After a blow-out loss on Friday in New England, the Carolina Panthers fan base has quickly turned into Chicken Little. The Sunday following did not come with good news, as injuries to star players Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly were revealed.
“The offense is abysmal. Cam Newton is rusty and injured. Is Newton still the future of the franchise?”
Whoa, whoa, whoa.
I understand the concern, I really do. After a tumultuous off-season, it really does seem like the Panthers are playing a game of collapsing dominos. But this is PREseason, and things are NEVER as bad as they seem.
Let’s touch up on the offense. We know the Panthers will be run-heavy, with splashes of pass painted into the mix. This was put on full-display against the Chiefs, as the Panthers were brought down-field by a revitalized Jonathan Stewart, and the quick passes of a spry Cam Newton. The game plan was executed perfectly, as the offense looked successful. THIS, by the way, was the dress rehearsal game for Carolina.
After mighty struggles in Gillette Stadium, this seems to have been forgotten. Instead, the memory put on the pedestal is a non-planned, short week offense that faced a defense that treated the game as a typical 3rd week preseason match-up. New England was more organized and prepared, and it was obvious.
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Once you take those two nuggets into consideration, there’s STILL a greater reason to be optimistic. We all know preseason offenses are extremely vanilla, and under an offensive coordinator like Mike Shula, the Panthers are playing almost transparent. The most exciting thing we’ve seen from Shula this preseason is an opening drive with 5 consecutive passing plays. Yes, I know, it’s sad.
The thing is, Carolina has yet to reveal their true offensive identity for 2014, the two tight-end set (Ya’ know, the thing that Cam Newton was almost unstoppable with his rookie season). When the Panthers DO run this formation come regular season, the run game will be a lot better off, and Cam will have two big, secure bodies along with Kelvin Benjamin to throw to. Two tight-ends are going to open up more possibilities for this offense than anyone can really determine.
Now that I’ve put your minds at ease (hopefully) about the overall offensive effort, let’s focus on the captain of it all. Cam Newton has struggled in some aspects, yes, but look at the bigger picture: this is Newton’s best preseason by FAR. For some reason, #1 struggles in games that do not count. Does everyone wish that he could be better in August? Of course, and it would certainly silence a lot of critics. The fact remains though, that when the games count, the light goes in Newton’s head. He becomes his true electric self. Besides a few errant passes, Newton actually looks accurate this summer, and his completion percentage shows that. He hasn’t even played in the exact offense he has practiced in. Relax, people.
The common blame-game that has been exercised through 3 weeks of preseason is focused squarely on the offensive line. Byron Bell is public enemy #1, when really, his improvement is a great surprise. His pass protection has been aggressive and solid, and is looking like the dependable LT that Carolina desperately needs. His game will only get better as the season rolls on.
Not only has Bell played well, but the rest of the line has done more than enough for their quarterback’s success. According to Pro Football Focus, Newton has been given the second-most time in the pocket amongst all NFL QBs this preseason. That number is pretty outstanding, seeing that Carolina has faced Buffalo, Kansas City, and New England, all teams with strong defensive lines. The offensive line is not in the wrong, the critics are.
On top of all the preseason chaos, injuries have not helped the hype. Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Greg Hardy, and Charles Johnson are all hurting right now. Are these health issues a concern? Of course, they always are. Are they minimal? Definitely.
Kuechly will not miss any time due to his injury, that’s a given. Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson have lingering injuries, but resting for 2 weeks is the best medicine, and it is likely the dose the star defensive ends will be given.
Cam Newton’s rib hairline fracture garners the most concern, but it will not hold the dynamic quarterback out for too long. The problem through the injury is working through soreness, which the medical staff in Charlotte will be able to treat and minimize with ease. Countless quarterbacks have played successfully through rib fractures, and while it shouldn’t be overlooked, Newton is strong and passionate enough to work through it. I look for Newton to play lights out in Tampa come September.
Listen everyone, I know it’s Monday. The doom and gloom can be overpowering, and can change the most optimistic of outlooks into a rainy parade. But it’s important to keep perspective. This is preseason. This is not the offense we’ll see week one, Cam Newton IS the guy everyone thought he was, and the NFC will once again learn to fear the Carolina Panthers.