Few quarterbacks have received a combination of praise and criticism like the Panthers’ 2011 first-overall pick. Cam Newton took the NFL by storm in his debut season, setting a soon-to-be-broken rookie passing record and establishing a new standard for mobile quarterbacks. It hasn’t been all sunshine and roses, though, as Newton has struggled with consistency and the all-important “Win” column (13-19 win-loss in two seasons).
The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner also caught flak for responding poorly to adversity, earning the single-greatest nickname in quarterback history — Mr. Mopey Head — from head coach Ron Rivera (coming this fall, Jonathan Stewart—aka Mr. Ankles of a Calcium-Deprived Infant), leading some to question his mental toughness and willingness to lead a team.
While Newton has yet to prove that he can consistently win, no one questions his physical ability to be an elite NFL quarterback. Still, consistency comes up all too often when discussing Newton, but what do the stats say?
I divided the Panther signal caller’s career into quarters to evaluate his performance in four eight-game segments. Passing efforts over 300/under 200 yards are noted to give a better idea of consistency, as well as ground games over 50/under 25 yards. The average opposing defensive ranking puts competition into perspective, displaying how Newton fared against stronger and weaker defenses.
Newton’s 2011 first/second half numbers give a strong indication of why the QB has been chided for failing to produce on a week-to-week basis. The drop-off in passing yards between the beginning and latter half of the season is truly telling, especially when factoring in win/loss. The Panthers’ 2011 second half improvement came with a nearly 93-yard passing decline from Newton, indicative of both a balanced attack and not playing from behind as frequently. While this can appear to point to up-and-down games, the consistency metric (games over-under 300/200) says otherwise.
Sub-200 yard games for NFL quarterbacks are highly discouraged but not unheard of, and only two-such games for a rookie is far from a red flag. Meanwhile, the fact that Newton was able to set a rookie passing record despite only throwing for 300+ yards on three occasions speaks to his dependability.
Fast forward to 2012. Talking heads relished in the opportunity to throw Newton under the bus during the season’s first half, when the QB threw for more picks than scores. As he has throughout two professional seasons, Newton’s rushing numbers stayed relatively stable, but a sputtering 2-6 start had the NFL world wondering if his 2011 ROY performance was a façade.
In the ladder half of 2012, Newton put on a Michael Vick-esque redemption act, leading a surging Carolina team to a respectable 5-3 record. He averaged the highest rushing YPG of any eight-game period and posted a 245.9-yard passing average, but the most intriguing column is, yet again, the consistency metric. Newton surpassed 300 yards through the air just once and only failed to hit the 200-yard mark a single time, all while maintaining by far the best TD/INT ratio (13:4) of any half-season in his young career. He never reached the lofty 299 YPG passing mark he set early in 2011, but stable numbers in every other column show that he achieved an effective balance for a Panthers club that finished 5-1 down the stretch.
One statistical area that stands out for its ambiguous message is opposing defensive ranking; Newton’s most successful eight-game period came against stronger defensive teams than his underwhelming opening half to 2012. Inconclusive results from this statistic are more than likely a good sign, as there is no indication that great games only come against weak opponents (exception: 2011 vs. Tampa Bay, when he personally delivered former head coach Raheem Morris’s walking papers).
Newton’s well-rounded and consistent finish to 2012 bodes well for his 2013 outlook, as the third-year QB reaches a critical juncture as a professional. Fantasy football owners will keep their gaze firmly planted on yards and touchdowns, but the column on the far right will determine how the Panthers’ franchise player is judged from here on out.