NFL Preview: Carolina Panthers

What will Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers do this season?

The Carolina Panthers wrapped up their 2013 preseason with a win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, bringing their record to 3-1. However, unseen except for the sideline was former first overall draft pick and Panther starting quarterback Cam Newton.

It is obviously common for NFL starters to sit out during the 4th preseason game of the year. It gives other players who are on the bubble a chance of making their case for a roster spot on the field.  But the Panthers starting offense has struggled all preseason and have not been able to put the ball in the end zone. 

Carolina's regular season home opener for the Panthers against the Seattle Seahawks is against a team who went 4-0 in the preseason, putting up a total of 110 points and allowing only 36 to their opponents, who have not been cans. They have victories going into Green Bay and playing the Packers and playing Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos at home. 

The Panthers defensive unit may be able to hold down some of those Seahawk points, having presented themselves as a powerhouse this preseason but will Cam Newton’s offense be able to keep up with the scoring should this game turn into a shootout. Earlier this season, Newton was quoted saying that the Panthers “offense let our defense down.”

Last year Newton threw for 3,869 yards with Steve Smith catching most of those, racking up 1,174 individually. Two of the remaining top five were not actual wide receivers with tight end Greg Olson and fullback Mike Tolbert.

The Panthers have been criticized for some time regarding Cam Newton leading the Panthers offense in rushing yards, noting that this is indicative of the lack of weapons and tools for Newton. Having the only true wide receiving weapon, Steve Smith, line up every play in double or triple coverage has limited the opportunity for productivity.

But last night’s game in Charlotte, may have given a glimmer of hope in opportunity for Newton and Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera. Ted Ginn likely secured his spot as the number 3 receiver, bringing down 8 catches for 193 yards and two touchdowns against Pittsburgh.

The preseason has also shown Brandon LaFell emerging as an effective tool for Cam but Newton also has opportunity with Greg Olsen becoming one of the pre-eminent tight ends in the league as well as the return of David Gettis.

This year may be the best opportunity to really evaluate Newton as a veteran but young quarterback and to determine what he will actually be able to accomplish. His preseason quarterback rating was a team low 64.3, with 42 attempts, 21 completions and only 227 yards.

With this type of production, it can be argued that the Panthers should have put their starting offense in for at least two series. The Panthers would have been playing against a second and third string defense who is working hard to make the cut for the Pittsburgh roster.  If the Panthers were able to get into the endzone, it could have been used to gain momentum for the coming regular season and to break the chill over the team.

Sure, this could have put starters at risk of injury a week out from the regular season kickoff, but the opportunity to finally knock off the ring rust and get the offense working effectively versus having a lame duck offense going in may have been worth it.

After the high scoring Seahawks, the Panthers play the Bills in Buffalo and then Eli Manning and the Giants at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte before a week 4 bye.

By the week 4 bye, we will have a good gauge on what we should expect from Cam Newton and the Panthers before starting the tough NFC South divisional games which are all packed in from week 8 onward.

Look for Cam Newton to have a big game Sunday as he comes out trying to prove himself and having all of his tools in place and operational. DeAngelo Williams will also be working hard to prove himself, likely taking all of the snaps in the backfield with Jonathan Stewart out with an injury.  

Wes King is from Wilmington, NC and writes at WesKing.co. He has been published at MMAJunkie, ProMMANow, and had his work appear on USA Today.com, MoneyControl.com, and MSG.com.


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