Cam Newton entered the league last season, and not only set the record books on fire but provided a team and its fan base enough reason to be optimistic moving forward. Seven weeks into the 2012 season, the overall attitude about the team and its young quarterback has been more pessimistic than ever before.
While the Carolina Panthers (1-5) find themselves in the NFC's basement, the man who was supposed to lead them back to glory has been generating all kinds of press for the wrong reasons. His on-field performance hasn't been spectacular and, while it hasn't been awful, he has done enough (making mistakes) or not enough to let games slip through his fingers and thus costing the Panthers wins.
The lack of consistency on the field has translated as much on the sidelines and in the locker room, where his leadership and maturity have been called into question. The images of him sulking on the bench with his head covered with a towel have not gone over too well with the Carolina faithful, or some of his teammates for that matter.
If there is a positive to take away from Newton's mostly mediocre performances this year, it's the fact that, of the five losses, four of them have been by a touchdown or less. Mistakes on his part, fumbles or interceptions, have led to at least three Carolina losses.
He ranks 26th in the league in passing yards (1,387), 28th in touchdown passes with five, 30th in completions (101) and 23rd in quarterback rating (79.3). His six interceptions are not too terrible since Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford and Joe Flacco each have six and elite quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Philip Rivers have more (seven and nine respectively).
One positive to take away from his game stats is Newton is averaging 8.0 yards per pass which places him in a tie for third among qualified quarterbacks.
Since Newton is a mobile quarterback, he does his fair share of scrambling placing him atop the rushing leaders on the team and possibly adding to his workload.
Perhaps, this is why he feels obligated to carry the burden in order to win games. The most obvious answer however, is the erratic play calling of Rob Chudzinski who seems to favor a heavy dose of read option plays as opposed to conventional pro-style football. There will be more on that in moment.
The most interesting statistic to take away from Newton's performance on game day is that the team generally succeeds when he doesn't need to throw that much and the offense runs the ball at least 25 times.
In the win over New Orleans, Newton only threw 20 times for 14 completions. His throws were on the money too averaging nearly 13 yards per completion. In addition, he rushed for 71 yards and a score.
While this was a good game which allowed the Panthers to secure the win, it would be in the interest of both Newton and the coaching staff to get the running backs more involved and stop abandoning the run so early in games. By creating a balanced attack, the offense keeps the opposing defense honest and they are not quick to play for the read option or focus primarily on Newton.
Coaching and Play-Calling
Recently, Carolina made headlines by dismissing longtime general manager Marty Hurney. This sent a profound message to both the team and the fan base, leading the latter to speculate on the job security of the coaching staff.
While Ron Rivera is the head coach, he is a defensive guy like his predecessor. However, his support of allowing Chudzinski to constantly run plays that are not working the way they should is taking it's toll on Newton, the team and their fans.
There is no doubt the coaching staff wants Newton to be heavily involved in the offense. They drafted a playmaker, not a game manager. This would be good if the majority of the plays were executed the way they were designed but teams are not fooled this year.
Newton has made it clear he is not the one calling the plays and while many have taken that as a sign of him calling out his coach, the kid is being honest. He is not remotely close to taking the reins of the offense and channeling his inner Peyton Manning. That honesty and candor that has landed him in some hot water recently following Carolina's loss to Dallas.
Nobody should fault this kid for wanting to win. That should be every player's motivation at every level in every sport. For a quarterback like Cam Newton, winning is the only thing he knew prior to suiting up on Sunday.
Naturally, sporting a 7-16 record in the first season and half is well below the expectations of not only Newton but the entire organization. As such, Newton has vilified himself with his sulking sideline attitude and down-in-the-dumps postgame interviews following a loss.
What separates him from the other quarterbacks in the NFL, and especially the elite ones, is the lack of fire to bounce back from a loss or an in-game mistake. When he throws an interception, he can be found sitting alone on the bench with a blank stare on his face and when he is doing his postgame pressers following a loss, he has a soft-spoken, depressed way about him.
Both of these character traits need to stop now.
Steve Smith has done his part to push Newton in the right direction. During the closing minutes in their blowout loss to the New York Giants, Newton was benched in favor of backup Derek Anderson and when Newton sat, it caught the ire of Smith, who chastised him about standing up and watching the game.
Recently, Newton did not do himself any favors with his postgame remarks to the media about getting a suggestion box and telling him what he needs to do. Certainly, this was a statement made purely out of frustration but he needs to do a better job of talking to reporters. The honesty, while good, has only made his underperforming season worse and has been the focal point of news outlets nation wide.
There is no doubting the talent and ceiling of Cam Newton. His ability alone can prove to be a disruptive force when utilized correctly. He hasn't been the sole reason for the offense's shortcomings or the lone reason for Carolina's disappointing record.
Yes, he has made mistakes which have proven the difference in a few games this year but with a highly paid group of running backs who have yet to earn their paycheck and a line who is failing in both the running and passing games, the entire unit is failing as a whole.
At his current rate, Newton will eclipse 3,000 yards passing but his touchdown numbers will be down and his interceptions could be about the same if not slightly higher. Those numbers would look a lot more respectable if Carolina's record was more favorable and he ranked high among the league's quarterbacks.
If Newton is to succeed at this level, he needs more heart, determination and a stronger will to win. To achieve those qualities, he must dispatch the old persona that sulks and displays a mopey attitude when things aren't going his way, and find that inner desire to be the leader he needs to be.
If that doesn't happen, not only will this season be legitimately over for the Panthers but it could raise more questions about the team's quarterback position and future later down the road.