Cam Newton has created waves of headlines, been the subject of debates and has been praised and ridiculed by critics. All of this has happened and he hasn't gotten to the halfway point of his rookie season. After watching their last game against the Packers, I began to think. Then I started to drink. Then I started thinking and drinking. As most of you know that can be a lethal combination. Let's begin with Cam's stat line after Week 2. He has sported numbers of: 52/83 854 yards 3 TDs, 4 INTs along with 71 rushing yards and 2 RuTDs. His QB rating is 89.1 (this is the traditional QB rating not that groovy Total QBR the folks at ESPN like to use). After the jump, I will discuss the impact Cam will bring to the team, its players and what the future holds for young, talented quarterback.
I feel like this season is a reversal of last year in terms of offense. I mean that in a good way and in a bad way. What was going well for us last year hasn't translated into success this year. What was hurting us last year has become our bread and butter and perhaps a saving grace. I'm talking about the rushing game and the passing game respectively. Injuries, injuries and lack of production (talking to you Bernadeau) have caused Double Trouble to virtually not exist. In two games, D-Will has rushed for 43 yards and Stewart has rushed for 31. I will give Stewart his due however, he did account for 100 receiving yards this past Sunday. This being said, the burden has been put on Cam's shoulders to lead the offense and score. After what I've seen the past two weeks I am very impressed of what he has accomplished. So...we are seeing a more aggressive offense that is relying more on the pass than the run. However, I don't think that will be a problem because....
Steve Smith is back!! Actually, he never left the building but has been victimized by poor quarterback play and a lack of targets. In two games, he leads the team in receiving yards, receptions and TDs. At this rate, he will have 112 receptions, a staggering 2672 receiving yards and 16 TDs. Yes, those numbers are inflated but that's the kind of dynamic Newton brings to this offense. I know what you're thinking, "They are going to double/triple cover Smitty and his production will go down!" As in the words of Lee Corso, "not so fast my friend". I don't see that happening and here is why. Chud is doing his thing with the tight ends and getting them into the game. They aren't primarily used as a check down receiver like in year's past. Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey have been making big plays and grabbing some big yards. Plus, they are getting targeted on the sidelines and not in the middle of the field. Ok, raise your hands if you think Brandon LaFell should be starting of Legedu Naanee. I'm on the LaFell wagon. In two games, he is the only wide receiver to provide a perfect complement to Smith. Additionally, he has the only other receiving touchdown . In fairness, Naanee should have his own TD grab, because after reviewing the game I think Cam overthrew him in the end zone (once again, drinking and thinking can be hazardous to one's health...and judgement at times). Opposing defenses cannot afford to focus their attention on Smith as the only threat. Take the two tight end (Shockey and Olsen), single back (Stewart preferrably) with two WRs (Smith and LaFell). That makes five viable targets for Cam to throw to and if its a short yardage situation, I will give the Panthers favorable odds any day of the week against any defense. The achilles heel here is the failure to provide a good, unpredictable balance between the running game and passing game. The offensive line needs to hunker down and get dirty in the trenches. So that covers in the game, but what about off the field?
If Jimmy Clausen is still on the roster next year, I will wear his jersey during the season opener. The need for a game changing quarterback became apparent prior to day one of the draft (middle of the season really), it was rumored Cam would be named the starter during the preseason and finally, Cam locked up the starter spot with his debut against Arizona. Clausen* isn't even a backup since that honor has gone to Derek Anderson. So, GM Marty Hurney has to figure out what do with him. Carolina will not let Clausen walk. I really don't see that happening. A more logical guess would be to weigh his trade value during or after the season, especially to teams who are in need of backups or those really brave ones who think they can coach Clausen to be a legit starter in the NFL. Another issue that will have the front office scouts and personnel working overtime is how to best protect their investment in the backfield. Newton was signed significantly less than his first overall pick counterparts thanks to the rookie wage scale. However, I see him earning a huge contract in two to three years assuming he keeps playing at a high level. The Panthers need to make sure he is protected. Jordan Gross is getting up in years and Jeff Otah seems to have a problem remaining healthy. There are some good prospects available in next year's draft that can anchor a line so it will be interesting to see what happens. However, there is the potential for the curveball. A less likely scenario, would have the Panthers taking a WR early or a defensive tackle. At this time, I am betting the O-line gets worked on first. Too much of the franchise's success is riding on it.
Remember, last year and the year before and the one before that...ok, the entire John Fox/Jeff Davidson/Dan Henning era? Conservative, run, conservative, run...yawn. That was the Panthers' offense. Hell, most of us were able to call the plays from our living rooms or bar stool. A typical Carolina series would go as follows: 1st down-Run; 2nd down-pass; 3rd down-run (it didn't matter how many yards it was either) and 4th down-punt. In two games this year, it has been exciting to watch the Panthers and Cam Newton is the reason. Sunday afternoon, I saw a Dallas fan who was rooting for Cam. I noticed that more people than usual were paying attention when the Panthers were on the field. That is something I have not seen too much of in the five plus years of living in the mid Atlantic region of the east coast. Also, I have seen a noticeable change in atmosphere here at CSR. Last year, it was constant complaining and berating the Panthers' gameplay or certain players. "Monday Morning Optimist" has been a better read the past couple of weeks despite two losses. All of this can be attributed to the "Newton Effect". He is giving the fans and the Carolinas a sense of hope and optimism that hasn't been in the air since 2007 before Jake Delhomme lost his groove and the Panthers unceremoniously fell apart. Like most of you, I look forward to seeing the Panthers play because I want to see A) what Cam will do for an encore, B) if the running game can get back on track and C) see how many points they will put up. So far the Panthers have averaged 22 PPG in two defeats. They only scored over 20 points (23) in just one of their losses last year! Oh and here is the kicker. Other than that game against Cleveland, the only other time Carolina put up at least 20 points (once again 23) was their victory over the San Francisco 49ers! We all knew the offense was bad last year, but my goodness compared to this season it was absolutely atrocious.
This season has already been a mixture of highs and lows for Newton, the Panthers and us the fans. Newton will eventually struggle during a game and its to be expected. He is still learning. However, compared to the guy he is replacing, he is leaps and bounds ahead of him. They will get their wins. They probably won't win enough to make the playoffs this year but this team has a really bright future ahead of them. They will not be like the Detroit Lions or Buffalo Bills who stay stuck in the basement before finally crawling out. It's not unreasonable to think wild card next year and division title the year after that. This is a team on the rise and could be dangerous as early as late in the year. The NFC South had better be ready because the sun is about to rise on a new regime and it is being led by a guy named Cam.
*NOTE: Clausen in his rookie year passed for 1558 yards 3 TD/9 INT. Newton's passing yards is almost 55% of Clausen's totals from last year. Granted the interceptions will be up but Newton will throw more touchdowns...way more.