New head coach Matt Rhule is putting his faith into quarterback Cam Newton. But it’s the other side of the ball that’s an issue for the Carolina Panthers.
He lasted for only the first two games of the season and was basically shut down for the remainder of the year. He was already coming off shoulder surgery that hampered his performance during the second half of 2018 and during the 2019 preseason suffered an ankle injury that also proved to be troublesome as well.
In any case, the Panthers road Kyle Allen and eventually Will Grier for the final 14 games. And after a surprising 5-3 start, the club dropped its final eight contests and some of those in lopsided fashion. A Week 13 home loss to Washington proved to be the final game for head coach Ron Rivera — ironically, now the head coach of the Redskins.
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Now the new man in charge is Matt Rhule, who made it quite clear that Newton was in the team’s plans for 2020, per Panthers.com:
“From my perspective, I’m unbelievably excited to get to work with Cam. Coming from the outside, you kind of know as a fan, but just on a personal note getting to know him, he is a diligent guy. He’s working so hard both in Atlanta and in Carolina to get himself healthy…
“I’m excited to get him healthy. Obviously, that’s the number one goal for us. He’s doing a great job of doing his part. We have to make sure we’re doing our part as we try to get him healthy for the 2020 season.”
But while having the 2015 NFL MVP back and on his game is important, there may be a more pressing issue when it comes to this team getting back into contention.
Carolina’s defensive unit has already seen some major changes this offseason. And frankly, the club has fallen off on this side of the ball for the last few years ever since that spectacular 15-1 campaign in 2015 in which the team reached Super Bowl 50 and in a losing effort, limited the Denver Broncos to a mere 194 total yards.
Be it shortcomings vs. the pass (2016) or last season’s issues overall, Rhule is going to need this unit to bounce back in a big way. The new defensive coordinator is Phil Snow. He takes over a group that gave up the fourth-most rushing yards in the league and 52 offensive touchdowns. And only the Miami Dolphins (494) surrendered more points than the Panthers (470).
This newest era of Carolina football will begin minus seven-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who recently opted for retirement. The franchise also has its share of potential free agents to address, including pass rusher Mario Addison, safety Tre Boston and cornerback James Bradberry.
With Rivera gone, the team was outscored a combined 150-60 count. That “points allowed” total is certainly disturbing but it was indicative of the defensive problems all season and the falloff from recent years. The fact that Rhule is looking forward to working with Newton is encouraging. But if the Panthers are to bounce back and be a playoff contender again, this team must recapture that defensive prowess from a few years ago.