LONDON -- There was no shortage of “Harry Potter” lines from Carolina Panthers players on Thursday as they played with locals on the fields at Harrow Boys School below a backdrop of rolling hills and gothic structures that could have been straight from a scene in J.K. Rowling’s fantasy novel series.
So it seemed almost fitting it was here that former Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams tried to separate fantasy from reality as it relates to quarterback Cam Newton, at home rehabbing his mild left Lisfranc injury while his teammates are in London to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“Everyone is saying this team is better without Cam than without Cam,” said Williams, who made the trip as an ambassador for the team.
Before we go further, some are saying this because the Panthers (3-2) are 3-0 since Kyle Allen took over as quarterback and 4-0 with Allen as the starter dating to last year. That makes him the first undrafted quarterback since Hall of Famer Kurt Warner in 1999 to begin his career with four straight wins.
The Panthers were 0-2 this season under Newton, including a 20-14 loss to Tampa Bay in Week 2. They have lost eight straight with the 2015 NFL MVP.
But better without Newton running offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s scheme? Williams, second on Carolina’s all-time rushing list with 6,846 yards, argues that is a matter of interpretation. He suggested Allen might simply be better for Turner.
He began his thoughts on this before going into detail about why what running back Christian McCaffrey has done the first five games is “insane.”
“I say this: They’re not asking Allen [to do] what they ask Cam to do,” Williams said. “That’s why the team is different. This is a West Coast offense, so when [Turner] took this position, he knew he had to tweak his offense. With Allen, all they’re asking him to do is throw the football and hand off to Christian.
“When Cam was the quarterback they had Cam running the ball, he had the RPO he had to worry about, he had to make sure the water was cold on the sideline, he had to make sure nobody came on the field when they wasn’t supposed to. He had to control a lot of things. Literally, all Allen has to do is read defense as it relates to running the ball.”
McCaffrey has done the rest, leading the league with 587 yards rushing and second on the team with 279 yards receiving. His 866 yards from scrimmage are the second-most in the first five games of an NFL season, trailing Hall of Famer Jim Brown, who had 988 yards in 1963.
Williams noted with Allen managing the offense, Turner can run his offense through McCaffrey the way he did Emmitt Smith at Dallas and LaDainian Tomlinson at San Diego.
“Norv Turner doesn’t have to tweak his West Coast offense,” Williams said. “He literally has run it. He never has done well with mobile quarterbacks and tweaking his system because it does not work.
“That’s why Cam looked that way in his offense. This is not an offense geared toward a mobile quarterback like Cam.”
To be fair, the Panthers were 6-2 with Newton last season before shoulder injuries to the first pick of the 2011 draft led to a seven-game losing streak. Newton said he was playing the best football of his career, and Turner didn’t disagree.
“We can all pick out segments of the season where somebody looks great if you want to defend a narrative,” said Williams, who has been critical in the past of Newton, a teammate for four seasons.
To Williams’ point, Turner and his system might work better under a quarterback who manages the game instead of dominates it as Newton often did -- and sometimes demanded.
Statistically, the Panthers have been better under Allen this season. They are averaging 29.3 points in three games as compared to 20.5 in two with Newton. They are averaging 184 yards per game rushing under Allen, 83 under Newton.
They are averaging 385 total yards per game under Allen, 347.5 under Newton.
Enjoy this pic of Christian on a really old bench at the historic Harrow School in London 🇬🇧 pic.twitter.com/KiSZnEN4D6— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) October 10, 2019
But much of that is because under Allen the offense runs directly through McCaffrey, who has 175 or more yards in three straight games under Allen and is averaging 29.6 touches per game during that span compared to 23.5 under Newton.
McCaffrey is playing at such a high level, he’s entered the MVP conversation.
That is why Williams called what McCaffrey is doing “insane.” His only concern is getting McCaffrey rest during the week after carrying such a heavy workload in games.
McCaffrey was listed with a back injury when he didn’t practice on Wednesday, prompting jokes about him carrying the team. He landed on his back after flipping over a Jaguars defender for a touchdown this past Sunday.
McCaffrey was back to a full participant on Thursday.
“This offense lives and breathes through McCaffrey,” Williams said. “If his workload during the week is very minimal, he’ll make it through the season with no issues at all. But it’s tough to maintain and keep him off the field in practice and make sure he’s healthy on Sunday if you have to get certain new plays in.
“So he’s got to find that balance.”