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Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with Cat Scratch Reader

Some information given to us courtesy of Cat Scratch Reader’s Walker Clement

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

In preparing for Monday’s matchup against the Carolina Panthers, Cat Scratch Reader’s Walker Clement and I sat down for a small Q&A for one another’s publications.

For my answers, check out: Panthers vs Ravens Week 11 preview: 5 questions with Baltimore Beatdown

1. Since trading star running back Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers are 2-2 and are averaging over 150 rushing yards per game. Why have the Panthers been so effective running the ball after trading McCaffrey?

Two reasons. First, they also changed centers from the more agile Pat Elflein to the road grader who is Bradley Bozeman. This was an injury-fueled change and not a coaching choice, to be clear. Elflein has season ending surgery a few weeks ago. The affect was to put a downhill running back in D’Onta Foreman behind a bigger, bruising offensive line. That tends to work alright.

The second reason is a little more vague but basically boils down to reputation. Christian McCaffrey is a Name and he was clearly the only offense that the Panthers had, both on the ground and through the air. Without him in the backfield drawing the eyes of every defender on every play the Panthers are able to get the ball into the hands of Foreman et al with a little more consistency. It also means any misdirection or motion they throw at an opposing defense actually has some effect.

In short, losing option one of one in their offensive playbook forced them to open up their gameplans to the novel, modern concept of utilizing muliple skill players on offense (see the mildly related emergence of Terrace Marshall Jr as a wide receiver). Ironically, it makes both their offense and the actions of their previous offensive coaching staffs harder to defend.

2. The Panthers announced quarterback Baker Mayfield will start this game after P.J. Walker suffered a high-ankle sprain. How much of a loss is it to not have Walker for this game?

Eh. He isn’t exactly good. There are highlights. There are lowlights. There are more forgettable plays than either of those two combined. Turns out that is true for every quarterback on the Panthers roster. While offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo may ask slightly different things from each quarterback based on their arm strength and comforts within his offense, the end result is always going to be the same fits-and-starts mess that has seen the Panthers go entire halves without earning a first down against what I call “professional” football teams. That means NFL teams outside of the NFC South, against whom the 3-7 Panthers are 0-7.

3. Going by Football Outsider’s DVOA ratings, the Panthers are last in passing offense. Can you share what issues they’re dealing with and how the Ravens’ defense could exploit them?

See above to start. With Mayfield under center the key thing is to swarm the line of scrimmage and get in his face. You don’t have to touch him to affect his play and you are more likely to touch a pass from him as a defender within two yards of the line of scrimmage than if you are a Panthers receiver anywhere in the zipcode of the stadium. With both him and Sam Darnold, who is a threat to play in the second half, patience is a virtue that will always be rewarded. They’ll put themselves behind the sticks as often as an opposing defense will and from there they will press. Mistakes will always be made and an enterprising defender just needs to keep one eye in the backfield. How are the Ravens at disguising zone coverages?

4. Who are two Panthers players (one offense/one defense) Ravens fans should pay specific attention to in this game that aren’t ‘household names?’

Marshall, as mentioned above, and Tommy Tremble, a tight end, have seen an explosion of targets since the firing of Matt Rhule, they are as liable as anyone to provide the usually absent spark in the Panthers offense. However, the real guy to watch on offense is rookie left tackle Ickey Ekwonu. He has been a road grader in the running game and a quickly growing protector in the passing game. He’s a force to be reckoned with and an ‘on’ game from him could herald sustained success on offense. Just watch out for the penalties. A rash of holding calls and false starts last week almost undid all of his good play.

On defense, you’re looking for Myles Hartsfield. He is one of the few bright spots from the Matt Rhule era. A jack-of-all-trades defensive back who can make an impact from just about any position. He isn’t quite good enough at any one role to claim a starting spot for himself, but he is likely to have one this week due to Donte Jackson’s achilles tear, Jeremy Chinn’s uncertain return from IR, and Juston Burris’ concussion. Or at least he is likely to start pending his own ankle injury this week. If not him, then keep an eye out for preseason phenom Tae Hayes at cornerback. This would mark his first significant regular season action, but fans are hopeful for him in that “boy do I hope this heavy box I found in the woods has gold in it and not bones” kind of way. It is, to be clear, about the only way we have left at this point.

5. The line for this game, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, is an astounding Ravens -12.5. Do you think this line is too much? Too little? Where would you set the mark?

Where would I set the mark? Higher. So high as to discourage all betting on this contest. There are only two possible outcomes and the Ravens winning by two touchdowns is not a likely one to my mind.

One, the Ravens do as the Ravens really ought to do and leave the Panthers embarrassed to call themselves professionals. There are miles and miles of difference between the preparation and, frankly, the talent levels of each team.The Ravens have an experienced head coach who has drawn a consistent line of progress from day one of training camp to today. The Panthers are on their second head coach of the season and the first one never drew anything that could be called consistent or progressive. This would be more than a two score margin of victory.

Two, the Ravens fail to show up. The Panthers relatively equivalent level of raw athleticism combines with the motivation that interim Head Coach Steve Wilks is more than capable of providing and they actually show up and, win or lose, play the Ravens in a tight game that is decided by kicking shenanigans. This is the Panthers identity, though they have yet to impose that identity on a team outside of their division.