Carolina is for real (and so is Cam Newton)
Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers are the NFL’s surprise package through six weeks. The team now tops the NFC South alone, standing at 5-0, and are one of the league’s five remaining undefeated teams.
The knock on them through four games was “who have they beaten?”, but after traveling to Seattle and taking down the Seahawks playing with one of the league’s best home-field advantages, they have earned the right to be taken seriously.
For the second year in a row Cam Newton has begun the season extremely well, carrying the offense on his back and dragging the team with him. It looked before the season that he would be the entirety of the Carolina offense, with no receivers or blockers to speak of, but the Panthers offensive line has actually been a surprise package so far this season. With the notable and inevitable exception of Michael Oher – who remains a liability at left tackle – the Panthers offensive line has actually been pretty good this year. Andrew Norwell, Ryan Kalil and Trai Turner have all graded well on the interior, and right tackle Mike Remmers has only just dipped below average after an ugly outing this week trying to contain Seattle’s fearsome pass-rush.
The lack of receivers has remained a legitimate concern, and Newton has been making do with Philly Brown and Ted Ginn as his top two receivers.
Rookie Devin Funchess has played plenty of snaps, but has now dropped one fewer pass (4) than he has caught (5). While DeAndre Hopkins leads the league with 90 targets, the Panthers wide receiving corps combined, all six of them, have totaled just 71 targets on the season. What is perhaps even more concerning than that, they have caught only 53.5 percent of them.
Newton is getting it done with a combination of his own rushing ability, his TE Greg Olsen, and the occasional play from other players.
Olsen has caught 61.5 percent of the passes sent his way, and has been huge for the Panthers at times this season.
Newton isn’t far off from leading the team in rushing, having 225 yards to his name on the ground compared to Jonathan Stewart’s 298 on 29 more carries. Newton doesn’t just scramble, though he is averaging 7.4 yards every time he does that, but he is a legitimate part of the running game with the kind of unique build to absorb that kind of punishment and not a risk of going down hurt in the way smaller quarterbacks are.
Every time he takes off I’m astounded by the sheer size of him, dwarfing linebackers as he speeds past them. Newton has 28 designed carries this season (not counting quarterback sneaks) that have gained 148 yards (5.3 per carry), giving the Panthers an added dimension to that aspect of the offense not available to most teams.
In addition to that he has been getting it done as a passer, too. He won’t ever be the most accurate quarterback in the league, and as we have mentioned his receiving corps won’t help that, but Newton sits firmly inside PFF’s top-10 graded quarterbacks with arguably less help than anybody around him in the rankings.