The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing for their 2022 regular season Week 15 game with a trip to Charlotte, NC to play the Panthers. A tough task for the Steelers who are now 5-8 on the season.
With this being a big game, not like every game isn’t a big game, I was able to ask Walker Clement of Cat Scratch Reader, SB Nation’s Carolina Panthers website, five questions leading up to the game.
Check out the Q&A below, and be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook for all your betting needs this season.
The Panthers’ quarterback situation has been a mixed bag of goods this season. Who will start, and what are the strengths and weaknesses of these quarterbacks?
‘Goods’ has an oddly valuable connotation for what the Panthers have juggled at the quarterback position this season, but I guess y’all aren’t strangers to the idea of spinning your current quarterback situation.
As for who will start, odds are on Sam Darnold who, at 2-0, has the best record of any starting quarterback for the Panthers so far this season. PJ Walker is your other option, but he’s more likely to see significant time after Darnold struggles than he is to supplant him as a starter this week.
Darnold is currently receiving a lot of acclaim for his new found patience in the pocket, a trait he was not known for last season. That patience is a double edged sword, however, as it does leave him sitting in the pocket for far longer than I’m comfortable watching. He honestly looks a little slow making decisions sometimes, throws balls late and behind receivers, but somehow hasn’t yet thrown a pick or gotten anyone killed. I’m worried either of those consequences are only a matter of time.
His other concern through two games is shaky accuracy. There are a few first downs and at least one touchdown that he has left on the field by just flat missing a receiver or throwing the ball so far behind them that forward progress became impossible. Still, that’s all an upgrade over last season’s Darnold who was known for making his many mistakes with unbridled confidence.
On top of the QB play, the Panthers made an early call on firing Matt Rhule. What does the fan base think of interim coach Steve Wilks? Does he have staying power for 2023?
Wilks is winning so, right now, Wilks is loved.
He’s also a Charlotte guy (since high school) who was with the Panthers through some of Ron Rivera’s actually successful years. That means he has layers of local credibility and an understanding of the history and culture of the Charlotte area and the Panthers fan base. That’s a wide step in the right direction from Rhule, who came in seeking to turn the whole organization into a culture of Him. So that helps, too.
Wilks was told, in public, by owner David Tepper that he would have to do an “incredible job” to be considered for the full time gig going forward. I think having a 1-4 team (when he took over) in position to threaten for a division title is an incredible job, but I’m no billionaire. We’ll see what kind of expertise Tepper can buy before making this decision that he couldn’t afford when he hired Matt Rhule.
Who are some lesser known players on the Panthers who could have an impact on the game Sunday?
Myles Hartsfield figures to get another start at safety if Xavier Woods can’t get himself off the injury list. He’s the Panthers jack of all trades defensive back who isn’t just capable of playing every position in the secondary, he’s actually pretty good at them all. He’s the unknown player amongst unknown players outside of the Carolinas.
Your other option is linebacker Frankie Luvu. If you don’t know him yet, you will soon. He has a pick six, a forced fumble, twelve tackles for loss, and five sacks on the season, but that really undersells him. He has been inches away from multiple other interceptions and big impact plays in the backfield in every game. The Panthers asked him to step up from a backup role this season to fill in the shoes left behind by Haason Reddick and he hasn’t missed a beat. It’s almost a shame that he has been so good because he is going to be expensive to keep.
The Panthers were sellers at the trade deadline. Does the fan base have hope in the future after shipping players like CMC away?
The McCaffrey trade definitely rocked the fan base. He was the face of the franchise and they shipped him off at 11 PM on a Thursday. Since then, however, the Panthers have also swapped out center Pat Elflein (injured reserve) for Bradley Bozeman between him and D’Onta Foreman, the ground game has taken off. They went from rushing for 90.3 yards per game before trading McCaffrey to rushing 168 yards per game since.
That’s not to say that McCaffrey was holding the Panthers back, just that this current coaching staff is making some incredible progress both on the fly and absent one of the best weapons in the league. This transformation has been the biggest offensive contribution to the Panthers being relevant in the NFC South. Again, Wilks should have staying power for 2023, but we’ll see.
The Panthers are 0-3 in games in which they have been favored this season, but they have also yet to play in a game where they were favored under Wilks. The stakes are high right now for Carolina since the Panthers are breathing down the necks of the division leading Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the NFC South title and playoff spot. It’s a hilarious position for this team to be in given how they started, but Wilks has the whole team bought in to the idea that they could make it. Motivation certainly won’t be their problem.
However, the Steelers aren’t nearly as bad as their record implies and a Mike Tomlin team is never an easy out. How it shakes out comes down to quarterback play. Who plays for the Steelers and how competently? Does Darnold turn back into a pumpkin now that there are real stakes in the game again? I think the Panthers pull off a low scoring nail biter as they have been historically wont to do in these situations, but I have absolutely zero confidence in that thought. I wouldn’t even go so far as to call it a belief.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for their Week 15 game vs. the Panthers this Sunday in Charlotte.