Just two years removed from being named league MVP, Cam Newton and the passing game has become the Carolina Panthers biggest weakness. Through 3 games—two of which were the 49ers and Saints—Newton has thrown for just 188.7 yards per game, with 2 touchdowns to 4 interceptions. His ANY/A (an efficiency stat that is currently the best isolated stat for evaluating the performance of QB’s) is a horrid 3.74, and he has taken more than 3 sacks per game.
Not all of this is on Newton. His receiving corps is sub-par and his offensive tackles are probably the weakest position group on the team. Kelvin Benjamin hasn’t been able to live up to the expectations placed on him after his rookie year, and has just 9 receptions for 110 yards all year, slightly behind WR2 Devin Funchess’ 10 for 146. Greg Olsen is on injured reserve, rookie Curtis Samuel hasn’t broken out yet, and third string receiver Russell Shepard has just 3 receptions on the year. The only saving grace is rookie running back Christian McCaffrey, who not only leads the team in receptions and yards with 18/173, but could be seeing more activity in the passing game.
As for the offensive line, the key to beating them is to blitz, something the Patriots don’t do too much of. Of course, the Patriots game-plan to beat their specific opponent each week, so we could see more pressure this week than we have between last year and the start of this one. The Patriots have shown a history of not pressuring mobile QB’s, however, rather focusing on keeping him in the pocket and not letting the legs beat them.
On the surface, it looks like the Panthers offensive style should be set up to move the ball against the Patriots, but it’s questionable if Carolina has the horses to get it done. This is a big week for Matt Patricia, if he dials up pressure to play on the Panthers weaknesses it could get ugly quick. I don’t think he does that, instead focusing on keeping Cam Newton in the pocket. Ultimately, however, the Panthers don’t have the offense to keep up with New England. Patriots 31, Panthers 16.