Carolina Panthers fans did not envision year two of the Cam Newton era to go quite like this, but they should get used to it. Newton's struggles won't be ending anytime soon.
Newton generated a ton of buzz last season with an impressive rookie campaign that had folks jumping on the hype train. However, his play this season has seen him regress both statistically and as a leader.
This isn't to say that Newton is a horrible quarterback with no future in the NFL. It's not uncommon for a player who found success in their rookie season to struggle repeating that success the following year. Newton has been a perfect example that a great rookie season doesn't exactly predict future success.
Newton can turn things around eventually. He has the tools to be an effective NFL quarterback, but it's going to take a while to develop those tools. Here's why fans can expect Newton to continue to struggle in the 2012 season.
Lack of a Running Game
The best thing that a young quarterback can have (other than a great defense to put him in good situations) is a great running game.
The Panthers running game isn't horrible, but it depends on Newton entirely too much. The Panthers are averaging 113 yards per game on the ground, good for 13th in the league. Take into consideration that Newton himself is averaging 45.5 yards, and that leaves around 67 yards between the trio of Jonathan Stewart, DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert.
Some of Newton's struggles are his own fault. As poorly as the Panthers have played, the quarterback must shoulder some of the blame, but he has really been let down by his stable of running backs.
Considering the talent that they have in the backfield, the Panthers should have one of the top five rushing attacks in the NFL. Newton has a difficult time leading the Panthers passing attack; he can't be held responsible for leading the way in rushing too.
Defenses Have Adjusted
Newton took the league by storm last season with his ability to hurt defenses through the air and with his legs. Newton's athleticism and arm strength caught teams off guard as he threw for over 4,000 yards and ran for 700 more.
However, sustained success in the league means adapting faster than the league adapts to you. This season, Newton hasn't caught anyone off guard. Teams have figured out that if you can keep Newton in the pocket, he has a difficult time beating you with his arm.
It's no surprise that Newton's two best games as a passer this season are also his two best games as a runner. In the 30-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Newton had 86 yards on nine carries and also threw two of his five touchdown passes on the season with no interceptions.
Against New Orleans, in the Panthers' only win of the season, Newton busted loose for 71 yards on 13 carries and had his most efficient day as a passer on the season—going 14-of-20 for 253 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
When Newton has been bottled up as a runner, he's been unable to get the passing game going. The Giants kept Newton to six yards on six carries, and he consequently threw three interceptions while completing a mere 53.3 percent of his passes.
Newton must find a way to beat teams when they are able to keep his running in check.
He's Not a Leader Yet
From the in-game body language to his postgame press conference remarks and behavior, Newton has appeared to lack the leadership skills necessary to be successful at this level.
When the Panthers defense is on the field, Newton can often be found on the sideline with a towel draped over his head. Although it's reportedly water under the bridge now, one can't help but to think back to September when veteran wide receiver Steve Smith ripped Newton for sulking on the sidelines.
For Newton to progress as a leader, he needs to be more active on the sideline. Whether that means engaging teammates or talking things over with coaches, his teammates need to know that he's in control and ready to lead.
Newton's postgame remarks have been less than admirable as well. Most recently, Newton publicly criticized the play-calling (h/t Sports Illustrated).
The past couple of games have been the same script, by the same director... It’s kind of getting boring.
This taste, this vibe — I’m not buying it, man. And I don’t know what it is, but something’s going to have to change. Something’s going to have to change real fast.
The fact that Newton is upset isn't the issue. That's a good sign that he cares enough about the team's success to be upset. The problem is addressing his issues with the media in this way.
Newton's concerns should be talked out with the coaching staff. As a leader, it's his job to get the other players on board with the system and lead the team to wins.
At this point, Newton has struggled to do that, and some of the blame has to fall on him. At only 23 years old, there's still time for Newton to turn things around, but at this rate, it could be until 2013 before things really start to turn around.