panthers’ line. One of them will likely come through untouched.”

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers
Julius Peppers isn’t what he once was.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Chris: “What is the biggest weakness on Carolina’s defense?”

Walker: “The defensive line. Mario Addison is still a fine defensive end. Julius Peppers still looks like a defensive end when he is wearing his helmet. The difference is that when Peppers takes his helmet off you can see the gray hair on the 38 year athlete. Age has finally caught up to him and the Panthers don’t have anybody who can pick up his slack. Baker Mayfield should plenty of time to make decisions on Sunday.”

Seattle Seahawks v Carolina Panthers
Curtis Samuel has stood out for Carolina.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Chris: “Tell us about one player who has played a nice role for the Panthers this season, but who Browns fans may not have heard of.”

Walker: “If this game had been four weeks ago I would have told you about Chris Clark, the street left tackle, or Donte Jackson, the rookie corner who notched three interceptions in the first half of the season. Instead, since all of them have been significant contributors to recent losses, let’s talk about Curtis Samuel. I think he qualifies as a contributor who Browns fans may not have heard of in a while.

Samuel was a running back at Ohio State who was drafted in the second round by the Panthers to play wide receiver. He sat out most of his rookie year with a series of injuries, but has come on in 2018 as a solid potential number two receiver behind rookie D.J. Moore. He has only caught 25 balls for 284 yards and four touchdowns this year, but his snap count and usage have been sky-rocketing in recent weeks. When the Panthers offense is working, Samuel is part of the process. Between Moore, Samuel, and McCaffrey, the Panthers have a stable of speedy weapons that can twist a defense into knots with jet sweeps, end arounds, double, and even triple reverses that are just plain fun to watch.”

Thanks again to Walker for taking the time to answer my questions.