Is Cam Newton’s sophomore slump being blown out of proportion or should the Carolina Panthers be concerned?
That's the question Carolina fans now have had nearly two weeks to debate after Newton's dismal performance against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 5, which followed a terrible outing against the New York Giants a week earlier.
Newton, it seems, has regressed—performing in 2011 like a guile veteran and in 2012 like a rookie with a long learning curve.
Newton has collected significant yardage, 1,154 through five games this season, but he has one more interception than touchdowns and has struggled with his decision making.
Last season, he became the first rookie quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards and won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. This year a handful of rookie quarterbacks are outperforming him.
Newton ranks No. 23 in the NFL with a passer rating of 80.9 and a mere four touchdown passes.
His fumble at the end of the Atlanta game likely cost the Panthers a victory, his errant throw on fourth-and-goal against Seattle cost the team that game and against the New York Giants he was, essentially, a no-show.
Newton's struggles this year are well documented. He is making poor decisions across the board—holding the ball when he should get rid of it, rolling out of the pocket before it's necessary, throwing it away when he still has time to make a play happen and fighting for a meaningless yard when a fumble might cost his team a score.
On paper, his QBR is only a few points lower than last year and he's averaging more yards per pass attempt than his rookie season.
The latter stat though reflects another problem: Newton's reliance on Steve Smith.
The last two games Newton threw to Smith and virtually no one else, forcing the ball into double and triple coverage, taking a sack while other receivers were open while he looked for an opportunity to get it to him.
If Newton is going to return to his 2011 form, he's going to have to do what Carolina coaches did last year with him—trust his teammates and himself.
Newton certainly can turn the season around, though a playoff spot for a 1-4 team will be hard to come by.
But this is a guy who is not used to losing, a guy who has been part of three national championships, a guy who rewrote the book on rookie quarterbacks the way Dan Marino did back in 1983.
If anyone can turn it around, Newton can.
Lou Rom, a veteran journalist with more than 17 years experience, covers the NFL, his hometown New York Giants, and whatever else gets under his skin for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at louromlive.
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