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September 4, 2013 at 10:35 AM

Five questions, five answers: Carolina Panthers

kuechly

Another feature I hope to make a weekly item here on the blog is a question-and-answer segment — five questions and answers, specifically — with a beat writer from the Seahawks’ opponent.

Our guest this week is Joe Person, who covers the Panthers for the Charlotte Observer.

Q1: Is the fast start to last season when Carolina won five of its last six something that can carry over to this year?

A: I don’t know how much of that carries over. This is a team that has been plagued with bad starts the last two years, starting 2-8 each year. The problem is they played well down the stretech the last two years but the reality is those were meaningless games, they were able to play loose, they really had nothing on the line, so this is a team that desperately needs to come out of the gate a lot faster.

Q2: Cam Newton has put up big numbers his first two years, but are there things they are looking for him to do to turn the Panthers into more of a winning team?

A: That’s it, win. Just be more consistent. He’s a guy sometimes that doesn’t get his feet set and the ball will sail on him a little bit. He really did cut down his turnovers the second half of last season and that was a big emphasis for him in year two and he really did a good job of cleaning that up. They have talked about taking more off his plate and not having him do quite as much. They have a new coordinator in Mike Shula and they have talked about de-emphasizing the zone read, but it will still be a package for them. Just overall being more consistent and winning some of these close games.

Q3: Is there a general expectation among the team of what is realistic this season?

A: I think there is guarded optimism. Last year, their Pro Bowl center, Ryan Kalil, took out a full page ad in our newspaper talking about how the season was going to end up in the Super Bowl down in New Orleans and he kind of put the target right on their backs. There has not been any kind of proclamations like that this year. I think they know they’ve got to start fast. Coach Ron Rivera, this is an important year for him. I think  if they don’t go to the playoffs this might be it for him. So they don’t want to have to deal with all of those kinds of questions about his future, but that is exactly what’s going to come up if they get off to another slow start.

Q4: Is there a matchup or two that seems really key from Carolina’s perspective?

A: I think that front matchup of the Panthers’ O-line against the Seahawks’ Front Four is going to be pretty key. If you remember the Panthers couldn’t do much at all against the Seahawks last year and it started with the Seahawks shutting down the running game (82 yards on 19 attempts and  just 190 yards total). They lost Ryan Kalil in that game to a foot injury so they were kind of scrambling up front. They’ve got Kalil back and they are feeling a little better about the line, but that’s still a real area of concern for them as they enter the season, that offensive line.

Q5: Is there a defensive matchup for Carolina that is key?

A: This may be simplifying things but Marshawn Lynch versus (Carolina middle linebacker) Luke Kuechly (above in an AP photo). They went out and drafted a couple of defensive tackles and re-signed another, Dwan Edwards, and it was all basically for the purpose of keeping blockers off of Kuechly and letting him roam free and he has really looked outstanding in the preseason.  It’s going to take more than just Kuechly against Lynch but that will be a key one.

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