The narrative written earlier this season was Newton had improved from the pocket while everything around him fell to pieces. The dirty little secret is Newton falls prey to poor throwing mechanics and simply misses throws when they are available.
This became readily apparent in Newton's performance during NFL Network's Thursday Night Football. The Panthers lost 28-10 at home to the New Orleans Saints and are now 3-5-1 overall. It was the worst passing performance of Newton's four-year career, as The Charlotte Observer's Joe Person noted:
There have been multiple built-in excuses for Newton's recent underwhelming performances:
- The offensive line is in shambles.
- Carolina lacks playmakers at the skill positions.
- The running backs are fragile.
- He's pressing.
Each of these issues exist within the Panthers offense, but Newton has still failed to elevate the play of those around him.
"My job is to put my team in the best situation to win the football game and when that doesn't happen, the first person you look to on the offensive side is the quarterback," Newton said after the game, per the team's website. "I didn't get that job done.
"I need to play better. I feel like if I do that, we're moving in the right direction."
To reach elite quarterback status instead of simply being a supremely talented signal-caller, the man behind center needs to be reliable. He needs to be consistent. He must prove he can make plays when everything else is breaking down around him.
Instead of trending toward this status, Newton has been a reflection of the mediocrity which surrounds him. As Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson tweeted, Newton needs to step up when his team needs him:
Since Carolina's 37-37 tie in Week 6 against the Cincinnati Bengals, Newton's play has been on a downward trajectory.
Prior to Thursday's content, Newton's completion percentage was one of the league's worst over the past month, according to STATS:
The above statistic will only dip further after Newton's most recent effort.
However, the biggest concern isn't the fact that Carolina's quarterback just managed his worst passing performance as a professional. Newton's struggles with inaccuracy has to be at the forefront of the Panthers' concerns.
In each of the last four contests, the quarterback's completion percentage decreased.
|Cam Newton's production during Panthers' winless streak|
Newton's issues stem from poor technique and inconsistent footwork. The quarterback's accuracy and overall touch suffers from what ESPN's Matt Williamson concluded is a problem with his mechanics:
When a quarterback is as big, strong and athletic and possesses a cannon for an arm, sometimes that player's attention to detail is lacking. Newton's inability to make simple throws due to poor mechanics cost the team a pair of touchdown passes to rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
Newton targeted Benjamin twice on in-breaking routes in the red zone.
With the Panthers trailing 14-0 at the start of the third quarter, Newton led his team on its best drive of the evening. Carolina drove the ball 71 yards to the Saints' 10-yard line. On 2nd-and-10, Benjamin was open over the middle, and Newton rocketed a pass toward his favorite target.
Benjamin dropped the ball.
While it will be listed as a drop, Newton didn't help his receiver at all on this particular throw. It was slightly behind the 6'5", 240-pound target. And the quarterback didn't take anything off of the pass to make it easier for his receiver to adjust to the football.
Early in the fourth quarter with the Saints leading 21-7, Benjamin ran a slant route and was once again open in the end zone. Instead of firing the ball in front of his receiver, Newton didn't step into the throw, and the pass sailed well over the head of the massive target.
There were other instances throughout the Saints game where Newton changed his arm angle or did not step towards his intended target, and these flaws cost him easy completions.
These are the types of throws a former No. 1 overall pick and Pro Bowl quarterback should be able to make with consistency. Newton hasn't been able to make that leap yet.
SI.com's Aaron Nagler mentioned the inconsistency that Newton has displayed this season:
Instead of seeing Newton develop into one of the game's best, Football Outsider's Scott Kacsmar compared him to another uber-talented gunslinger who has yet to progress to elite status:
Where the Auburn product continues to excel is running the football. Newton places tremendous stress on a defense when he is effectively serving as a dual-threat quarterback.
Since the Bengals contest, Newton has been far more dangerous running out of the pocket than staying in it. The quarterback leads Carolina with 215 rushing yards over the past four weeks.
The problem is that Newton isn't a true dual-threat at the moment. He's falls more along the lines of a single-wing or option quarterback who can't consistently threaten opposing defenses in the passing game.
Until Newton rectifies his mistakes and puts a higher emphasis on the details of playing the quarterback position, it doesn't matter whom the Panthers place around him. For Carolina to build something successful over the long haul, Newton must concentrate on the little things that make quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Thursday's opponent, Drew Brees, so successful.
Only then will Newton reach his true potential.
Brent Sobleski covers the NFC South for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter.