Carolina Panthers: Can They Take Advantage of Cam Newton?
If not for Tom Brady, Cam Newton would be the talk of the NFL. Newton is the first rookie to ever start his career with two consecutive 400-yard games and could easily see a third against Jacksonville this week.
The problem with those performances, is that the Carolina Panthers are still 0-2. The thing about the Panthers coming into the season is that Newton was supposed to be the weak link and instead is the bright spot.
With injuries to the defense mounting and the running game looking stagnant, Newton may pose the the best bet to get the Panthers some wins.
The question is, if Newton continues to shine, what else do the Panthers need to get some wins on the board?
Newton Needs to Work on His Decision Making
The expectation was that Cam would struggle this season, and despite his big numbers there are parts of his game that need work. Just not the ones we thought. Newton looks comfortable in the pocket and seems hesitant to take off. The exact opposite of what was expected.
The biggest concern was Newton's accuracy, but that seems to not be as much of an issue. So what does he need to work on?
As shown by his three interceptions against the Packers, Newton is prone to make some bad throws. His first interception to Woodson was in clear double coverage and his second to Woodson was a poor throw forced by pressure.
Newton might be trying to do too much too soon, and he is taking chances he doesn't need to take. The coaches should try and reign him in before he goes Brett Favre on Panthers fans and turns into a true "gunslinger."
The Defense Needs To Step Up
The Panthers' have lost two of their best defenders and two starting linebackers in Jon Beason and Thomas Davis. So much for depth a the linebacker position.
The Green Bay Packers went into halftime down. Then the game swung in Green Bay's favor. The Packers went up 30-16 until Newton's touchdown with 36 seconds left, so the game was not as close as the final score appears. Part of that is to be expected when you play the defending champs.
The Panthers' defense didn't look great against the Arizona Cardinals though, either. Leading by seven, heading into the fourth quarter, the Panthers' defense gave up the game tying touchdown, only to lose on a returned punt.
So far the Panthers' have given up the sixth most points in the league. Not a good trend if the Panthers expect to win a few games.
Someone Besides Cam Needs to be Able to Run the Ball
So far rushing attempts made by someone not named Cam Newton have totaled 74 yards. Rushing attempt made by Cam Newton have gained 71 yards. Newton managed that total in just over half the carries as, Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams.
This is not exactly what the Panthers had in mind when the signed DeAngelo Williams.
Teams are scheming to stop the run and force Cam to beat them which might be a reason for Newton's early season offensive explosion but eventually, the Panthers will need to go back to being a running team.
The teams in the NFL that are truly elite are able to find a balance between running and passing. The Panthers have not found that, but they soon should.
If Newton has another solid performance, teams should start to scheme for him, which should open up the run game. Then the Panthers should see a truly efficient offense.
Newton Needs to Pick His Spots
Cam Newton was supposed to take time to develop his accuracy. In the preseason, he showed that he still had work to do. Then the games started to count.
Newton has has completion percentages above 60 percent against the Arizona Cardinals and the Green Bay Packers. That's an impressive number against the defending Super Bowl champions. The only problem is that, while he is completing his passes, he is forcing too many throws.
Odds are, throwing at Charles Woodson is a bad choice. With limited other options though, Cam and Ron Rivera are choosing to let the rookie try and win games rather than playing smart.
Newton has an advantage over the defense in his size and ability to run. Cam can be very difficult to stop one he gets on a roll. Unfortunately, he seems conditioned to want to stay in the pocket.
While developing his game is commendable, Newton needs to let his athleticism take over if he isn't seeing anyone open or throw it away. He is trying too hard right now and it shows.
Throw It to Someone Not Named Steve Smith
Steve Smith has reclaimed his spot as an elite receiver, proving that last season was just a hiccup. The problem is, Smith is receiving far too much of Cam's attention. Excluding the running backs, receivers and tight ends not named Steve Smith have caught 22 passes, Smith has caught 14.
That might be fine and dandy as Smith is the best receiver on the team, but the receivers not named Smith only have a total of 373 yards receiving. Smith has 334 on his own.
Smith runs a lot of deep routes so his average yards per reception will generally be more, but the Panthers should be able to get a lot more total yardage out of four receivers than one guy can put up by a good margin.
If Newton doesn't start really spreading the ball around, he will start forcing a lot more interceptions into the double coverage Smith will surely draw.
So Can These Things Be Accomplished This Season?
All of them, no. Some of them, yes.
The defense will have the hardest time gaining traction. The losses of Beason and Davis will be tough to overcome. While Dan Connor and Omar Gaither are nice backups and could start elsewhere, neither brings the play making ability that No. 52 and 58 brought to the table.
The offense on the other hand should even out this season. As Steve Smith sees more double coverage and teams start to focus more on the passing game, other receivers should get involved and the running game should improve.
Newton will improve his game to not only put up huge passing numbers out of need, but to make smart decisions, as well. He got his first real taste of a real NFL defense this week and took some lumps. Cam seems willing to learn, so the Panthers should be fine as the season progresses.
As Newton grows, the team will grow and that will lead to wins. The Panthers are headed in the right direction and may get their first win against the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, with a poor defense, no matter how electric the rookie is, those wins will be tough to come by.