There were 501 pass attempts by the Carolina Panthers offense in 2017, and after Norv Turner was hired as the team’s offensive coordinator on Jan. 12, he began watching every one.
Let’s hope, in the interest of saving time, he skipped the bobbled snap-turned floating fake punt lobbed by Michael Palardy in Week 13 that resulted in a turnover on downs.
What Turner will see on tape is the fourth-worst completion percentage of quarterback Cam Newton’s career (59.1 percent, 291 of 492), coupled with the second-most interceptions thrown.
Some of those errors are on Newton. But Turner shouldn’t have had to dig too deep to see that Newton desperately needs help at receiver.
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“I think that there are some things that technically we’ll work on (with Newton), (but) when a guy has played as much as Cam, I think one of the things that really helps him improve is getting all of the people around him playing at a high level,” Turner said during a conference call Tuesday, his first media availability since his hire.
Turner said tape from the 2017 season shows a really young group of receivers who have talent, but need development.
Then, there were the injuries.
Carolina lost Newton’s top target, tight end Greg Olsen, for eight weeks with a broken foot and it took a couple of games to get Olsen back into a rhythm.
The Panthers also lost rookie second-round draft pick Curtis Samuel, who they had hoped could be a deep threat as well as a slot receiver, and Damiere Byrd, an undrafted free agent who was just beginning to hit his lightning-fast stride before having to go on injured reserve for a second time in 2017.
By the time Carolina played its wild-card game in New Orleans, the offense was down to Olsen, rookie receiver/running back Christian McCaffrey, a banged-up Devin Funchess, and three backups – Kaelin Clay, Brenton Bersin and Russell Shepard – who had 30 catches between them.
Newton relied heavily on McCaffrey, targeting him on 22 percent of his pass attempts.
McCaffrey was the quick-release option for Newton, and Turner wants to utilize him that way. Turner has had success in the past when getting dynamic, pass-catching backs in space.
“I think there are some technique things that we’ll zero in (on) with Cam, and there will be a major emphasis on the details of the route-running, the style of routes,” Turner said.
And he said the Panthers will do what they can to help Newton get the ball out quicker.
“That helps the protection,” he said. “That helps everybody.”
Turner declined to comment specifically on personnel, but interim general manager Marty Hurney and coach Ron Rivera will likely look closely at free agency and the draft to bring in weapons to complement Olsen, McCaffrey and Funchess.
What won’t change
While Carolina’s aerial attack was inconsistent, Newton thrived as a runner.
He rushed for a career-high 754 yards on 139 carries, with six touchdowns. His 5.4 yards per carry ranked second in the NFL, behind Saints running back Alvin Kamara’s 6.1.
Meanwhile, lead back Jonathan Stewart had a career-low 3.4 yards per carry, with 680 yards on 198 attempts. McCaffrey was largely ineffective in power-run schemes, averaging 3.7 yards per attempt (117 carries for 435 yards).
Carolina will still use a power runner to loosen up defensive fronts, but Turner declined to comment on whether that player was already on the roster.
And while it is not sustainable to have Newton as the team’s most effective runner, Turner seemed committed to implementing some of the read option plays that have made Newton such a threat to opposing defenses in the past.
“He’s incredible as a runner, he’s just an amazing player at that position,” Turner said. “There are two ways that he ends up carrying the ball: Designed runs, and then he’s made a lot of plays where he’s kept the ball in passing situations or when he drops back to throw and then the opportunity to run opens up. I think that’s a real threat to defenses, defenses are really bothered by that.
“He’s always got to have that as part of his game. ... I think it’s always going to be a part of what we do.”