Fans fo­cus on Rivera, Cam’s shoul­der, stop­ping May­field

The Herald-Sun (Sunday) - - Sports - BY JOURDAN RO­DRIGUE jro­[email protected]­lot­teob­ Jourdan Ro­drigue: 704-358-5071; @jour­dan­ro­drigue

The Carolina Panthers (6-6), on a four-game skid, shuf­fled things around last week in a clear at­tempt to change the down­ward mo­men­tum of their sea­son.

Head coach Ron Rivera has taken over com­plete con­trol of the de­fen­sive play-call­ing, which de­moted de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Eric Wash­ing­ton to take charge of the front seven. Wash­ing­ton re­tains his ti­tle.

Rivera also fired two de­fen­sive as­sis­tants on Mon­day, se­condary/cor­ner­backs coach Jeff Ima­mura and de­fen­sive line coach Brady Hoke.

And now, a true shift in mo­men­tum will have to go through, of all places, Cleve­land (4-7-1) this Sun­day. Sure, it’s Cleve­land. But the Panthers have only won once on the road this sea­son, out of six trips.

Nat­u­rally, you have ques­tions. I picked a few of the best I re­ceived on Twit­ter last week to an­swer. Let’s get to it!

Ques­tion from @Pan­ther­sFan_InAfrica: I seem to re­call some teams hav­ing an as­sis­tant to specif­i­cally help with clock man­age­ment. Any chance the Panthers will do that with Ron now call­ing plays?

The Panthers do have as­sis­tants that help out with sit­u­a­tional things such as clock man­age­ment, time outs, chal­lenges and the like. Rivera said last week that their roles will in­crease even more with him oc­cu­pied by call­ing the plays. I be­lieve Wash­ing­ton will also play a big role in any sit­u­a­tional ad­just­ments needed as well.

Ques­tion from @Way_Lew: With Wash­ing­ton fo­cus­ing on the front 7, can we ex­pect a more dom­i­nant de­fense line pres­ence?

I think that will play a role in the Panthers’ pass­rush be­com­ing more con­sis­tent, but I think Rivera’s calls might help with that too. I liked what they did last week for the first time all sea­son – they benched de­fen­sive tackle Vernon But­ler and moved Wes Hor­ton to the in­side to get more speed up the mid­dle. It looked a lit­tle more co­he­sive than it has in prior weeks.

Cleve­land’s rush­ing, on the other hand, was pretty solid for the first 10 weeks of the sea­son, with only one game un­der 100 rush­ing yards. But in the last two weeks, teams have held the Browns un­der 100 yards rush­ing. Carolina needs a dis­ci­plined front, and needs to be sure to con­tain quar­ter­back Baker May­field if he runs, too. The Panthers strug­gled to con­tain Jameis Win­ston on the ground early on last week, and it af­fected how the de­fense played Tampa Bay for the rest of the game.

Ques­tion from @srin­der­man5788: How will Cam’s shoul­der in­jury im­pact the pass­ing game against an ag­gres­sive Browns de­fense?

This is a really im­por­tant game for quar­ter­back Cam New­ton and his right shoul­der for a few rea­sons.

First, New­ton needs to re­bound from a four-in­ter­cep­tion game last week. He needs ad­e­quate pro­tec­tion, so I think we’ll see a scheme that al­lows more max pro­tec­tion against the Browns’ tal­ented rush­ers. That means he’ll be get­ting the ball out quickly, and likely fa­vor short and in­ter­me­di­ate passes when he does throw. Good news for his shoul­der, on that front.

But there is a valid ques­tion float­ing around Panthers-ville right now: If Carolina gets math­e­mat­i­cally elim­i­nated from the play­offs (a lot de­pends on that this week but would be more likely in Week 15), will Rivera bench New­ton? The Panthers have to win out to truly stay alive in the post­sea­son hunt, and I’d guess they’ll play New­ton as long as he gives them the best pos­si­ble chance to do that.

Ques­tion from @Chris_Rash: Is it fair to say that Devin Funchess is one game into a fiveg­ame try­out pe­riod to re­turn to the team in 2019, or is that an over­re­ac­tion?

It’s not an over-reation – in fact, this en­tire year has been a “try­out pe­riod” for Funchess, who is in a con­tract year. In fact, this one year is more telling than the past few have been be­cause this year the Pan- thers put him in the “X” for good. They wanted to see what he could do in a fea­ture role, with more re­spon­si­bil­ity. The Panthers’ scheme un­der Norv Turner stays away from a stereo­typ­i­cal “No. 1” re­ceiver (case in point: run­ning back Chris­tian McCaf­frey is tech­ni­cally the No. 1 re­ceiver with 80 catches), but they’re watch­ing Funchess closely to see how he han­dles the spe­cific role he’s in.

Ques­tion from NCSUPack­fanLee: Will May­field torch the se­condary like ev­ery other team has lately? Or has Rivera tight­ened the reigns and gained con­trol over this ru­n­away stage­coach?

Solid metaphor there. May­field is get­ting hot, av­er­ag­ing 10 yards per pass at­tempt over the past three weeks, with 871 yards, eight touch­downs and three in­ter­cep­tions.

On the con­verse, the Panthers’ se­condary gave up 12 ex­plo­sive pass­ing plays for a to­tal of 468 yards in the last four weeks. That’s al­most 40 yards per ex­plo­sive pass­ing play, which is enough to flip the field each time.

That takes me back to the above ques­tion about the pass rush. Rivera really likes to find the bal­ance in his calls be­tween an ex­plo­sive rush and com­ple­men­tary cov­er­age, and that will be even more im­por­tant this week with his hands all over the de­fense.

There should be a fire un­der the fan­nies of the cor­ner­backs on the ros­ter with him watch­ing them so closely last week in prac­tice. If they can dis­rupt May­field up front and make plays on the ball for the first time in sev­eral weeks, the Panthers could find their mojo again.

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