I'm sorry that Cam Newton wasn't as bad as people thought he would be, I'm sorry the narrative wasn't simple, I'm sorry you won't have years of ‘Biggest Busts' slideshows to populate with Cam's visage, I'm sorry you'll need to try and watch a small market team, and I'm sorry... but you're going to need to dig deeper.
As a writer there are few things more important than holding your tongue if you haven't done the adequate research needed to cover a topic, and yet this seems par for the course when an outlet tries to characterize Cam Newton's 2011 season as ‘overrated'. Like a hidden health score at a restaurant, or a carefully crafted misleading advertisement, it's fairly easy to see through a façade in the first paragraph-- as it stands I've read far too many pieces trying to sell this idea of ‘Newton as fluke', and they all share one common thread: a patent lack of knowledge.
Such is the problem when you try to weave a story from box-scores and statistics. It's an issue that not only plagues the ‘anti' Newton pieces, but also the rampantly positive ones that make no acknowledgement that he has work to be done. Advanced statistics are great, but only when they're used to support what you see on film, not in substitution of it.
There are common through-lines that rear their ugly head in most ‘Cam is ___' articles, both negative and positive. Today I'm looking at the most prevalent ones, and challenging them from the perspective of someone who has watched every snap, and written about him since he arrived in Carolina.
More after the jump
"Cam's rushing TD record was a fluke"
I'm glad we worked that one out, way to go out on a limb! By nature, when someone breaks a record chances are they're not going to break their own mark again. I say this not as a condemnation of Cam's abilities, but rather an understanding that the Panthers' offense is becoming more diverse. Last season Rob Chudzinski game-planned to play to Newton's strengths, and his ability is a short-yardage runner was a known quantity. It didn't make a lot of sense for the coaching staff to challenge Cam to throw in short situations, rather than use his ability as a runner for a more reliable scoring option; it worked at Auburn, it worked in the NFL.
As the season progressed we saw Jonathan Stewart given more and more short-yardage carries, and Newton's total will be further degraded by the addition of Mike Tolbert who will likely get opportunities in the red-zone. There will be a definite move further and further away from Cam running as often, because that's just good team management. The smartest people to work with Michael Vick were those who had him run less, and throw more-the same will be the case for the Panthers.
"Running QBs get figured out quickly in the NFL"
There's no single statement that makes blood shoot out of my orifices faster than reading pieces that refer to Cam Newton as a ‘running QB'. That statement alone should be a bellwether than the writer didn't watch him play.
"Well golly gee, he ran 126 times Mr. Dator, obviously he's a running QB!"
This number will be drastically cut in 2012, and I'd be surprised if he amassed more than eighty carries in his second year. As dynamic as Newton's running was in 2011, particularly in designed situations, it was also a product of a lack of awareness at times. There were numerous occasions on replay where you saw Cam settle for a 5 yard gain on the ground when it looked like a play was breaking down, but in reality he completely missed a wide open TE for a twenty yard gain. It's a testament to his athletic ability that he could pick up those five yards, but situational awareness is something that takes young quarterbacks time.
In limited time during the mini-camp the Panthers put Cam though drills designed to test his arm in times of duress, rather than escaping out the back door. When Newton uses his running ability as an absolute last resort we'll see him take the final step to becoming the most dynamic QB in the NFL, as it stands he's still willing to leave the pocket a little too soon. It's the same thing we saw from Ben Roethlisberger his rookie year, when he ran 56 times (a mark he's never matched again). Like Roethlisberger it's likely Cam will take that next step where he's more willing to stand in the pocket and look at every single read before leaving, rather than taking off before every option is examined.
"Cam Newton will have a sophomore slump in 2012"
It's a fairly shrewd rhetorical technique to paint a picture with the broadest brush possible, and then fawn over the tree that looks good, even if the rest looks like a mess. So too the term ‘sophomore slump' has come to mean any statistic that takes a dip in any area without any concern for context. Sadly, Newton has set the bar so high that's it's almost assured he'll miss at least one of his record setting marks.
Most likely this will be the 4,000 yard passing mark, which also happens to be the most scrutinized for a QB. Unfortunately, 4k seems to be the imaginary mark where we tend to value QBs, and are willing to call them ‘elite', but the diversification of the offense will likely lead to less passing yards for Cam, but greater efficiency.
My expectation is that he'll finish 2012 with fewer yards, but a better completion percentage, and less interceptions. Because of the yardage I expect people to throw around the term ‘sophomore slump', but it's likely the Panthers will have a better record because of it.
"Newton was elite, but he didn't help his team win"
Finally we reach the stupidest and least informed line I've seen some variation of used by Newton's detractors. Here's the real, no-nonsense truth: Without Cam Newton the 2011 Carolina Panthers finish the season 0-16.
The only thing that helped the 2010 team limp to two wins was a defense that managed to keep games close enough for the pathetically anemic offense to stay in the game; so too, the Panthers Newton-led offense managed to eek out six wins in spite of an atrocious defense. Wracked by injury and bad defensive line play there is absolutely no way you can essentially transpose the 2010 offense, pair them with the 2011 defense, and have a team that would win a single football game last season.
Part of the difference was the coaching, but Newton allowed that to be possible. If you think Tim Tebow, Alex Smith, or Andy Dalton are elite QBs, then that's your prerogative. I'm not going to argue wins v. stats, but it is foolish, uninformed, stupid, and lacking intellect to contest that the Panthers didn't win because of Cam Newton.
Newton was it... he was everything. That's not denigrating the rest of the Panthers, but Steve Smith can't throw to himself, and Double Trouble can't run through a stacked box every down. Newton was the difference, he was a player who may have only added four wins on Wikipedia, but if you watched the 2010 Panthers v. 2011 Panthers then you know what an impact he had.
Thinking about writing an article denigrating Cam Newton's 2011 season? Have at it. I'm waiting for a well thought out and intelligent counter-point that rivals what I saw on film last year; sadly I haven't seen a single such example. Don't be lazy, be sure to scrutinize your own work, drop the rhetoric and chasing of page hits unless you prefer to be a tabloid.
There's a reason so many well respected analysts and journalists were floored by Newton's rookie year, they watch the film, and have watched the film for years. Nobody has seen the numbers Cam put up, but moreover nobody has seen the way he carried himself, and achieved this goal. He's still unpolished, and there's work to be done, but please in discussing him, drop the rhetoric and hit-mongering.
Addendum (written at 7:10PM)
It was brought to my attention by someone who took exception to this piece that my assertion that Jonathan Stewart got more goal-line carries towards the end of the season was incorrect, something that should not have made it past editing. At the time of the original post I wrote Stewart, but upon fact-checking I intended to change it to say 'running backs'. However, at the time of the article's posting it was incorrect, and I'm not one to change something after the fact
In the interest of truly being transparent, here are how the runs inside the 10 yard line (which I define as 'goal-line 'were weighted in the first eight games, vs. the second.
- 21 total goal-line attempts
Newton: 15 attempts
Stewart: 6 attempts
- Total percentage of goal-line carries by Newton: 71.4%
- 14 total goal-line attempts
Newton: 6 attempts
Williams: 5 attempts
Stewart: 2 attempts
Brockel: 1 attempt
- Total percentage of goal-line carries by Newton: 42.8%
So yes, the Panthers were dropping Cam's attempts as the season went on. Granted, I incorrectly said 'Stewart' rather than 'RBs' but the numbers are clear.