Carolina Panthers: Grading the 2018 preseason

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 30: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers dances during warmups prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers during a preseason game on August 30, 2018 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 30: Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers dances during warmups prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers during a preseason game on August 30, 2018 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

While the preseason games do not count to the overall record, we examine and assess how the Carolina Panthers performed in their 2018 exhibitions.

The NFL is less than a week from the start of the 2018 season. The Carolina Panthers are preparing to welcome the Dallas Cowboys into Charlotte for the first game of the new campaign.

The last four weeks of preseason play were spent developing the final roster and implementing a new style of offensive play for this organization. With that in mind, this is a look back to the Panthers preseason and grading not only the group’s overall performance, but some of the roster decisions made heading into the start of the regular season.

Overall, Carolina ended with a 3-1 record during the 2018 preseason. This includes wins over the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, while losing out to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the final game. In reviewing the Panthers’ performance in each outing, there are trends worth noting on both sides of the ball that reflect some issues heading into the 2018 season.

With new offensive coordinator Norv Turner at the helm, the Panthers are looking to implement a more efficient play style. While Cam Newton is known for his big playmaking abilities, either with his legs or his arm, he’s always worked toward a goal of completing 60 percent of his passes. Since joining the league in 2011, he’s reached this goal twice.

Under Turner’s leadership it seems like he’s headed toward hitting that goal in 2018. He appeared in three games during the preseason, completing 26-of-38 passes (68 percent completion rate), 315 yards, with one touchdown and interception each. If he continues this string of effectiveness during the regular season, it’s going to be intriguing to watch how his production spurs on the Panthers offense.

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Along with Newton’s efficiency, the Panthers displayed a diversity of playmakers around him. Christian McCaffrey is set to have a breakout season that should be enjoyable to watch in every sense. Expect him to have 25-30 touches a game and nearly 10 targets in the passing attack.

In the three games in which he played during the preseason, he ended with 21 rushing attempts for 151 yards and two touchdowns. As a receiver, he had nine targets which resulted in eight receptions for 73 yards. If that mix of play continues throughout the season, expect McCaffrey to put up big numbers in the box score and be a key weapon for Newton’s continued development.

But the Panthers offense doesn’t end with McCaffrey. What’s intriguing is to watch how Carolina continues to rebuild its speed attack, which has been widely missing since Steve Smith’s departure at the end of the 2013 season.

D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel are a captivating change of pace from Devin Funchess and Greg Olsen. Each one of them showed progression during the preseason in a way that makes it viable to see them be an important target during the Panthers regular game plans. Even Damiere Byrd, who remained on the roster, has speed to help this offense and special teams units.

The mix of Olsen’s veteran experience, Funchess’s size and the speed offered by these three makes the Panthers decisions regarding their passing game a key story to watch heading into the post season.

Defense has been a strength for the Panthers in recent memory. In fact, they’ve historically had a strong offense since their insertion into the NFL more than 20 years ago. However, this unit hasn’t been the same dynamic force the last two seasons for a variety of reasons. Even though it’s ranked amongst the best overall in the league, there’s still a cause for concern both within the defensive secondary and the front line.

One question for this Panthers defense is whether or not they will be able to force opposing offenses to make mistakes. During the preseason they gathered only four takeaways: three fumbles and one interception. In past seasons, the Panthers were a dynamic force in taking the ball away from their competitors.

They also struggled to get off of the field during the preseason and gave up 24 points per game. In today’s NFL that’s a high number, especially when they have to face two dynamic offenses within their own division.

Outside of the linebackers, there’s reason for concern on this Panthers defense. They have yet to find a secure cornerback that can be placed against the biggest and best receivers in the game. Plus, the defensive line isn’t as locked in as once expected. Julius Peppers is still a question mark and having him on the front line creates a wealth of opportunity for the other players on this unit.

Kawann Short and Mario Addison will make their own way, but without an additional asset on this line one must wonder how this will impact their final production numbers. Plus, the Panthers didn’t make any key moves to have a backup option available if Peppers is not an option or either Short or Addison goes down to injury.

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Overall, the Panthers have put together what seems like a dynamic offense on paper, but hasn’t fully addressed all of the concerns on the defensive side of the ball. Then there’s the questions surrounding the Panthers offensive line. They’ve made the decision to keep multiple injured linemen on the roster but with these men still questionable heading into the opening game it’s a wonder what that impact will be at in the early phases of this season.

Overall Carolina Panthers preseason grade: C+