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  • The MMQB’s Andy Benoit ranks every NFL team based on roster talent and gives 10 thoughts on each club throughout training camp. The No. 24 Carolina Panthers need to let Cam Newton run as much as possible. Take that part of his game away and he’s a below-average quarterback
By Andy Benoit
August 07, 2017

1. The selections of shifty, underneath weapons such as Christian McCaffrey in the first round and Curtis Samuel in the second suggest the Panthers will introduce more quick-strike concepts into their offense. This would be like McDonalds putting pizza on its menu. It’s a radical change for an entity that doesn’t need one. Carolina is a deep drop-back passing team. That derives naturally from its multifaceted running game. Together, those concepts destroyed defenses in 2015. Coaches around the league are rejoicing at the idea of this offense changing its identity. A quick-strike game doesn’t fit the rest of Carolina’s personnel. The wide receivers are all big-bodied plodders, not twitchy space-creators, and the offensive line needs the aid of additional blockers that deep drop-back passes offer.

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2. Most importantly, a quick-strike passing game does not fit Cam Newton. He’s not a timing or anticipation passer. Precision accuracy—and that’s the key to any quick-strike passing game: precision accuracy—has never been Newton’s strength. And it likely never will be, given how unrefined his mechanics still are six years into his career.

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3. This doesn’t mean Newton can’t play. It just means his offense must play a certain way. Newton can be a terrific power thrower. When he’s sound, he throws the deep-out along the sideline as well as anyone in the game. He can be effective working the seams, where tight end Greg Olsen thrives. All of these are traits you want from your QB in a deep drop-back passing game.

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4. Besides wanting to increase Newton’s completion rate and boost the offense’s rhythm with more short throws, there’s another reason why the Panthers may be looking at a quicker-timed passing attack. The Broncos, in Super Bowl 50, laid an excellent blueprint for beating that deep drop-back game: man coverage behind a five-man blitz. None of Carolina’s receivers are able to separate from man coverage. And by blitzing, you negate those extra blockers that Carolina leaves in protection. No doubt, the Panthers need to get better against these man coverage blitzes. But upgrades they made at offensive tackle, which were necessary for many reasons, suffice. The Panthers aren’t golden here, but the new man on the left side, Matt Kalil, will be better than Michael Oher was. And on the right side, second-round rookie Taylor Moton is athletically superior to Mike Remmers.

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5. It would be foolish for the Panthers to limit Newton’s rushing attempts, which head coach Ron Rivera has said they’d like to do. Yes, other mobile quarterbacks have had their rushing attempts curtailed at this stage of their careers. But none of those guys ran like Newton. At 245 pounds, Newton is essentially a second running back on the field. That’s a tremendous advantage for the Panthers because it skews the run box numbers in their favor. Run defenses are designed to account for the running back and QB. The mere threat of Newton’s running is valuable because that’s all it takes to get the numbers advantage. It’s the running dimension that made Newton the league’s MVP in 2015. Take away his running and you’re left with a below-average quarterback.

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6. This defense is only as good as its four-man pass rush. When it’s clicking, it allows Carolina’s soft zone coverages to work. When it’s not clicking, those zone voids become too large. Last season the Panthers averaged 3.8 sacks an outing in games that they won and 2.4 sacks in games that they lost.

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7. This front four is more talented inside than outside, which isn’t the best recipe for consistency. Pressure off the edge is usually the steadiest disruptor in pro football. But one thing that stood out with Mario Addison, Charles Johnson and other Panthers defensive ends last year is they used their hands deftly. That reflects well on defensive line coach Eric Washington. Consistent technique from multiple players across the same position group is a sign of quality coaching.

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8. Julius Peppers is a Hall of Fame defensive end, but at this stage of his career, he’s a better interior pass rusher. That’s why the Packers played him at nickel defensive tackle last season. The Panthers are already deep at tackle and thin at end. It’ll be interesting to see where Peppers lines up.

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9. How much will third-year pro Shaq Thompson play? It’s time he see more snaps. He’s as fast as any linebacker in football and his coverage abilities are sensational. The only problem is, 34-year-old Thomas Davis isn’t slowing down yet. And, obviously, Luke Kuechly is too great to take out. The plan is for Thompson to assume some of Davis’s reps in the nickel package. We’ll see.

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10. In many ways, safety Kurt Coleman is this defense’s most important player. He has an uncanny feel for presnap disguises, which will help Carolina’s so-so cornerbacking crew. Missed tackles at safety were also a problem for this team last year—though that was with Tre Boston and Michael Griffin, not Coleman. So consider new safety Mike Adams (36 years old) another important player.

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