In a little over a year in the NFL, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has a highlight reel longer than most players acquire in their whole career. But as our New York Giants get ready to face off with him tonight, we realized we haven't had a chance to watch much Panthers football lately, so we decided to reach out to our friends at Panthers101.com for an inside take on Newton, Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams.
So tell us, is the Panthers offense all Cam all the time?
Despite Cam's explosive play-making ability, the Panthers are at their best when they are a run-first team. Consider this: Since the Cam Newton era began last season, the Panthers hold an overall record of 7-11. In those 11 losses, Newton has thrown the ball an average of 36.8 times per game. In the seven wins, “Super Cam” has averaged just 23.6 pass attempts per game (and the Panthers held second-half leads in seven of those 11 losses, so the stat isn't skewed by the Panthers playing from behind).
So what kind of offense should we expect to see on Sunday?
Look for the Panthers to establish the ground game early and often with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart (if he plays). Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski also likes to call a lot of designed runs for Cam, especially in the red zone. With the Giants hunkering down for the run, look for Cam Newton to find Steve Smith down the field on play-action passes.
Brandon LaFell has really emerged as a serviceable No.2 receiver. With Smith often attracting double coverage, the 6-foot-2, 211-pound LSU product has been able to exploit one-on-one matchups and give Cam Newton another threat in the passing game. LaFell has caught nine passes for 155 yards and a score through the Panthers’ first two games.
On paper, the Panthers run defense looks suspect giving up 293 yards through two games. The Giants may have finally got something going on the ground with Andre Brown. Is this a good matchup for a Giants running game that badly needs a breakout game?
The defense has surrendered a lot of yardage on the ground, I don’t believe the stat sheet accurately represents how this unit has played. They have adopted a “bend-but-don’t-break” mentality and shown a knack for making plays when their backs are against the wall. The defense is very young, but also completely healthy for the first time in several seasons. The linebackers – Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, James Anderson and rookie Luke Kuechly – are extremely talented and are improving on a weekly basis.
Well, it's not like we haven't seen the Giants get stuffed up front and then have to be bailed out by Eli Manning's arm before. How do you feel about the Panthers' ability to defend a guy who threw for 510 yards last week?
The secondary is undoubtedly the most suspect part of the Panthers defense. There is no question that defensive coordinator Sean McDermott is thanking the football gods for Hakeem Nicks’ injured foot. Outside of cornerback Chris Gamble, the rest of the defensive backfield is unproven. No. 2 corner Josh Norman, the Panthers’ fifth-round pick in last April’s draft, is very talented but very inexperienced. Strong safety Charles Godfrey has looked decent so far this season, but has struggled in coverage in the past. Like Norman, free safety Haruki Nakamura is also a first-time defensive starter.
Also, the pass rush looked exceptional last week against New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. The Panthers only sacked him once, but pressured him into one intentional grounding penalty and several ill-advised throws.
The Panthers win if…
Cam Newton protects the ball. The Panthers are 6-0 when Newton is without a turnover. When he has one or more giveaways, they are 1-11. In fact, last Sunday’s 35-27 victory over the Saints was the first time the Panthers have won a game in which Newton has turned the ball over.
We'd like to thank Jesse Collin and the crew over at Panthers101.com for taking the time to give us some stuff to think about while we waste the day, pretending to work or study, waiting for the game tonight. Check out Panthers 101 for more coverage on the game and let us know in the comments how you think we stack up against the pictures Jesse paints.
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