Cam Newton is slumping compared to last year. After all, he did throw for over 400 yards in his first two games as a professional and did things that were never before seen from the Carolina Panthers.
For a young quarterback, repeating that kind of production can be difficult.
However, in this offense with the personnel surrounding him, he wasn't supposed to regress. He was supposed to light the league on fire once again. He was supposed to shatter records left and right, picking up where he left off in 2011.
That has not been the case after six games this year for him and the beleaguered Panthers.
But here is the kicker: He is not to blame for the offense's lack of production this far into the season—at least not entirely.
The Panthers front office signed a solid corps of running backs over the past couple of seasons. They gave DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart healthy extensions and even went out to add another quality back in Mike Tolbert in free agency.
None of these guys have lived up to their lofty expectations.
The running game was the backbone if not the bread and butter that made the offense gel in 2011. Both Williams and Stewart rushed for under 1,000 yards, but they both gained over 700. The fact that Newton is a mobile quarterback capable of picking up chunks of yards made the offensive philosophy devised by Rob "Chud" Chudzinski very formidable and unpredictable.
The running game has been anything but in 2012.
Carolina's running backs have yet to eclipse over 100 yards rushing. None of them have even come remotely close to reaching the century mark this year save one person—Cam Newton. Three times he has led the team in rushing on game day and has the most yards on the ground in a single game at 86.
If anything, the running backs have not done their part to balance the offense and take the defenses' focus off of Newton.
That being said, no offense can be productive without a strong offensive line. It is fair to say that the line is teetering on the border of being a patchwork unit. They lost Ryan Kalil for the remainder of the year and youth are starting at critical positions.
A shining example of the line's struggles was evident in the Dallas game when early in the first quarter, the entire left side of the line collapsed, allowing the Cowboys to sack Newton. The veteran Jordan Gross, the rookie Amini Silatolu and newly appointed center Geoff Hangartner were all over matched. They failed to hold their blocks and allow Newton anytime to make a play.
The other side is not much better. Byron Bell was shifted over to right guard to compensate for Hangartner's move and Garry Williams is now assuming duties as right tackle. Bell has shown promise but he is still young, while Williams has never been a fan favorite among the Carolina faithful.
It would be easy to target one person as the scapegoat for the line's troubles, but everyone deserves equal blame. Running lanes are not being opened up and when the defense is forced to become one dimensional, problems arise.
Failing to protect their quarterback hasn't helped matters either. Their efforts have led the offense to a ranking of 22nd in passing yards and 13th in rushing yards; the latter is due to the efforts of Newton's mobility.
While the guys on the field take the heat for their failure to execute, the guys on the sideline and in the booth haven't helped their team's cause. Both Ron Rivera and Chudzinski seem to be making questionable calls throughout the season.
Let's start with the architect of the offense first.
Chudzinski is a brilliant mind and an offensive genius. However, it is clear why he was not hired to be a head coach anywhere this past season. He lacks consistency. Remember, he was the one who engineered that surprise offense in Cleveland back in 2007—the one led by Carolina's backup quarterback Derek Anderson.
After one great year that saw Anderson receive a Pro Bowl nod, the Browns could not duplicate that success. It is possible he could be repeating history here, and with the talent that is comprising the offense, the lack of production is unacceptable.
Whether or not Chudzinski is over thinking game strategy or just trying to be too cute on offense, he has shown a tendency to abandon the running game early and put the burden on Newton's shoulders.
The man who was hired to return the Panthers to relevance has not lived up to expectations. Some have called into question whether or not Rivera was the right man for the job. Unfortunately, he has been subjected to a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" way of life this season.
Granted, he is a defensive coach, but he is the ultimate decision maker when it comes to the on-field success and failures of the team. If he wants to protect his job and the psyche of his young quarterback, Rivera will need to make some changes very soon before the front office takes matters into its own hands.
There are some positives to take from the offense and Newton especially. He has shown the ability to spread the ball around on the field. Some accuse of him locking onto Steve Smith, but in reality he has made the effort to get the rest of his receivers involved in the game. Brandon LaFell has emerged as a reliable option and should subdue any talk of drafting a top wide receiver until Carolina is ready to replace Smith.
Newton has shown trust in going to his tight end Greg Olsen throughout the season. He is among the team leaders in receptions and receiving yards, providing a great checkdown option for Newton if needed.
Until the Panthers start to win games, Newton will be the topic of scrutiny and criticism. That is the life of a quarterback. If your team wins games, you are loved. If they lose, you are the bad guy. What needs to be remembered here is that this is a team sport and there are 10 other men on the field who have to do their part to help Newton.
If he is being accused of trying to do too much, then so be it. No one else on the offense has been accused of it.
While it is frustrating as fans, the frustration is just as high for Newton. He genuinely wants to win, and despite his down demeanor on the sideline or during postgame interviews, he does care.
Patience is needed and good things will come to both Newton and the Panthers. It is unfair to solely blame Newton for the lack of offense in Carolina, especially with the supporting cast he has around him in the huddle.
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