Let’s just come right out and say it: the Panthers’ offense on Sunday against the Cardinals looked better under Kyle Allen than it has in the past 10 months under Cam Newton.
That doesn’t mean we should start measuring Allen’s facial features for a Canton bust, and it doesn’t mean Newton should quit football and go work in fashion. It does, however, mean Carolina should sit up and watch intently.
Newton has a stronger arm and more dynamic mobility than Allen. But we forget that none of that matters if the quarterback can’t ultimately put the ball where he wants. Newton’s accuracy has always been inconsistent at best and erratic at worst, and his shoulder problems have not helped matters.
On Sunday Allen consistently threw with precision, and the Panthers’ receivers looked all the better for it. Greg Olsen beat D.J. Swearinger’s man coverage for several catches. D.J. Moore had a superb 52-yard catch-and-run touchdown on a dig route—the RAC on that type of play is only available if the quarterback’s throw is pinpointed correctly. Curtis Samuel had an outstanding 14-yard catch near the front pylon to convert a third-and-five.
It should be noted that Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner did not ask the world of his QB. The gameplan centered around feeding Christian McCaffrey on man-to-man blocked runs out of two-back and/or two-tight end personnel. And many of Carolina’s dropbacks involved keeping a sixth or seventh man in to help pass protect—and often one of those extra blockers was McCaffrey, which is why he had only three catches on four targets. Those heavy protections gave Allen fewer options downfield, but it also isolated receivers against one-on-one coverage in space, clarifying his reads. These were not, however, major adjustments for the Panthers. Rather than amending their system to suit Allen, they just committed more to the system’s core; base runs and heavy protections have been staples of the Panthers’ offense for years.
Samuel’s 14-yard catch actually did not come off a perfectly placed throw, but it was Allen’s best play of the game. The quarterback recognized prior to the snap that Arizona would be bringing its first Cover 0 blitz. The Cardinals had done this multiple times in similar situations last week against Baltimore, and on this particular play they did not disguise the pressure all that well. Still, it was outstanding presnap recognition by an undrafted second-year QB, and even better was Allen’s poise after the snap. On Cover 0, there is always one more pass rusher than there is blocker. It’s on the quarterback to recognize that rusher and act accordingly. Allen nullified the rusher by patiently moving outside the pocket to buy an extra beat for Samuel’s inherently slower-developing out-route.
Allen made other nice throws outside the pocket, including one near the end of the half off hard movement to his left where he had to contort his body to get behind the throw. (Moore was angry with himself for failing to make the semi-diving catch.) But the QB had no dangerous downfield throws—his only glaring imperfection—though he did become overly methodical in the pocket a few times, including on both of Chandler Jones’s sack-fumbles.
Newton has been ruled out for Week 4 as well, and it will be fascinating to see what the matchup at Houston has in store. The Texans are a more complex defense than the Cardinals, and now they’ll have studied at least some meaningful film of Carolina’s young QB. But Allen, of course, will also enter the game with more NFL experience under his belt.
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