"It just doesn't feel right…"
This is the thought that kept sneaking into my head while watching Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers offense Sunday in their loss to the Seattle Seahawks (12-7). Mike Shula has a new look for the Panthers, and for Newton, it had some positives and some negatives. Sadly, in our limited sample size, the negatives outweigh the positives.
Going into the game, I was skeptical on how he would perform against a very long and athletic secondary.
It’s worth mentioning that cornerback Brandon Browner was held out Sunday, but when one considers he was mostly a non-factor in the Carolina-Seattle game in 2012, it wasn't that big of a loss. Seattle was also missing three of its top pass-rushers, which equated to roughly 70 percent of its sack production last season.
The stage, at least in theory, was set for Newton, Shula and the Panthers offense to “make some hay.” Sadly, this was not to be the case.
Accuracy (and footwork) has been one of Newton’s biggest issues his first two seasons. While he's wracked up tons of yards, touchdowns and numbers in general, Newton seems to miss throws he should make much too often.
I made some shorthand notes Sunday, and in review, I see this was an issue early. But as the game progressed, Newton was hitting his targets with “decent” accuracy. He still had footwork issues throughout the game, but not to his detriment. Footwork is and will continue to be an issue for him and might persist throughout his career.
Newton finished the day with pedestrian numbers but decent efficiency overall 16-of-23 works out to 70 percent competition percentage. It’s the 125 total yards in the air that really brings everything down.
Dink-and-dunk fits Cam Newton like a tutu fits Star Lotulelei. In his first two seasons, Newton has been one of the best 20-plus-yard throwers in the league. I haven’t had a chance to watch the game again, and perhaps he was missing tons of open wide receivers, but 30 minutes after the game, one has to be concerned on the absence of the deep ball.
Grade: B, with a possible C depending on what tape shows us later on missed deep routes.
Run, Newton, Run
Both sadly and amazingly, Newton led the 2012 Carolina Panthers in rushing yards. It was a focus both in media statements and play-calling to cut back on his runs and focus more on his passing and using his legs to escape sacks/create yards when everyone was covered.
Sunday, I feel Cam did this exceptionally well. He had a total of five rushes for 38 yards, he converted a couple of first downs and he moved reasonably well in the pocket. I found myself wishing he could “feel” his blindside a bit better on the lone sack of the day from Seattle by O'Brien Schofield, but that said, I’m sure he wasn’t expecting Jordan Gross to get beaten like a drum either.
The biggest thing Newton needs to learn about leaving the pocket is simple: slide.
The box score for Newton today is mostly horrible. 16 of 23 for a measly 125 yards in the air and a single lonely touchdown. He averaged 5.4 yards per attempt (YPA) which I believe is one of the lowest YPA ratios of his career. Cam rushed for 38 yards and was sacked once for a loss of six. Most will say he had a lousy game, this isn't entirely accurate.
Take in consideration Greg Olsen had 2 very poor drops. Both of which were on routes that could have netted serious yardage. I won't do you all an injustice by projecting some imaginary numbers, but the drops were there and mattered greatly when they happened. Cam with those drops threw for roughly 70 percent completion today, that is a marked improvement against his past outings. We'll take whatever silver linings we can get.
Despite the bright spots in accuracy I can't grade high with only 125 yards in the air. Yes, I realize that isn't all on Cam.
It Really Just Doesn't Feel Right...
With all of the above said, the offense just didn't look right on Sunday. On Newton's end of the deal, I thought he hit most of his throws reasonably well. But again, film study could tell us a different study. He threw a few absolute laser beams to Olsen, and the touchdown pass to Steve Smith had nice touch and timing.
Still, the lack of deep passes, inability to convert third-and-shorts and, obviously, the lack of points tells me that this offense could be in a ton of trouble this season. Olsen dropped passes he normally wouldn't, DeAngelo Williams had two fumbles when he usually has none and no one on offense seemed to want to stand out. So this loss wasn't all about Cam Newton’s failures as a quarterback.
However, the Panthers still lost, and the story from the "big networks" this week about Cam Newton will be: A) his inability to win close games late B) his meager stat line C) some gibberish about towels. Not necessarily in that order.