The Panthers want to give Cam Newton enough snaps in the preseason to establish his rhythm, but the team needs to sit him against the Patriots.
Cam Newton is the most valuable commodity the Carolina Panthers have. Keeping him healthy until the start of the regular season should be the organization’s top priority. Playing Newton over a half of football on Friday night against the Patriots would spit in the face of that priority.
The idea of giving Newton a lot of snaps in the third game of the preseason makes a lot of sense. It’s typically the games where NFL teams give their starters the most playing time. It allows players to establish meaningful momentum on the field against a live opponent before the games really count. Coaching staffs generally do this in game three instead of game four because it gives the starters an extra week to recover before the beginning of the regular season.
In keeping with that line of thinking, Ron Rivera admits that he would like to “take his starters into the third quarter” against New England. Presumably, that would include Newton. The only problem with this philosophy is that Carolina is too banged up along the offensive line to properly protect their dynamic quarterback.
Starting left tackle Matt Kalil has already been ruled out for the game. No matter what you think of his performance when he’s healthy, he’s still the best option the Panthers have at the position. Taylor Moton will get his first meaningful start at the position in Kalil’s absence. He’s got solid potential, but the fact that he’s been forced to work at three different positions this preseason means he won’t be an expert at protecting Newton’s blind side on Friday night.
Even if you’re inclined to trust Moton there, the rest of the line is in further disarray. Jeremiah Sirles will fill in at right tackle for Daryl Williams. He was originally signed in the offseason to provide depth at guard. There’s zero indication he can hold up on the outside.
The interior of the line is a mess too. Greg Van Roten and Brendan Mahon will both get work at left guard. Van Roten is currently listed as the Panthers’ third center and Mahon joined Carolina as an undrafted free agent. Both players have shown flashes of promise in camp, but they are far from reliable options in the middle.
Add it all up and the solution for the Panthers is clear. They need to shelve their plans to give Newton extended action on Friday night. Giving him a series or two with relatively conservative play calling is fine. Asking him to stand in there against the Patriots’ first team pass rush is asking for disaster. The Panthers need to save Newton for the regular season.