Grill Bill: Slip sliding away? 

Funchess, Samuel after Tampa loss

@jbwbubba What is going on?

Yeah, this month has been like a horror movie without an end for many of you.

Losing at Pittsburgh in primetime? Whatever. As Ron Rivera said that night, “s--- happens.”

But the Panthers surely would rebound at Detroit. Or back in Charlotte against Seattle. Or in Tampa.

Yet here they are in a four-game slump dealing with coaching changes on the defensive side and a quarterback who’s clearly struggling to wing it at times.

There isn’t one answer to your question, but we can count some of the ways:

  • The Panthers aren’t winning close games. They've lost their last three by a combined 11 points and are 2-5 in games decided by seven points or fewer. Last year that mark was 7-1.
  • All the coaching turnover on the defensive side of the ball this offseason obviously had an effect.
  • The defense has forced one turnover this entire month.
  • The pass D has allowed a league-worst 9.1 yards per attempt since that night in Pittsburgh.
  • Over the same time frame, Graham Gano has missed two field goals and an extra point.
  • The scored touchdowns on just three of seven red zone trips against Seattle and failed on four opportunities to put together a game-tying score last week.

As multiple people pointed out to me this week, considering how poor they’ve often played in the third quarters of games this season, maybe it’s appropriate the Panthers struggled in the third quarter of the schedule. Good news for them is they still get to play for something in the fourth.

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@danism28 Bill, who do you think the Panthers should target in the first... I kid. I kid. Seriously, how difficult will it be for Ron to manage/balance HC and DC duties?

Wouldn’t think it’d be difficult. Just different.

Rivera on Wednesday did share this moment from the Tampa game:

“Something happened and I had to deal with the referees, and Eric (Washington) went ahead and took over, went right back into play-calling mode, and then I came right back.”

So during games, maybe there will be some tricky spots like that. But during the week, the only extra requirement from Rivera is more time in defensive meetings. He’s always popped into those. He’s just staying longer and saying more now.

Washington will continue to lead meetings, and he and Rivera will mutually work on the game plan – like they have all season.

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@GambleLikeMe With Rivera taking over Defensive play calling do you think we’ll blitz more? Seems our 3rd down Defense has been giving QB time to throw..or maybe that’s just the frustrating piece of sitting on a couch and not playing #GrillBill

The Panthers lead the league with a 37.8 percent blitz rate. Yeah, I’m surprised, too.

The defense is also playing more man coverage to help the pass rush, but the back end can then be exposed when the pressure doesn’t get there.

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Website submission from Austin in Boiling Springs, SC: Why aren't we using Christian mccaffery to blow these blitzs up the game against the bucks the middle of the field was open all game for Christian even a blind man could smell the open field who is responsible for this poor play calling our offensive line gets exposed now ppl know our weakness but we could have got the ball to Christian on a screen or a route threw the middle of the field instead we play right into there scheme instead of adjusting to giving the best wr rb the ball on blitzes I don't understand this logic we gave the bucks that game open the field up with cams legs and mccaffery and we can't b stopped guaranteed

I was really rooting for Austin to put a period at the very end. Alas …

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@EPencek Does this team still see light at the end of the tunnel?

Sure. The sense I’ve gotten this week is they know they've dug themselves a hole, but they feel they’re still right in the middle of the mix.

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@jcyankeefan Given the Redskins are on their 3rd string QB and Minnesota’s regression, is it reasonable to see a 9-7 finish for the Panthers slipping into the playoffs over them by a game each?

A lot is still reasonable, but with four games left, it’s still at least a week too early to predict all that much.

Clearly, the Panthers need a win this weekend. If they do, and if the Seahawks beat the Vikings and the Eagles top the Cowboys – or if the Seahawks win and the Redskins lose to the Giants – the Panthers would head into next week as the NFC’s sixth seed. And if all those scenarios happened, the Panthers, Seahawks, Eagles and Cowboys would all be at 7-6.

Or if …

Nah, let’s stop there because the point is, yes, there’s still plenty to play for.

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@tombstonejosh1 Will you get a chance to see the rock and roll Hall of Fame? Any interest? My brother and I did the Cleveland/ Canton road trip a few years back, it was cool. Cleveland is a nice city.

The Hall opened in 1995, two years before I went to college. And while I get back home a lot, I’ve never been to the museum. But you’re right, it is a nice city. Just maybe not as nice this time of year.

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@95KeepPounding I absolutely love Blue Point Grille in Cleveland. Phenomenal seafood. I also love the Winking Lizard, Clevland Chop, XO, and more. What’s your go-to in downtown Cleveland? #GrillBill

I can’t narrow it down to just one. Spend most of my time on East 4th or West 25th.

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@PanthersAustria the one and only question: who are you rooting for this week?

Yes, I’m from Cleveland, but I have absolutely no problem being objective during weeks like this.

Which leads to …

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@nirajpatel94 Are reporters big fans of the team or do they just write? Do you get angry/frustrated when the team loses like most fans?

I come from the old school thinking of you’re not supposed to be a fan of the team you're covering.

It gets trickier when you work for a team. When you take that paycheck, you lose the ability to claim complete objectivity. I still very much try though because I believe it helps me see everything more clearly.

I can admit it makes the job more fun and even easier when the Panthers win. Especially in my current role. This website and our social media channels have had loads of good content ideas at the ready the past few weeks, but you haven’t seen them. Coaches and players aren’t up for doing a lot of the lighter stuff during tough times, and many fans don’t want to see it.

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@iamalshafei Will we see a lot of Efe Obada this week?

Not sure you’ll see a significant uptick in snaps, but he certainly earned another game day jersey with his productive Week 13 in Tampa.

Some young guys need to take a step back. The Panthers hoped Obada’s two games on the sideline would help him re-calibrate. Last week was a good start.

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@ThatVizGuy Any way to valid exactly how fast trai turner was running? Looks like he was keeping up with CMC

So I asked Christian McCaffrey how fast he thought Turner was going because “he was moving pretty good.”

“Pretty good? Elite!” replied McCaffrey, who estimated Turner hit 17 mph.

Nice guess. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, it was 18.35.

Turner, meanwhile, said:

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