Opponent Thoughts: Carolina Panthers

Today our summer film study project takes a look at the Carolina Panthers.

I have to admit when I started watching the Panthers, I was excited about the opportunity to study Cam Newton and see how he managed to set the league on it's ear with the type of season he had. 

Newton proved a lot of scouts wrong with his ability to make accurate passes to receivers on the move. The ability to move in the pocket and use his feet as a weapon were not surprises but his accuracy was. Newton showed touch and poise under some difficult situations. 

The type of season Newton had reminded me of 1992 in Green Bay when Brett Favre was in his first season as a starter. On that team, we had one weapon and that was Sterling Sharpe. Everyone in the stadium knew that Favre was going to throw the ball to Sharpe but defenses still had problems stopping him. Newton was in a similar situation as Favre with wide receiver Steve Smith. 

Smith is such a dangerous player and really the perfect player for a rookie quarterback with the talent of Newton because he will go anywhere to catch a ball plus he is an outstanding bad-ball catcher. Smith has the ability to contort his body to make circus catches. Of Newton's 517 pass attempts, 129 of them went in the direction of Smith. 

Smith does an outstanding job of catching the ball in traffic and that helps a young quarterback with his confidence. The Panthers like to get the ball to Smith on slants and screens where he can take the pass on the move and make something to happen in the open field. What was really impressive about this combination, was Newton's ability to roll to his right and throw the ball all the way across to Smith standing 20 yards up the field on the left side. For a young player, his down field vision is outstanding. When you play these two, you can't drop coverage or lose your man because Newton will do a good job of finding that open man. 

The Panthers also do a nice job of running the ball but it does help when you have a player like Newton that rushes for over 700 yards. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are quality backs. Williams is used as the short-yardage back and the Wildcat quarterback. The Panthers use a great deal of play action passes and they like to get the ball to tight end Greg Olsen who still has the ability to get down the field. Olson like Steve Smith is a quarterback's best friend because of his ability to catch the ball on the move. When the Panthers run boots or waggles, it's usually Olsen or a back underneath and a receiver over the top giving Newton a two-level read.

The Panthers' offensive line has some athletic players at left tackle and center. Jordan Gross at tackle is very mobile but will struggle some when the rusher uses power on him. Like to try and get Gross on the edge and let him block in space. Ryan Kalil at center does a nice job of getting second level blocks. Kalil also does a nice job of playing on his feet and keeping sustain on his man. Amini Silatolu is a rookie at left guard and did some nice things on Midwestern State film but there are some mental questions there so how fast will he be able to pick things up will need to be studied. This line benefits because of the ability of Newton is escape in the pocket very simliar to what we see in Philadelphia with Michael Vick.

Where the Panthers struggled the most last season was on defense. Defensive end Charles Johnson was paid some serious money to provide a pass rush in this 4-3 front and he did have nine sacks but in the Green Bay, Atlanta, New Orleans and Detroit games, the front really struggled with pressure overall.

At linebacker, the Panthers let Dan Connor walk and he ended up in Dallas. Jon Benson is a steady mike but the player they drafted in the first round was one of my favorite's and that was Luke Kuechly out of Boston College. Kuechly will play on the weakside and he will make a million tackles because of his ability to get to ball but how sure of a tackler he is. I think he is an outstanding addition to a team that needs that kind of playmaker.

In the secondary, corner Captain Munnerlyn looks like a safety with his body type but he is actually a productive cornerback. He doesn't run great but he manages to play in the slot and does an outstanding job of reading routes plus he is a physical tackler. On the other side Chris Gamble doesn't have the awareness of Munnerlyn but his catch up speed is better. He did have a good interception against the Lions.  

Where the Panthers have to get better as a team overall is on defense. Newton proved a bunch of us scouts wrong by his ability to make plays and accurately throw the ball so I will believe that he will only continue to get better. Luke Kuechly will be a difference maker on defense but someone needs to step up other than Charles Johnson to help with that pass rush because now, there is no one there.

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