The Carolina offense is back to being mostly Newton. It’s not a secret that the Panthers have largely failed to put a competent supporting cast around Cam Newton over the past few years. This season, though, was supposed to be different.
During the offseason, they brought in Norv Turner as the offensive coordinator to help Newton refine his deep passing. They also gave Newton some new targets, signing Jarius Wright from Minnesota, trading for Torrey Smith , and drafting receiver D.J. Moore (first round) and tight end Ian Thomas (fourth round).
Those additions paired with Christian McCaffrey , their first-round running back from a year ago, were expected to be the best weapons Newton has had in years. But through two games, not much has changed. The Panthers are still asking Newton to be Superman as they battle their way through a hellish NFC South landscape.
Cam Newton has to carry the rushing attack
After two games, Cam Newton is the Panthers’ leading rusher. Newton led the team in rushing last year and he’s never been lower than second on the team since he finished third in rushing as a rookie in 2011.
Newton and McCaffrey both have 18 carries this year, but Newton has 100 yards to McCaffrey ’s 87. McCaffrey actually has more catches (20) than carries this season. Currently, that puts McCaffrey on pace to challenge the single-season running back reception record — which is a bit strange considering Ron Rivera said he could see McCaffrey getting 200 carries this season . Then again, McCaffrey has often been Newton’s best option.
Yet even when McCaffrey runs the ball, Newton’s mobility plays a role.
Look at this play from their Week 2 game against the Atlanta Falcons . While the Panthers are running straight up the gut from an I-formation, Atlanta’s linebacker over the tight end still has to respect Newton as a running threat on a potential bootleg. Against any other quarterback, he’d be able to crash down and tackle the running back, but with Newton that’s not the case. He’s a threat to run on any single play.
In Week 1, Dallas learned the hard way about not leaving Newton unchecked on any run play. With an athlete like Newton, deception is going to be a key part of the playbook.
But even the best athletes in the game still need help from the players around them. Unfortunately for the Panthers, their depth, especially on the offensive line, has taken a huge hit this season.
Carolina has been decimated by injuries
The Panthers offensive line wasn’t supposed to be elite, but injuries have really hampered this unit. Matt Kalil , Trai Turner , and Daryl Williams have all suffered injuries — and all three were slated to be starters heading into the season.
Here’s where the Panthers were supposed to be going into the summer, versus where they ended up at the start of their second game.
The original starters
Left tackle: Matt Kalil
Left guard: Greg Van Roten
Center: Ryan Kalil
Right guard: Trai Turner
Right tackle: Daryl Williams
Left tackle: Chris Clark (signed four days before game day)
Left guard: Greg Van Roten
Center: Ryan Kalil
Right guard: Tyler Larsen
Right tackle: Taylor Moton
That is a ton of change and injury in a short amount of time. The good news is that right guard Turner should be back relatively soon after missing last week with concussion, though he will still be out for Week 3 against the Bengals . The bad news is that Matt Kalil and Williams are both on injured reserve, but Kalil is a candidate to return later in the season.
Last week, Newton had a great game against an inconsistent Falcons pass rush. Newton went 32 of 45 for 335 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception, and he almost led a game-tying drive as time expired. But the Panthers still lost, and that offensive line will be tested in the very near future — three of their four next opponents are Cincinnati, Washington, and Philadelphia, who all have formidable defensive lines.
Outside of the OL, the offense has been hit by injuries elsewhere. They’ve been missing second-year receiver Curtis Samuel , who had a procedure for an irregular heartbeat right before the season began. Newton’s favorite receiving target, Greg Olsen , has been out with a foot injury again. Olsen is going to try to return to the lineup later this season, but until then, his job belongs to the rookie Thomas .
Thomas is a talented player, but he has yet to put it all together yet — pretty normal for a rookie with only two games under his belt. He’s physically ready for the rigors of the NFL, but he still needs to take advantage of his opportunities as a pass catcher when he gets them.
His drop in the end zone against Atlanta showed that he has a ways to go before he can relied on as a consistent passing option for Carolina.
Like the rest of the NFC South, Carolina has a brutal schedule. The Panthers, Saints , and Falcons were all playoff teams a year ago and now Tampa Bay has emerged as a force as well behind Ryan Fitzpatrick ’s deep passing.
When Newton is at the top of his powers, the Panthers can play with any team in the league — and they need him to be that right now against their toughest competition. Asking Newton to carry the entire offense every week likely isn’t a sustainable strategy, though.
Yet — and yes, I know this is a Spiderman line, but it still applies to Carolina’s Superman — with great power comes great responsibility.