Cam Newton's three-interception performance against the New York Giants on Thursday Night Football was his worst game as a professional, and it's clear he is smack-dab in the middle of a sophomore slump.
The Cam Newton struggle face twitter.com/BleacherReport…— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 21, 2012
If you watched the game, you don't need any supporting evidence to know I'm right.
If you didn't watch the game, let me tell you—Newton was terrible—and it had less to do with the defense of the New York Giants than it did with Newton's lax approach to playing quarterback in the NFL.
Newton completed only 16-of-30 passes for 242 yards with zero touchdowns and three interceptions that were so egregious that they made the ones Peyton Manning threw on Monday Night Football look glorious.
For the season, Newton has now completed 53-of-83 passes for 798 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions. His team is now 1-2 and reeling after getting beaten by a score of 36-7 at home.
His final pick of the night was his second to have been thrown in triple coverage, and backup safety Stevie Brown stepped right in front of it for the easy interception. Finally, to add insult to injury, Derek Anderson finished the game in Newton's stead.
So, what's wrong?
Newton is lucky that he only ended up with three interceptions. He consistently locked on to his receivers, telegraphing to the defense where he intended to throw—something you'd expect from a rookie in his third NFL game.
His second and third interceptions were thrown into triple coverage. Not only did he telegraph his throw, but there was literally no opening for the ball to get through to this receivers.
This isn't what I expected to see from Newton tonight, and it's certainly not what Newton expected of himself.
He knows how bad he was tonight. He doesn't need to take a look at the film to know that this was his worst performance as a pro, though it would serve him well to make looking at film a high priority (not that he doesn't, but more can't hurt).
Newton shouldn't be making the kinds of mistakes he made tonight and back in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when he threw two ill-advised passes into double coverage (one was actually triple-covered) for interceptions.
Becoming an elite quarterback starts with the little things.
Newton doesn't even get into a throwing stance half of the time when he intends to throw.
He's one of the best athletes in the NFL, yet he stands with his legs straight and feet practically touching, allowing himself no lateral mobility should he need to step away from pressure or change his direction.
His first interception of the game should have been an easy completion to Brandon LaFell, but Newton had been looking left, and he never made any attempt to move his feet to point toward his receiver. The result was that his throw was behind LaFell, who tried to make the tough, one-handed catch. From there, Jayron Hosley had an easy interception.
This happened all night long, and it clearly indicates that Newton isn't paying attention to the little things that will make him into an elite quarterback.
One play in particular that stands out in my mind like a burning ember happened in the fourth quarter. Newton tried to hit Steve Smith deep down the left sideline, and he needed to get some air under the ball. He leaned back like he was trying to do the limbo before the pass, and he threw the pass off his back foot.
Is Newton in the midst of a sophomore slump?
It was like watching an instructional video on how not to play the quarterback position. Right now, he's simply relying on his natural abilities—a strategy that has never worked for a single quarterback in the history of the NFL.
Every great quarterback shares one thing in common: They work hard at the little things like footwork, which is what sets them apart from all the others.
The NFL is full of elite athletes, and while Newton is certainly an athletic freak of the first order, defensive freaks like Jason Pierre-Paul are just as good. Newton isn't going to be able to find consistent success without investing heavily in technique and mechanics.
He has all the talent in the world, but in the end, if he doesn't start paying attention to the little things, this sophomore slump could last a while.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78 for more NFL analysis.