Good morning Panther faithful and welcome to the Monday Morning Optimist!
When do we know a player has 'arrived'? I wonder if it's something we even need to ask, perhaps like most things in life when it happens we wont even realize it. For fans of the Carolina Panthers they're likely asking this question this morning in regards to Cam Newton. I'm not ready to answer the question 'Has he arrived?' so all I can do is talk about what I'm seeing.
In short: it shouldn't be this easy. Newton should not be having this easy of a transition to the NFL. Sure, he threw three interceptions yesterday but that's to be expected as a rookie. What Newton has done now twice is step up and finish the game with an excellent completion percentage and done absolutely everything he can to win the game. Last week naysayers wanted to hang Newton's performance on a bad Arizona defense, yet against Washington QB Rex Grossman didn't have nearly the success Newton did. Surely he should have been equally good against such a poor defense, right?
What Newton is doing is unheard of, and his stat line on the year proves it: 854 yards, 62.7% completion, 3 TD and even with 4 INT he still has an unheard of 89.1 QB rating as a rookie. Newton is 2nd in the NFL in passing yards, only behind Tom Brady and he's hanging with the NFL elite. Fans, I'm excited, you should be too.
More after the jump
If there's one area I'm not quite so excited about it's the play calling. When it comes to his handling of Newton I feel like Rob Chudzinski has done an absolute astounding job, but I'm less impressed with the running game (or lack thereof). Yesterday we didn't see the Packers stack the box the way Arizona did, so there was less of an impetus on passing the ball, yet Chud still called 46 pass plays to just 11 to the running backs. I don't think it's a vote of no confidence in Williams and Stewart, but rather a lack of faith in the offensive line. I don't completely blame the coaching staff for this lack of faith, but if the Panthers can start controlling the ball and clock a little better it will make a world of difference.
Cam Newton- Extremely Optimistic What more can be said about the Panthers' young QB? He's doing amazing things on the field with his arms, and with his legs. The interceptions were costly, sure... but it's part and parcel of being a rookie QB.
Jonathan Stewart- Extremely Optimistic I had this one straddling between extremely and somewhat because of the lack of running yards, but in the end I can't look past a 100 yard receiving game from a running back. I really had no clue that Stewart could be that kind of receiver out of the backfield.
Charles Johnson- Extremely Optimistic Right now it seems CJ is earning every bit of his money. Another sack this week coupled with an excellent run stop on third down late in the game is reason to happy with his performance.
Steve Smith- Somewhat Optimistic It seems odd to not give Smitty the highest distinction for having a 156 yard receiving day, but it was a mixed bad from Smith. His hands weren't as reliable as we've seen in the past and his fumble was inexcusable. That being said, this bond that Cam and Smith have already formed has the opportunity to be very special for years to come.
Jordan Pugh- Extremely Pessimistic Pugh is failing as a nickel back and that needs to change. I know the coaches love him, but it's just not translating on game day.
Sherrod Martin- Extremely Pessimistic An uncharacteristically bad day from the Panthers' safety. He was out of position a lot of Sunday and was one of the primary reasons for the Jennings TD.
Run Defense- Extremely Pessimistic The interior defense is still a major problem for the Carolina Panthers. They allowed Starks to almost average 10 yards per carry yesterday, and while I know the big gain was a part of that stat it's still unacceptable.
Red Zone Offense- Somewhat Pessimistic This is an area I'm sure they'll work out in time, but it's so frustrating to see these long, well executed drives end in 3 pts. In the end it's not too terrible, but they will need to operate better in the short field.
I'm still amazed at Cam Newton. For me this was never going to be a 12-4 season, so I'm not upset with the loss, but I think those days could be right around the corner for the Panthers. The one thing that grabs me is that even in defeat it's fun to watch the Panthers again. If they can tighten up a few key areas they wont be cellar dwellers for long.