Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton wasn’t himself throughout the back half of the 2018 season. After starting with a 6-2 record and inching into the MVP conversation, Newton’s production (and subsequently the Panthers’ season) fell off a cliff. Carolina lost seven of their final eight games, missing the playoffs and failing to break the franchise trend of never having back-to-back winning seasons.
The Panthers struggles can be traced in part to a soft defense, but mostly to an offense that had become completely one dimensional. As soon as opposing coordinators began to realize that Newton was unable to push the ball downfield with any semblance of power, blood was in the water and the sharks were hungry.
In the first half of the 2018 season, Cam Newton had 19 total touchdowns to four interceptions. He had career highs in both completion percentage (67.3%) and passer rating (100.8). In his final six games before finally being pulled due to a shoulder injury, Newton had nine total touchdowns to nine interceptions. His passer rating had dropped to 85.9 and the Panthers went 0-6 over this stretch.
So, how can Newton bounce back in 2019?
3. His shoulder will be back to full strength
The quarterback underwent scope surgery on his throwing shoulder in the offseason which will, hopefully, help him regain the full throwing motion and downfield strength that helped him to be named MVP in 2015. The Panthers will be extremely careful as to not rush Newton back, even investing a third round draft pick in West Virginia quarterback Will Grier as insurance. Newton reportedly began throwing again on May 30th for the first time since his surgery, a welcome sign for Panthers fans.
Cam was getting back to MVP form under Norv Turner’s electrifying new offense with a bum shoulder. If he is able to climb back to 100%, the sky’s the limit for the Panthers offense in 2019.
2. A revamped offensive line
Keeping your team alive is usually synonymous with keeping your quarterback upright. The Panthers have struggled to provide Newton with any legitimate pass protection over his tenure as the face of the franchise. Even the Panthers 2015 Super Bowl offensive line was a ragtag group including guys like Michael Oher and Mike Remmers.
This offseason the Panthers have put a clear emphasis on the quarterback. Protect yours and chase down theirs. Carolina was able to replace a retiring Ryan Kalil with free agent center Matt Paridis. They also spent a second round draft pick on Ole Miss left tackle Greg Little, who is fully expected to start on the blind side. These additions along with the re-signing of tackle Daryl Williams gives the Panthers one of their most talented and deepest offensive lines in the Ron Rivera era. Not to mention third year swiss army knife Taylor Moton made leaps and bounds in 2018. Moton has all-pro potential in 2019 which won’t hurt the Panthers as they look to protect their most valuable asset.
1. Young and Deep Receiving Corps
Since the release of future hall of fame wide receiver Steve Smith, the Panthers have struggled to replace his production at this position. With young guns Curtis Samuel and DJ Moore, they look like they may be close to breaking the cycle.
Moore and Samuel are both primed to breakout in 2019 following strong performances in 2018. Although it was Samuel’s sophomore season, it was his first time seeing real snaps and showing what he can do. Moore and Samuel look to make a nice pairing for years to come and provide Cam Newton with his strongest outside options since being drafted in 2011.
Additionally, the Panthers were able to stiffen their depth in the receivers room by signing veterans Chris Hogan and Aldrick Robinson, both know to be crafty red zone targets. Not to mention the non-wide receivers catching balls in Norv Turner’s offense. Running back Christian McCaffrey led the Panthers in receptions in 2018 and has proven to be one of the most coveted offensive weapons in the league.
The future seems muddled regarding Newton’s health meshed with his physical style of play, but the pieces seem to finally be in place to help elevate his game. The former Heisman trophy winning quarterback has been asked to carry the load on offense throughout his career, now with a stronger offensive line and more weapons than ever it’ll be fun seeing just how far Newton can take this team.