Have NFL Teams Figured out Cam Newton?

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IOctober 8, 2012

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 07:   Richard Sherman #25 of the Seattle Seahawks tries to stop Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on October 7, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Following the Carolina Panthers' 16-10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks Sunday in Carolina, one person knew exactly what had ailed the Panthers offense in another disappointing outing. 

That person was quarterback Cam Newton, who aptly identified the problem. 

"Call it what you want to call it," Newton said via the Panthers' official site. "Cam Newton didn't play good football today."

He hit the nail on the head. 

Newton continued to suffer through an up-and-down 2012 season Sunday, just one year after producing arguably the best rookie season ever in 2011. Newton completed just 12-of-29 passes for 141 yards and zero touchdowns. He rushed for 42 yards on seven carries. 

Has the NFL already figured out Newton?

Seahawks safety Earl Thomas certainly thought post-game that his team had a plan to disrupt Newton. It wasn't as complicated as you'd think, either. 

''We know he's a great dual-threat quarterback, but once we bottle it up and frustrate him, we know he's going to tank a little bit,'' Thomas told The Associated Press via Yahoo! ''We were able to do that today.''

Overall, a combination of factors has likely contributed to Newton's 2012 "down" season. A year of film study on Newton helps, but it's deeper than just defenses having a smart plan to contain him.

For starters, not every defense is as talented as the Seahawks', who may have the most underrated unit in football. Seattle has made even reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers look mostly ordinary this season. They'll do it to several more quarterbacks as the 2012 season progresses.

But Sunday's performance from Newton wasn't a first-time thing. Good defenses have mostly handled the former No. 1 pick so far in 2012. 

The New York Giants limited Newton to just six rushing yards and intercepted him three times in a 37-6 Week 3 win. Seattle kept Newton under 50 percent on completions for the first time in his NFL career, and the 141 yards passing were also a career low. The Buccaneers intercepted Newton twice in the season opener.

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera thinks Newton is pressing, according to the Charlotte Observer.

"I think he's pressing, personally I do. He wants to make things happen so much. He's trying very hard to do those things, do the right things. It's all part of him developing as a football player," Rivera said.

To build on Rivera's point, when the Panthers have struggled offensively this season, the downfield passing game has been limited by defenses. Newton's failure to check down or make the simple play has hurt this offense. 

Both Newton and Rivera acknowledged that point Sunday.

Newton, via the above-linked story from the Panthers official website:

Our offense is designed to throw the football downfield, but it's on me as the quarterback to manage this football game. Even though the shots weren't there downfield, I have to be accurate in throwing the ball underneath and throwing the ball to the checkdowns, and that didn't happen.

And Rivera, via the above-linked Observer article:

It's not just to advance the ball quickly. But it's to work the different levels, different options and different combinations that are there. They take this away, come down and get this. I think sometimes he holds it a little bit. He's waiting for that guy to clear, and sometimes it's too late.

Newton remains an elite physical and arm talent at the NFL level. He's a rare specimen athletically, but let's keep in mind that we're only approaching 20 career starts. Newton is still learning how to master the ins-and-outs of quarterback play.

And while defenses have devised plans to contain Newton this season, there's more than just game plans that are causing a poor start to the 2012 season. 

A combination of game plans, talented defenses and Newton pressing have resulted in his down start. When Newton starts to adjust, the results that came in 2011 will likely return.