Even though everyone would like to spend their days and columns extending Tim Tebow’s notoriety (as I just did), Cameron Jerrell Newton is the NFL’s true hot topic, and deservedly so. It cannot be mentioned enough how doubted he was coming into the league as a rookie and how his performances have led him to be praised by those exact same critics.
Of course, there are those that will still say things like, “What about the rookie wall he has yet to hit?” or “What about the second season woes he has yet to experience?” These things have all been the case with rookies in the past, but Newton is not the guy you want to put in the category of the general population.
His accomplishments thus far have warranted a higher respect than that. Even though we are only grazing the season’s half as the Panthers go into their bye week, Cam Newton has already made a statement.
Great things are coming. Great things are coming soon.
As patiently as the fans in Charlotte have been waiting, a revival is coming in the form of their football franchise. Newton is their leading man, and they have every right to put full faith in him. The 2011 season has been set in stone.
The Carolina Panthers may not make it to the playoffs in Newton’s rookie season. There is no may about it. The Panthers have put together a resume that makes them look far better off than any other team would with a 2-6 record. But teams are only granted trips to the playoffs for the amount they win, not how nice they appear losing.
This is where Carolina can build as a franchise. There is a light at the end of the tunnel that tells me that if Newton has anything to do with it, which I surmise he will, the Panthers will be atop their division for the 2012 season and beyond.
Comparing the Panthers to the any of the teams in the NFC South by record is disparaging. When looking into the future of a certain organization or a set of franchises, there needs to be a comparison between the leaders of the franchises.
Quarterbacks are given a huge amount of credit and a grand amount of blame for their team’s wins and losses. They are the faces and the telltales of what the future will hold for a squad.
Atlanta Falcons’ QB Matt Ryan was supposed to make that leap from Matty Ice to just darned great. Earlier this year, everyone who was anyone involved in football was giving the young QB kudos on what he was able to accomplish after only three seasons in the league. When the Falcons jumped ahead in the draft to snag Julio Jones, their future had already been written.
The offense would be “explosive” and virtually “unstoppable” in the air.
With Ryan improving his arm strength, Roddy White working closely with the quarterback and Tony Gonzalez playing...like Tony Gonzalez, Atlanta would trail closely behind the New Orleans Saints for the lead of the NFC South at worst.
Apparently, Atlanta had a different plan in mind. Ryan, according to SB Nation, has trouble scoring in the second half with his first-half completion rate dropping 10.2 percent and his QB rating dropping by 15.4. The Falcons offensive line does not give him many chances to succeed, allowing 18 sacks and 45 hits on Ryan this season alone.
Last year the offensive line only allowed a total of 23 sacks and 69 hits by the end of the season. The quality of pass blocking has definitely declined in favor of any front four that blitzes Ryan in the last eight weeks. Still, Ryan has not had the year personally that we all expected he would. Now, if the offensive line improves, we may see Ryan turn things around.
There is something missing from Atlanta, however. Something is off with this franchise. There is an adequate quarterback sitting on the roster and willing to be the leading face of the team. With all of the offensive parts in place for him to succeed, he does not give off the thought that Atlanta could combat the Green Bays or New Englands of the league.
Even last season, as Ryan was at his best, there was a feeling that he would improve, but not by much. We may have seen the best this quarterback has to offer, and without much mobility to escape the defense, his effectiveness is limited. Ryan is a game manager, and Mike Turner is the power that fuels any Falcon comeback.
Ryan’s role resembles what critics felt Newton’s role would be with the Carolina Panthers. In the early stages of the preseason, where the rookie QB did not seem to have much success, analysts immediately felt that he would not be able to carry the offensive load in Charlotte. With DeAngelo Williams’ contract signing, Newton was speculated to be a game manager as well.
Yes, he had incredible arm strength. Yes, he showed spurts of accuracy in college. But, no one felt that his accuracy was solid enough to survive the elite corners of the NFL during any quarter. He has proven people wrong in every regard.
The Panthers were able to sculpt their offense around Newton in a conventional matter, therefore allowing him to feel comfortable with his receivers downfield as he did at Auburn.
As a result, Newton is ranked second in passing yards with 2,393 yards and a completion rate above 60 percent. His individual success has trumped Matt Ryan’s with his QB rate dropping only 6.8 percent from the first half to the second half.
Newton’s success is not due to the grand efforts of his offensive line, either. Carolina’s left tackle, Jordan Gross, has been efficient in pass protection and run blocking, but Byron Bell has yet to excel at either, leaving Newton unprotected at times. There are issues with Carolina’s line just as with Ryan’s, but Newton manages far more production at his position.
Ryan is the face of the franchise, but he is not the game plan in Atlanta. Newton is the face of the franchise and the overall plan to survive for Carolina. He has changed the Panthers' culture and created a passing fundamental for a franchise that has not seen that type of dynamic in a while.
Ryan does not have the ability to change Falcons' approach without most of his passes being labeled predictable. Defenses can anticipate and read Ryan well, and when he lets one off, a good corner or safety can determine the direction and break up the pass almost immediately without gain.
Newton’s combination of receivers assists in his ability to be mildly unpredictable, but those deep passes are almost always headed in one direction—towards Steve Smith. Smith’s ability to go up for the jump ball, despite his small stature, also helps the task at hand. However, Newton has such a wide skill set that defenses want to shut down any running lane he may have as well as lock down his receivers and cut off any lanes for either of his running backs.
Matt Ryan is a good quarterback. He may lead the Atlanta Falcons deeper into the postseason than he has in the past. But in the 2012 season, Newton will have surpassed the Falcons’ QB and be carving a legacy of his own.
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