What's Wrong with Cam Newton Lately?

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What's Wrong with Cam Newton Lately?
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

What is going on with Carolina quarterback Cam Newton this season? He is in his third season, so he should be on a new level, right? 

After getting pummeled in Arizona, trouble is brewing in paradise. That is, if you can call a perennially mediocre Carolina team paradise.

If you are a fantasy football owner who was counting on Newton, you might have needed a new remote or window pane after that game. So what went wrong? Is this a portent of doom for Newton? 

 

Start with the Dropsies

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. How about four cropped together?

This is a montage of bad luck for Newton, who had several accurate passes dropped by his receivers. The most egregious ones also came at the most inopportune times—in the end or red zone.

Normally reliable Steve Smith dropped a touchdown pass on third down in the first quarter after he came free on a slant pattern. Had he caught that, the complexion of the entire game might have been different for the Panthers.

Brandon LaFell's drop was almost worse, dropping a fourth-down pass at the 10-yard line that would have been more than enough for a first down.

To be sure, Newton had a great start to the game. He moved the team down the field with relative ease, finding open guys more often than not and getting his team into scoring position.

Unfortunately, the dropped passes were like drops of poison. Things went south for Newton as the day wore on, and his receivers were only part of the problem.

 

One Read Too Often

One thing that Newton should have improved upon by now is progressing through his reads. Based on his game against the Cardinals, he still needs work in that department.

There were many instances where Newton stared down his receiver from the outset of the play. Take his first throw of the game, a 14-yard completion to Brandon LaFell that was nearly intercepted.

LaFell ran a medium curl against soft man coverage. It was a good decision on Newton's part, but it could just as easily have ended in disaster.

Newton was lucky on the play—cornerback Jerraud Powers had his eye on LaFell, otherwise he might have broken on the ball sooner and taken an interception to the house. Newton wasn't so lucky later in the game, however.

This was almost the same play that sprang Smith in the end zone only to have him drop the easy touchdown. Smith ran the slant—this time without a crosser over the top, like he had on the aforementioned touchdown drop—and he got inside position on Peterson just like the first time, albeit with zero separation this time.

Unfortunately, Newton telegraphed the throw, and Washington broke on the pass. It was a nice leaping grab for Washington, who would have scored were it not for Newton's effort to drive him out of bounds.

To be sure, this was a well-defended play by the Cardinals. The pass rush was once again threatening, and nobody had any sort of separation downfield. Had Newton pulled back the throw, he would have likely been sacked or thrown another dangerous pass.

Going through progressions and looking off linebackers and safeties are important skills to develop for success at quarterback in the NFL. Newton has shown he can do it, but his propensity to stare down his first read got him in a heap of trouble in the desert.

 

Blitzed Into Oblivion

The Cardinals have an improving defense, buoyed last week by the return of stud linebacker Daryl Washington after serving his four-game suspension. It also didn't help Newton that his offensive line had trouble with the rush for much of the day.

Arizona's tactics to thwart Newton involved plenty of five-man rushes and stunts along the defensive line designed to get pressure. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he was blitzed on 27 of 47 times he dropped back to pass, and he got pressure on 22 of those dropbacks.

The normally Houdini-like Newton had trouble escaping, and the rush created turnovers, like this one. 

The Cardinals did a nice job of covering down field, and they didn't give Newton much time to go through progressions. Newton knew Smith was running a nine-route, however, so he chucked it with the hope his No. 1 receiver could beat his man, who happened to be elite cover corner, Patrick Peterson.

Unfortunately, the rush got to Newton, causing him to throw off his back foot. The pass went short, and it was easy pickings for Peterson—albeit many cornerbacks might not turn around in time to stop and make that play.

Of course, whether Newton should have even made that throw in the first place is questionable. Peterson was all over Smith—even a perfect throw stood a good chance of getting knocked down. 

But Newton didn't have time to change his mind. 

This was Newton's reality for much of the day. Many times circumstances conspired to force Newton into a sack or a turnover.

Brandon LaFell was wide open in this frame. There were no defenders near him save, perhaps, safety Yeremiah Bell, who is about 10 yards away, off screen to the left. If Newton wasn't so busy staring down Smith—who is running a seven-route downfield—he might have thrown over the blitz to LaFell, who had plenty of space to get the first down.

Instead, Newton took a sack as he quickly ran out of time. This was a common scene last Sunday.

 

Conclusion

This is nothing new with Newton and the Panthers. They stand at 1-3 after four games, just like last year. In fact, Newton's statistics aren't terribly far off through four games from where they were at the same point last season.

Cam Newton's Average Statistics Through Four Games
Comp Att Comp% Yards TD Int YPA Car Yards TD
2012 17 26.8 63.6% 253.3 1 1.25 9.5 8.25 41.8 0.75
2013 18.3 31.8 57.5% 221.3 1.5 1.25 7.0 5 30.8 0.25

Source: Pro Football Reference

The severe drop in completion percentage is a big concern for Newton, though having receivers drop 6.3 percent of his passes can't help.

From a fantasy perspective, the fact he is running the ball less is the most disturbing revelation here. His dramatic drop in yards per attempt is also problematic. But Newton has been streaky through his tenure in the NFL—he finished 2012 on a tear, and he can get hot at any time.

Week 6 could jump start the mercurial quarterback.

Minnesota also happens to be allowing the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, on average.

As for whether Newton will help turn around the franchise—this year or in the near future—it all depends on his continuing development. It's unfortunate that many of his issues have persisted since his rookie season.

If he can become more consistent—something he readily admits needs work—he could become one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL on a weekly basis.

But the talent is there, and it's far too early to give up on that potential.

Give him more time to find that consistency.

 

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