Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers Offense Is Cause For Concern

Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)
Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images) /

For the second-straight week, Carolina Panthers quarterback, Cam Newton failed to make big plays when his team needed them the most.

An offense that is founded on the run game was held to less than two yards per carry. As a result, the Panthers fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 20-14 on Thursday Night Football. Carolina is off to an 0-2 start for the first time since 2013, and has lost each of Newton’s last 8 starts.

Review of Carolina’s offensive performance versus Tampa Bay

After completing 68% of his passes in 2018, and 66% in the season opener, Newton failed to complete half of his attempts Thursday night. In fact, his completion percentage is on track to be the second-worst of his career. The 2015 MVP finished the game 25 for 51 passing for 333 yards and no touchdowns. His 6.4 yards per attempt rank in the bottom-third of the league, and would be the worst mark in his career.

The franchise quarterback’s inability to consistently connect with his receivers downfield was evident. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Newton made 15 “off-target” throws Thursday night–the second-worst of his career. That means nearly one-in-three passes gave the receiver no chance to make a play on the ball. To make matters worse, he was 0 for 10 when pressured, and was sacked three times. Even when he did complete passes, Newton’s throws weren’t great. The Panthers’ longest play of the night, a 44-yard Curtis Samuel reception, could have easily been a touchdown had Newton not under-thrown his receiver. Ultimately, Newton’s inability to stretch the defense allowed Tampa Bay to bring constant pressure, as well as take away shorter underneath routes.

Newton had this to say in his post-game conference:

"“I have to be better. No matter what physical condition I’m in. No matter what, foot, shoulder … I didn’t get the job done, and it’s frustrating. I wish I could say something other than that, but that’s the fact. I’m a brutally honest person with people, and I’m a brutally honest person with myself. And it’s time for me to look myself in the mirror and do some real soul-searching, because I had opportunities tonight and I didn’t get it done.”"

As a result of having no vertical passing attack, the Buccaneers were afforded the opportunity to play with 7 or 8 defenders in the box for the majority of the game. Because of this, the running game was virtually nonexistent. On 19 attempts, the Panthers managed only 39 rushing yards as a team. The lack of an aerial threat certainly didn’t help to open up the running game, however, the Carolina offensive line was constantly being manhandled at the line of scrimmage. Only a week after running for 128 yards, Christian McCaffrey mustered only 37 against the Bucs.

Perhaps another area of concern for the Carolina ground game (and offense as a whole) is Newton’s ineffectiveness in the run game. The NFL’s active leading rusher among quarterbacks has done nothing positive on the ground over the first two games. That includes his yardage total. In two games, Newton has rushed 5 times for -2 yards. He has also been tagged with two fumbles and failed to make it to the line to gain on a fourth-down play early in Thursday’s game. Regardless of his health concerns, if he isn’t able to re-establish himself as a rushing threat, it becomes much more difficult to see him turn the passing game around anytime soon. It’s also worth noting that the game-deciding fourth-down play at the Tampa Bay two-yard line didn’t involve Newton or his legs at all.

Looking Ahead to Week 3

Carolina will face its first road test of the season in Week 3 when the team travels to Arizona to square off with the Cardinals. Luckily for Newton and the Panthers, the Cardinals will be without star cornerback, Patrick Peterson, as he continues to serve a six-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing-drugs policy. The Lions torched the Peterson-less Cardinals through the air in Week 1. As far as Arizona’s run defense goes, they gave up more rushing yards and touchdowns than any other team in the league in 2018.

If the Panthers are going to come back to Charlotte as winners, Cam Newton is going to have to be the best quarterback on the field–something he hasn’t done in quite some time. However, facing a scuffling Arizona defense that is missing its best player could be exactly what Newton and the Panthers need to reignite what has otherwise been a struggling offense.