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Carolina Panthers

Ask Bryan: Winning in the Trenches

Bryan, I think our offensive line has done a tremendous job this season and is one reason for our success, yet they don't get the credit on the national scene. Comments? – Randy in Charlotte

Agreed 100 percent, but don't just ask little old me. Check out what legendary Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka recently told Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, who played for Ditka's famed 1985 Bears.

"We were talking about how a lot of people want to compare some of the things we're doing to what we did in '85. He said there are some similarities, and the strongest one, he feels, is that both teams are offensive line driven," Rivera said. "I reflected on that, and I thought, 'You know, he's right.'

"Ryan Kalil and that group of guys have gotten some recognition, but I don't feel like they've truly gotten their due. That's a group of men that has done some really good things, and not just this year. What happened last year with the nice stretch at the end was really a reflection of the development of our offensive line."

The running game was the constant when Carolina rallied from nowhere to qualify for the playoffs last season, and the group got going when Mike Remmers was inserted at right tackle and then-rookies Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell became established at the guard spots. More stability came this season in the form of veteran left tackle Michael Oher. The line, anchored by Kalil, has allowed the fourth-fewest combined sacks, hits and hurries in the NFL this season according to The Washington Post.

How big of an issue will it be to have two starting corners going down due to injury? – Matthew in Creedmoor, N.C.

Well it certainly isn't ideal, but the Panthers appear equipped to handle the losses, as my fellow writer Max Henson recently shared. Cortland Finnegan now has five games under his belt starting at nickel in place of Bene Benwikere and has gotten better every game, and fellow veteran Robert McClain made the most of his opportunity in the regular season finale after Charles Tillman was lost to a knee injury.

The Panthers are also prepared because they still have a standout corner in Josh Norman to set the tone for the group and because they have a front four built to pressure quarterbacks and aide the secondary in the process.

If another cornerback were to go down, it would get more dicey, of course, but the Panthers also have confidence in recent practice squad call-up Lou Young.

Hello Bryan, I've really admired how throughout the year, either our offense or defense (sometimes both) have stepped up near the end of games to either win or save a win. Anticipating tight, closer playoff games coming, would you prefer that late in fourth quarter our offense has to come from behind or our defense comes on to protect a lead? – Jerry in Fayetteville, N.C.

Good hypothetical question. I'd prefer no such drama, but if it comes down to it this Sunday specifically, I'd vote for the defense on the field protecting the lead – but it has nothing to do with trusting the offense any less.

First off, in a game like Sunday's pitting such great defenses, scoring isn't easy. So, I'd rather have the points in hand than have to fight for them. Secondly (and maybe you'll say this is cheating), if the defense doesn't protect the lead, the game isn't necessarily over. Look back to Carolina's win in Seattle back in Week 6, when the offense came through in the clutch and gave the Panthers a 27-23 lead with 32 seconds left. Seattle's defense didn't close the deal, but at least the Seahawks still had a chance, albeit a slim one. Had the defense protected the lead there, then the game was completely over (well, Bengals fans might disagree).

Do you know what jersey color we will wear for the playoff? I'm very superstitious about what jersey to wear on game day. – Rob in Latham, N.Y.

The Panthers will go with their traditional white uniforms against the Seahawks. Not sure where your superstition lies, but here are some numbers: Carolina is 7-4 in the playoffs when wearing white and 0-2 when wearing black. When the Panthers have truly held the choice on which color to wear as the home team, they're 3-0 in white, 0-2 in black.

If the Panthers reach the Super Bowl, they're slated to wear white based on the alternating pattern the NFL uses to select uniforms for the big game.


View the top photos by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez from Carolina's game against Seattle.

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