The Carolina Panthers season came crashing down in 2018 after having a promising start to the year. Through nine weeks, the Panthers held an impressive 6-2 record and were poised to make a run for the NFC South crown.
Then, Cam Newton and the Panthers to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers at Heinz Field. Newton would injure his shoulder in the game after taking a huge hit from T.J. Watt. From then on, the team lost all of the momentum they had.
It was obvious that Newton wasn’t the same quarterback in the following weeks and he was eventually shut down by Ron Rivera. After beginning the season at 6-2, they ended the year with a 7-9 record.
Despite the devastating turn of events that unraveled to end the season last year, there were some positives as well.
Christian McCaffrey showed that he can become one of the best every-down running backs in the NFL. D.J. Moore flashed some potential as possibly a top receiver.
Along with those positives, there are a few areas of concern for the team in Charlotte, North Carolina heading into 2019.
3. The Pass Rush
The Panthers had some troubles in 2018 when it came to bringing down the quarterback. Carolina ranked 27th in sacks in 2018 with just 35 of them. Along with their lack of sacks, their sack-rate was also pretty low compared to the rest of the NFL.
Last year, Carolina had an adjusted sack rate of 6.8% which was below the league average of 7.1%. Nonetheless, the Panthers addressed their dire need to add viable pass rushers on their team.
This offseason, the Panthers added Bruce Irvin, Brian Burns, and Gerald McCoy to their front seven (with Kawann Short) in hopes to get after the quarterback. Burns was one of the highest-rated edge rushers in this year’s draft while Irvin and McCoy are reliable veterans.
In 2019, Carolina has to be able to rush the passer with more success than they had in 2018 if they hope to have a shot in the NFC South.
Allowing Drew Brees to have a lot of time in the pocket is never a good idea.
2. Who is Stepping Up at Wide Receiver?
As mentioned before, Moore showed a lot of promise to step into the starting spot at receiver. With Devin Funchess leaving in free agency, who is going to step up and be the number two guy for Newton?
Currently, Curtis Samuel, Chris Hogan, Jarius Wright, and Torrey Smith are the likely beneficiaries if Funchess’ departure. Out of that group, Samuel and Hogan seem like the two that are most likely to step into a larger role in the offense.
Samuel is a phenomenal playmaker with the ball in his hands. At 5-foot-11, Samuel has the skill set that could allow him to thrive in the slot. Therefore, Hogan likely gets the edge to slide into the second receiver position.
Hogan comes from the New England Patriots where he won two Super Bowls with the team. His experience in big games can come in handy for the young Panthers squad.
There’s going to need to be a collective effort by the whole receiving corp to help Newton produce at the level he’s accustomed to.
1. Cam Newton’s Injury
Again, last season was looking as if Newton was going to lead the Panthers into the playoffs and try to make it back to the Super Bowl once again. An injury to his throwing shoulder caused the All-Pro quarterback to continually lose strength in his arm.
It was very noticeable as the weeks progressed and the Panthers were forced to shut him down for the last two weeks of the season. Earlier this offseason, Newton underwent surgery on his shoulder and recently, he was cleared to finally begin throwing.
The former MVP said that he’ll play in Week 1 but that has yet to be officially confirmed. When training camps begin later this month, we’ll likely get a better understanding of where Newton is physically.
Suffering a shoulder injury is never great but it makes it worse when it happens to a mobile quarterback like Newton. Newton thrives when he is able to use his legs to make plays but one hit could re-aggravate his injury so the Panthers have to be cautious with the three-time Pro Bowler.
If Newton can come back and perform at the level that Andrew Luck did in 2018, then the Panthers are in great shape.
Although, Luck missed a whole season due to his shoulder injury—giving him more time to get healthy.