It’s easy for the Panthers to look at Cam Newton and convince themselves that he’s invincible. The reality is that he’s now a vulnerable quarterback.
If the Panthers have any chance of mounting a Super Bowl run in 2019 they will need Cam Newton to enjoy a healthy and productive season. The foot injury the talented quarterback suffered against the Patriots should provide Ron Rivera and his coaching staff with a clear warning on how dependent they are on their star signal caller.
The good news for fans in Carolina is that the franchise appear to have dodged a bullet. Newton is already out of a walking boot and appears to be on track to start for the Panthers against the Rams. That’s a far cry from the nightmare scenarios fans imagined when Newton limped off the field against the Patriots in Week 3 of the preseason.
The important thing now is that the organization learns from the near disaster. Every hit Newton takes is a roll of the dice for the Panthers. If he suffers any kind of significant injury this team immediately goes from playoff contender to irrelevant. Rivera and his coaching staff can’t wrap Newton in a protective bubble on the field, but they can take strategic steps to protect him.
The first step will obviously be to keep Newton out of all preseason action moving forward. There is absolutely no reason for him to take a single snap against the Steelers on Thursday night. Will Grier, Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinecke should enjoy their chance to shine against Mike Tomlin’s defense. For the record, the policy of keeping Newton out of preseason action should go on forever. He’s just too important to risk in meaningless action.
The Panthers can also do a lot of things to limit Newton’s risk for injury in regular season games. In fairness to the organization, the offense’s change in philosophy began in earnest last season. Hiring Norv Turner as the team’s offensive coordinator drew some derisive chuckles on social media, but he did a lot to modernize the Panthers attack.
Specifically, Turner shifted a lot more of Carolina’s focus towards getting the ball out of Newton’s hands quickly. Christian McCaffrey emerged as arguably the most dangerous pass catcher out of the backfield in the league last season. His route tree should only expand this season as he grows more comfortable with the system Turner has installed.
This year the trend to protect Newton needs to pile more responsibility on Carolina’s wide receiver corps. Again, credit the Panthers for working on this before Newton’s foot injury. The front office has put an obvious emphasis on acquiring wideouts who have the ability to make plays after the catch. Both D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel lack the size of previous Carolina wideouts like Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess, but they are much more dynamic with the ball in their hands.
This year, Panthers fans can safely expect to see a lot more plays designed to get the ball into their outside receiver’s hands. That will certainly include a greater emphasis on screen passes and fast-developing routes on the boundary. It should also manifest itself with reverses and other perimeter oriented runs that can put more pressure on opposing defenses.
If all goes according to plan in Carolina, Rivera and his staff will turn Newton loose at some point this season. It shouldn’t happen in Week 1 though. The Panthers need to keep their franchise quarterback protected this year if they want a chance a Super Bowl glory. Panthers fans should hope they don’t see the shackles taken off Newton until the postseason begins.