Behind Enemy Lines: 5 questions with Panthers Wire

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Can the Buffalo Bills add to their win total against the Carolina Panthers in Week 15?

In an effort to get more insight on the Panthers, Bills Wire spoke to Anthony Rizzuti, managing editor for our friends over at Panthers Wire, for this week’s behind enemy lines feature:

Q: The Panthers undoubtedly have the most confusing QB situations right now, but I think this one would most interest Bills fans considering his past: What does the future look like for Sam Darnold?

AR: Confusing, frustrating, uncertain—yes. All of the above. And, fittingly enough, those three adjectives also describe Darnold’s future.

Head coach Matt Rhule and general manager Scott Fitterer tried to make one team’s trash their treasure. But that trash just proved to be, well, trash. Not to be overly harsh, it’s just that Darnold has shown he’s still the same frantic, happy-footed quarterback whose inability to soak up and apply adjustments at the pro level has far overwhelmed his physical gifts.

2022 will be a prosperous year for Darnold, as the team had picked up his almost $19 million option prior to the campaign. As far as his on-field future, however, there may not be much of one given his concerning string of outings (headlined by nine turnovers over five games) that led up to his current right shoulder injury.

Q: The Bills have notably struggled defending the run and the Panthers don’t have Christian McCaffrey right now. Could this be a bounce-back effort for Buffalo or is Carolina’s rushing attack under-the-radar?

AR: Carolina’s rushers themselves are quite capable. Rookie Chuba Hubbard has impressed early on—most notably with his sharpness as a runner—Ameer Abdullah has shown he can serve as a jolt, And, of course, quarterback Cam Newton remains a prolific ground threat.

But it’s the constantly shifting, constantly inept offensive line that has set this attack back. The Panthers have pieced together nine different starting configurations of that front over their 13 games here in 2021—whether that be due to injury or performance—with those lineups failing to provide efficient enough space and push for the backfield of late.

So, the Bills could very well have themselves a nice bounce-back showing. They’ll have to be consistent though, as head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Jeff Nixon will assuredly be looking to hit the 30-carry mark in this one.

Q: Brian Burns or Haason Reddick? Which guy could hurt the Bills offense more?

AR: This is a tough choice given that both guys are showing out this season. Reddick and Burns have put up just about identical numbers in sacks (10.5 to 8.0), quarterback hits (17 to 16), pressures (36 to 39), tackles for a loss (12 to 12) and even forced fumbles (two to two).

And although Reddick can easily be crowned as the team’s MVP this season, I’ll side with Burns mainly off the fact that he’s been a bit hotter of late. The third-year pass rusher has totaled a pair of takedowns and five of his quarterback hits over the last three games.

Q: Our old friend, ex-Bills great, former Patriots defender, Stephon Gilmore went back home to Carolina. How has he fit in thus far? Does he still look to be at the top of his game?

AR: Gilmore, even in what’s largely been a limited string of outings, has been absolutely stellar.

Pro Football Focus has him graded out at a 90.0 in coverage—the second-highest mark amongst all corners since his 2021 debut in Week 8. Over that span, he’s allowed just six receptions for 35 yards on nine targets with a pair of picks. He’s also been highly efficient with his tackling—having successfully cleaned up on each of his nine attempts, including five stops against the run.

That quad injury, by the way, may finally be behind him. The Week 14 matchup with the Atlanta Falcons saw him play in 100 percent of the defense’s snaps.

Q: Who wins? Why?

AR: There’s no way Carolina can pull this off, right? This team has too many questions to answer, and it won’t help trying to answer them on the road against a playoff contender. Bills take it, 27-17-ish.