Cam Newton as 'Superman' Good Enough to Keep Panthers NFC South ContendersSeptember 27, 2015
The Carolina Panthers have benefited from an easy schedule. Let’s get that out of the way early, because their opponents so far—the Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans and New Orleans Saints—have won a combined two games through three weeks.
But there was a time not long ago when it was assumed the difficulty level facing Carolina on any given week wouldn't matter. That was based on easily connected dots: An offense playing without top receiver Kelvin Benjamin for an entire season would struggle to move the ball, struggle in the red zone and overall just struggle regardless of the opponent.
Maybe those trying times are still on the horizon. For now, though, we’ve witnessed a quarterback take his talent-deficient offense—one with Ted Ginn as an actual starting receiver—to an undefeated record.
Cam Newton has lifted the Panthers onto his shoulders, or more accurately, his arm. As ESPN Stats & Information noted, during Sunday’s 27-22 win over the Saints, he drew closer to San Francisco 49ers legend Steve Young in a unique category:
Newton finished with 315 passing yards and two touchdowns, along with 33 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground. His 13-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter eventually stood as the game-winning score.
He was a multi-dimensional threat, as we’ve come to expect when the effective Newton is on the field, instead of the at-times-inaccurate quarterback who has sprayed balls in the past. In 2014 he finished with a career single-season-low 58.5 completion percentage, though that could partly be attributed to injuries.
Sunday he connected on 64.5 percent of his throws while averaging an incredible 10.2 yards per attempt. That latter number absolutely towers over his previous per-game averages this season.
|Cam Newton yards per attempt in 2015|
There will be weeks when Newton’s numbers are less than sparkling, largely because of his supporting cast. But he’s developing a welcomed habit of coming through with key plays, at key moments.
He did that in Week 3 with a perfectly placed 36-yard heave to wide receiver Corey Brown midway through the fourth quarter of an eventual win over the Texans. Much like his touchdown run against the Saints, those six points stood as the game-sealing insurance.
As a passer Newton is excelling while pushing the ball deep with accuracy. Prior to Week 3 he had completed 42.9 percent of his attempts that traveled 20-plus yards through the air, according to Pro Football Focus. Then during Sunday’s win he sent sailing throws to Ginn for 55 yards, and to tight end Greg Olsen for 52 yards.
The Panthers scored 27 points during a game when their running backs combined to average 3.4 yards per carry. And they collected 431 yards of offense during a game when one pass-catcher (Olsen) was on the other end for 42.5 percent of Newton’s passing yards.
A 26-year-old quarterback is more than the heart and soul of his offense. He’s the foundation keeping the entire unit together. And he’s looking damn good while doing it, as the team's highlights illustrate:
There will be challenges ahead for Newton in his quest to keep being the hero and to maintain a zero in the loss column. A trip to CenturyLink Field with the Seattle Seahawks waiting is always less than enjoyable, and that’s waiting in Week 6 right after a bye. And games against the Green Bay Packers and suddenly competent Indianapolis Colts loom in the not-so distant future, too.
But right now the Panthers are 3-0 for the first time since 2003. That season ended with a Super Bowl appearance. In 2015, the Panthers will go as far as Newton’s arms and legs allow.