Carolina Panthers: Kyle Allen could become Cam Newton’s replacement (PFN Data Lab)

Cam Newton has been the Carolina Panthers undisputed starter for a while now, but a change could be coming in Carolina.

There might be a quarterback competition brewing in Carolina. The Carolina Panthers started the year with losses to the Los Angeles Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, respectively. Neither game was a blowout, with the Panthers losing by a total of nine points, but they were losses nonetheless.

Then starting quarterback, Cam Newton got hurt. For most teams, losing your starting quarterback, especially one as successful as Newton, would be devastating. But Carolina turned to backup Kyle Allen, a second-year quarterback who went undrafted out of the University of Houston, who proceeded to get the team their first win of the season in spectacular fashion. So, what happened? Was Newton the problem? And if so, can Allen become his permanent replacement?

Newton was not playing well before his injury

A big part of the problem in those two games was Newton, who didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Through two weeks, he had 0 touchdowns, 2 fumbles, 1 interception, and a grand total of -2 rushing yards. I shouldn’t need to tell you that those statistics are genuinely terrible.

There have been worse two-game stretches in NFL history; just look at Nathan Peterman’s brief career and you will find several examples, but an elite player like Newton should be held to a higher standard. He is supposed to be the Panthers star player, and he simply has not been playing at that level. As such, Carolina’s poor start really shouldn’t be all that surprising.

It wasn’t as though Newton was being held back by his teammates either. PFN’s Offensive Share Metric (OSM) uses the NFL’s Next Gen Stats to determine how responsible a player was for their own production. When it comes to Newton, his OSM grades were mediocre at best. His overall grade through two weeks, 22.05, ranked 21st among qualifying quarterbacks. His completion percentage was 9.3% lower than what would be expected based on the NFL’s metrics. So, not only did Newton produce nothing in terms of conventional statistics, but he also contributed very little to the limited success that the offense did have.

Kyle Allen could be Carolina’s Savior

Prior to their Week 3 matchup with the Arizona Cardinals, Newton sustained a foot injury, forcing the Panthers to turn to Allen. Allen had played well in a meaningless Week 17 matchup with the New Orleans Saints, a game in which neither team had anything but pride to play for. But this more recent matchup with the Cardinals actually mattered, and Allen had a phenomenal showing. Not only did he lead the Panthers to a victory, but he played great on an individual level as well, completing 73.08% of his passes for 261 yards and four touchdowns. Those statistics would be phenomenal for any quarterback, let alone one in the second start of his career.

Unlike Newton, the second-year quarterback contributed heavily to his offense’s production. Allen’s OSM grade of 35.16 was fourth-best among quarterbacks in Week 3, behind only Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan, and Jameis Winston (Winston, while not as well-regarded as Wilson or Ryan, had the second-highest overall OSM grade of any quarterback last season). His 73.1% completion percentage was 9.2% higher than expected, the fourth-best differential in the NFL last week. He was also tied for the seventh-best air yards differential at -0.9.

This statistic represents the difference between his average intended air yards (how far he threw the ball downfield) and his completed air yards (how far the ball traveled in the air on completed passes). So, not only did Allen put up big numbers, he did so in an incredibly efficient manner. That is an incredibly encouraging combination for a young player.

Newton could lose the starting job sooner, rather than later

Even if you ignore all those statistics (and you shouldn’t), there is one more fact working in Allen’s favor: The Panthers have won two games in their last 11. Allen started both of those games.

Obviously, there is a lot more involved in winning games than just a change at quarterback. But still, it’s a striking statistic. And the better Allen plays, the more he wins, it will become more and more difficult for the people in charge in Carolina to ignore. Newton’s poor play didn’t start with this season. It has been a long time since he played at the MVP level that took the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2015. His OSM grade from last year, 24.76, was only slightly better than what he produced in two games this year.

It’s still too early to crown Allen as the permanent starter in Carolina. One good game does not make a franchise quarterback. If Allen can continue to play well, however, the Panthers might consider making the change at quarterback permanent, in much the same way the New England Patriots once did with Tom Brady. And Allen is going to have opportunities.

Newton remains sidelined with his foot injury, so Allen will be starting again in Week 4 against the Houston Texans, a much more difficult opponent than the Cardinals were. If Carolina is going to win, Allen will need to keep pace with Deshaun Watson and a dangerous Texans’ offense. If he can do that, he might very well end up winning himself a permanent starting job in the NFL.

Lucas Ellinas is a writer for the Pro Football Network as a part of the PFN Data Lab. You can follow him on Twitter @Lucas_Ellinas.

Related Articles