The Panthers are having difficulty stopping the run (No. 25 in the NFL) and the pass (No. 20 in the NFL) on defense, are being destroyed by turnovers and, just like last season, are starting to be hampered by injuries. All of these pale in comparison to the troubles of Cam Newton.
Newton was the Panthers’ golden boy last year as a rookie, rewriting record books for first-year passers in the NFL. He passed for 4,051 yards, ran for 706 more and, between throwing and crossing the goal line with his legs, was responsible for 35 touchdowns.
His record-setting rookie campaign raised expectations for both the Panthers and Newton. Through five games of the 2012 season, Newton is far from reaching the bar he set so high for himself.
Sunday’s 141 yards passing raised Newton’s 2012 total to 1,154, just under 231 yards passing per game. At this point last year Newton had already passed for 1,610 yards.
Newton didn’t throw a touchdown pass against the Seahawks Sunday, the second time in three weeks he’s been held without one. He’s three touchdown passes behind the pace from his rookie year.
As if the fact he’s statistically behind the rookie version of himself wasn’t bad enough, Newton’s mistakes are making the problem far worse.
Newton played in all 16 games for the Panthers last season and fumbled five times, losing two of them. In just five games this year, Newton already has five fumbles and has lost two—like the ball he coughed up Sunday with 49 seconds left to play and the Panthers driving to try to win the game.
A Newton fumble also halted a fourth-quarter drive in Week 4 in Atlanta. The Panthers recovered the ball, but the fumble forced a punt and Atlanta drove the ball down the field and kicked a game-winning field goal.
It’s not just turnover mistakes, however, that have hurt Newton. With the ball on the one-yard line Sunday and the Panthers down by four points and in a fourth-down situation, Newton rolled out and threw towards an open Ben Hartsock. Newton one-hopped Hartsock in the end zone, missing an opportunity to go ahead with under four minutes to play.
There are more problems, as mentioned earlier, on this Panthers team than just Newton—that’s for sure. In addition to the struggles on defense as a team, outside of cornerback Chris Gamble, who didn’t play against the Seahawks, the Panthers don’t have a legitimate cover corner.
Even though Brandon LaFell had a breakout game against New Orleans in Week 2, he’s been relatively quiet since. The Panthers really need an option on the other side of Steve Smith to help Newton’s offense roll.
It’s true, at 1-4, the Panthers have many, many problems to deal with. Newton’s at the top of the list not because he’s the worst of the ailing Panthers—quite the opposite actually. Newton has more talent than any player on Carolina’s roster.
Newton’s issues are the biggest problem for the Panthers because he’s good enough to carry this team and he’s not doing so. He might not be good enough to put the Panthers on his back and carry them to a playoff appearance, but he’s definitely good enough to bring this team to a bigger win total than the six Carolina won last season.
If Newton won’t immediately fix the problems he’s facing—the mistakes, the decisions, the attitude—Carolina can’t win and likely won’t improve on its season from a year ago.