Schuyler Callihan of All Panthers answers five questions heading into the Lions’ Week 16 matchup with the Carolina Panthers.
1.) What has been your assessment of the 2022 Panthers season?
Schuyler Callihan: It looked like the Panthers’ front office was ready to throw in the towel on the season, after firing Matt Rhule, trading Christian McCaffrey and Robbie Anderson, and starting P.J. Walker at quarterback for a string of games. Instead, they’ve played a much better brand of football with less talent, which speaks to the ability to overcome adversity. It’s not normal for a team to be in the thick of a divisional crown at 5-9, but hey, Panthers fans will take it. A portion of the fanbase is still hoping they lose out, so they can have a higher draft pick and take a quarterback. To me, seeing a team play meaningful football in December is more promising.
2.) The team seems to have a fondness for interim head coach Steve Wilks. What makes him a coach players gravitate toward?
Callihan: The thing about Steve Wilks is he keeps it real. With the players, us in the media, and so on. He doesn’t skirt around questions — he’s straight to the point. With the players, many of them have told me a big reason he deserves to be the head coach moving forward is that he has good control of the locker room and he understands the culture that needs to exist in Carolina for the franchise to be successful. He’s been here through the good and the bad. Players respect the hell out of him, because he holds them accountable. He’s an old-school coach, yet can still relate to the players. The locker room is clearly behind him, and it could lead to him getting the job permanently.
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3.) Who is a Panthers player that is under the radar and Lions fans should know about?
Callihan: I’ll give you a few. Sam Franklin Jr. is a special teams ace. He’s not going to see a whole lot of time on the defensive side of the ball at safety, but when he does get his opportunity, he makes plays. Franklin is widely regarded as one of the top gunners in the league, and has put himself in a position to make the Pro Bowl as an alternate. Cade Mays is another guy that you probably won’t see on the field, but for a handful of plays. The rookie offensive lineman hasn’t been able to work his way into the offensive line rotation, mainly because of how good the starting unit has been this year. But, he’s carved out a role as, you guessed it, a fullback. Mays has played all five positions on the line, and that versatility and athleticism allow him to be used as a fullback on short-yardage plays. And heck, sometimes even on first down. The last guy is WR Terrace Marshall Jr. The former second-round pick dealt with injuries for much of his rookie year and then again this offseason. Now healthy, he’s starting to become a key fixture in the offensive gameplan.
4.) What are one-two key matchups in this Week 16 contest?
Callihan: C.J. Henderson vs. Josh Reynolds/Kalif Raymond. This is going to be a big matchup to watch. C.J. Henderson has played well at times this season, particularly of late. But, last week, he left the game with an ankle injury and did not return. He’s been a full participant at practice all week, but if that ankle flares up again, it could spell trouble for the Panthers. In his place, Keith Taylor Jr. was picked on all day long, and gave up three big catches on third down.
5.) How do you see this game between the Lions and the Panthers playing out, and who ends up winning?
Callihan: Carolina struggled to do much offensively last week, because the Steelers loaded the box and forced Carolina to go away from its identity. If the Lions have any success stopping/limiting D’Onta Foreman and the Panthers’ run game, I don’t see how Carolina can keep up with Detroit’s high-powered offense. This one could go either way, but I’ll go with the Lions, 21-20.