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What happened to Cam Newton?

Cam Newton struggles

Cam Newton has not been the same player he was back in 2015 when he was the NFL MVP. The Panthers’ quarterback had a disappointing season last year following the MVP and Super Bowl appearance and looks even worse this season. What is going on with Cam?

Newton is coming back from shoulder surgery and didn’t have much time to get back in shape before the season, so that may have something to do with his slow start this year. Could it be that he does not have enough support around him? Maybe his MVP season was just a fluke?

Newton is now 28 years old and in his seventh season, so it is not like he is an inexperienced quarterback that still needs to develop. This is Newton’s prime. Is this as good as he will be?

Let’s take a look inside Newton’s numbers and the weapons he has had around him.

Newton’s numbers

Below is a chart with Newton’s stats from his first six seasons in the NFL. I left off his numbers this year since there have only been three games played.

[su_table]

Comppass ydspass TDINTrush ydsrush TD
201652.93,50919143595
2015 (MVP)59.83,837351063610
201458.53,12718125395
201361.73,37924135856
201257.73,86919127418
201160.04,051211770614

[/su_table]

As you study Newton’s numbers, you will notice a few things. The first thing that jumps out to me is his completion percentage. His most accurate season was just 61.7 percent. Nineteen starting quarterbacks topped that number last season, and 10 of them finished above 65 percent. Newton’s 52.9 completion percentage last year ranked 30th. Completing just over 50 percent of your passes is not good.

Cam Newton struggles
We saw a lot of dabs during Newton’s MVP season. (Photo by USATSI)

Another thing you will notice is that he has only topped 4,000 passing yards once. Newton accomplished that when he threw 4,051 in his rookie season. Newton has ranged from 3,100-3,800 ever since.

Last year, 13 quarterbacks topped 4,000 yards. In the season before that there were 12. The NFL is a passing league now and the quarterback play is showing it.

One thing I have always liked about Newton is that he doesn’t throw interceptions. He threw a career-high 17 in his rookie season, but has not thrown more than 14 since.

Let’s take a look at that MVP season. It is definitely Newton’s best season of his career. For starters, he had a career-high in touchdown passes and a career-low in interceptions. He had the Panthers sitting at 15-1 and took them to the Super Bowl where they lost to the Denver Broncos.

So far this season, Newton has completed 61 percent of his passes for 566 yards and has also thrown two touchdowns and four interceptions. Newton also has 46 yards on the ground and another score.

The bottom line is Newton’s numbers have never been fantastic. Could Newton possibly have been carried by his team all this time?

The supporting cast

Newton has definitely had talent all around him throughout his career. Let’s start by looking at his running game.

The Panthers’ rushing attack has always been one of the best in the league during Newton’s career. Since 2011 when he entered the NFL, Carolina has ranked third, ninth, 11th, seventh, second and 10th in total rushing yards.

Newton of course has been one of the main contributors to the team’s rushing yards. He has also had reliable running backs like DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to help take pressure off the passing game.

Cam Newton struggles
Newton has always been surrounded by talented teammates like Luke Kuechly. (Photo by David Allio/Icon Sportswire)

Now let’s take a look at Newton’s receivers. He has had guys like Steve Smith, Greg Olson, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn, Jericho Cotchery and Kelvin Benjamin. It is definitely not the most talented bunch. Yes Smith, Olson and Benjamin are big playmakers, but he hasn’t had the opportunity for all of them to be together at once in their primes.

During Newton’s MVP season, his top targets were Olson, Ginn, Cotchery and Devin Funchess. Olson was the only one of those guys to have more than 50 catches (77 to be exact). However, the Panthers ranked 27th in pass attempts that season, so that would explain why the receivers had such few catches.

Carolina’s offensive line has been pretty consistent through Newton’s time with the team. They have always ranked around the middle in terms of sacks and quarterback hits. Last season was probably the worst Newton’s line has been as they ranked 19th in sacks allowed and 18th in quarterback hits. That may have played a factor into why last season was also Newton’s worst season. The best it has been was during his MVP season when they ranked 11th in sacks allowed and third in quarterback hits.

Lastly, let’s look at Newton’s defenses. Carolina has almost always had a solid defense to back up Newton and get him and the offense back on the field quickly. In four of Newton’s first six seasons, they have ranked in the top 10 in total yards allowed. The two times they didn’t were Newton’s rookie season when they ranked 28th and lost 10 games and the other time was when they ranked 21st last season and lost 10 again. The team has definitely been at its best when the defense is top notch.

This tends to get overlooked, but a system and coaches can also make the difference with a quarterback’s development. Quarterbacks have a more difficult time when they have had multiple coaches and playbooks to work with.

In Carolina, Newton has had Ron Rivera as his head coach his whole career. He has had Mike Shula as his quarterback coach for his first two years and his offensive coordinator for the rest. Ken Dorsey took over as his quarterback coach once Shula got promoted and Rob Chudzinski was his offensive coordinator in his first two seasons. Not much has changed for Newton in terms of coaching.

What is Cam’s problem?

Cam might not have a problem per se. He has been mostly the same throughout his career. The biggest things that have hurt him are the fact he was the first overall pick and the fact he won MVP.

Cam Newton struggles
Newton’s numbers have been about the same his whole career. (Photo by Jeremy Brevard-US Presswire)

Expectations for Newton to perform have been sky high. If you take away his MVP season, Newton is mostly an average quarterback. He can get the job done as long as he has a great supporting cast around him. He can’t really put the team on his back like other star quarterbacks in the league. He needs that running game, offensive line and defense to carry him.

Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Kirk Cousins are all quarterbacks that have lead a team to the postseason without a top 10 defense or running game. Now of course Stafford, Cousins and Luck haven’t played in a Super Bowl and Rodgers has only won one. To win the big one you need that supporting cast. Newton just can’t get it done by himself.

That is okay too. There are many great quarterbacks in this league. Newton certainly isn’t one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL. He’s not my first choice, or even my tenth choice, but he’s definitely a starting quarterback. Newton is not the only good quarterback that needs his team to carry him.

As mentioned earlier, Newton is also recovering from injuries. Newton only threw two passes all preseason and focussed on resting his shoulder. He also twisted his ankle in their game against the Bills. Newton’s health is worth keeping an eye on.

 

Featured image by Jeff Siner/The Charlotte Observer

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