As the Carolina Panthers limp into their bye week, dragging their broken hopes and dreams behind them on a three-wheeled cart, their No. 1 problem is a familiar one.
Carolina’s 33-10 loss to Miami exposed a lot of fault lines in the seismically inept Panthers, but the headline was that Cam Newton went 5-for-21 passing for 92 yards, no TDs and two interceptions. In his 143rd career NFL game, Newton set career lows in QB rating (5.8) and completion percentage (23.8).
Finally, Newton was benched in favor of P.J. Walker in the fourth quarter for Carolina’s last two series. But it was a temporary sitdown. Carolina head coach Matt Rhule said in his postgame news conference that “I’m not making any changes” and that Newton would continue as the starter for a Carolina team that just fell to 5-7.
That’s OK — Walker didn’t exactly light it up in his two possessions, either (one interception, one decent possession that ended on downs).
But what I would advocate is a two-QB system, with Walker taking maybe a third of the series against Atlanta in Carolina’s next game Dec. 12.
Walker deserves more playing time than he’s getting right now. He’s a more accurate passer than Newton is. In his one start this season, against Arizona, he was really good in Carolina’s best win of the season. He can make a defense pay for blitzing more consistently. But he’s also not as strong or tall as Newton, nor nearly as good as a runner, and he will make the occasional big mistake.
So make Walker the change-up pitch, so teams can’t just crowd the box the whole game and dare Newton to try and beat them throwing the ball on every possession.
This was almost always the game plan against Newton in his first go-around with Carolina and, in his later years, it often worked.
Walker can open things up and make the game plan more creative, and gracious knows the Panthers need that. Offensive coordinator Joe Brady is not having a good year, first with Sam Darnold and now with Newton. Nor is Panther head coach Matt Rhule, who always says you are what your record says you are. The Panthers are 10-18 under Rhule.
Where were the Newton rollouts in this game?
He stood like a statue in the pocket and dared the Dolphins to hit him, and they usually either did or else they batted his passes away.
At least with Walker the game plan can use more of the field and the signals and motions can be more complicated. He’s just been here longer. And that creativity is going to be more of a necessity if the talented but oft-injured Christian McCaffrey (out again for this one after the second quarter due to another ankle injury) is going to miss some more time.
McCaffrey is Newton’s security blanket, and without him for more than half the game Sunday, Newton couldn’t seem to complete anything.
It wasn’t just Newton’s two interceptions, although those were bad enough. And it wasn’t just his fault, either — let’s make sure to place a lot of blame on the offensive line, which constantly allowed pressure. And DJ Moore dropping the first two passes of the game certainly didn’t help matters.
But 5 for 21??!!
That 23.8 completion percentage was the lowest of any NFL quarterback with at least 20 throws in a game since 2004, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Joey Harrington completed only 22.7% in 2004 in a game against Green Bay. Newton’s performance was historically bad, in other words.
Here’s another rough stat: In the Panthers’ last 10 games with Newton as a starter, dating back to 2019, Carolina is 0-10.
Listen, there’s not much to lose here. Newton is still your best quarterback at the goal line, on third-and-short and when the Panthers are tied or slightly ahead. Walker is your best quarterback in the two-minute drill, on third-and-long and when the Panthers are more than a touchdown behind.
I know it’s more of a collegiate thing to do, where subbing in QBs is more common. I know the old adage that “If you have two quarterbacks, you really don’t have any.”
But when you lose 33-10 to a team with a losing record, the week after not being able to convert on two drives in the final four minutes against another team with a losing record, it’s time to shake things up.
Newton 2.0 is now 0-2 as a starter for the Panthers, and he knows that things are in danger of going off the rails.
“This is the NFL and nothing’s promised,” Newton said after the game. “Just because Cam Newton is on your roster doesn’t mean you’re just gonna win. Just because it’s a feel-good story doesn’t mean you’re gonna win. All right? I’m well aware of that.”
So keep Newton as the starter, but let Walker have a few series in every game. I feel like I say this about every other week with the Panthers, but the status quo isn’t working at quarterback.
It’s time to make some changes, again.