|Cam Newton isn't being helped by Carolina's more pass-heavy offense. (US Presswire)|
It is one of the biggest questions in the NFL now: What's wrong with Carolina's
The answer, in some ways, is complicated. The answer, in some ways, isn't. Let me explain:
The Perfectionist in a Flawed Game Factor: Inside the Panthers locker room, players describe Newton as a hardcore perfectionist. He is complimented for his study habits and work ethic. "He pushes himself harder than almost any player I've ever been around," said one Carolina player.
Players explain that a perfectionist nature can also be an impediment. Since football is an imperfect game played by imperfect people, there is never going to be perfection. Players say Newton has yet to decipher this, and when things go bad, Newton tends to get down on himself and pout, both before the cameras and around the team complex. He tends to isolate himself, which is something a quarterback simply cannot do.
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I'm told over the past few weeks that coach Ron Rivera, teammates and others have spoken to Newton privately on his demeanor, specifically on how not to take losses so hard publicly.
"He's not handling losing very well but that's good, you don't want him to," said former NFL quarterback great Warren Moon, an adviser to Newton. "He's not blaming others necessarily. He just needs to be positive.
"This is the day and age we live in. You can't show anything. You can't show weakness. Nothing. He's got to understand that."
The Wrong Offense Factor: Moon and others say the Panthers, inexplicably, have gone away from the offense that made Newton so successful last season. The Panthers are using more of the type of offense that Newton used at Auburn instead of a more pro-style offense Carolina used last year. The Panthers are also passing more out of this offense, which is more difficult to do.
"When you try to pass out of that offense, it's harder, because the footwork is harder," Moon said. "You can see he is struggling with fundamentals, especially the footwork, and that can lead to some errant throws, but that offense isn't the best for him. They need to go back to more what they did last year."
And that includes running the ball more. Journalist Bill Voth, who covers the Panthers, came up with some interesting statistics. In Carolina's 22 games with Rob Chudzinski as offensive coordinator, the Panthers are averaging 23 runs to 35 passes in 15 losses, while averaging 35 runs and 23 passes in seven wins. The Panthers are 6-1 when they run the ball more.
Pretty simple. Run the ball more. But the Panthers aren't and this puts more pressure on Newton, who is running a pro passing game out of a college system.
The Great Expectations factor: There is a belief that the pressure to build off of his season last year is having an effect on Newton. There's something else that may be at play.
"There are a lot of people out there," said Moon, "that want to say, 'I told you so. I told you this would happen. I told you he'd fall apart.' Some people want him to screw up."
Couldn't agree more, and I think Newton knows this as well. It's possible that fact has become rather weighty.
"He's a very talented player," Moon said. "He'll end up as one of the best we've seen. What was Peyton Manning's record his first 22 games? Troy Aikman was 1-15 as a rookie. John Elway wasn't an instant success." So what's wrong with Newton? It's complicated, simple but complicated.
It's also fixable.
2. A source close to Charles Woodson, who is out for up to six weeks with a broken collarbone: "He's aiming for three or four weeks, and one thing I've learned is don't ever doubt Charles." No, don't. Ever.
3. Maurice Jones-Drew has a foot injury that could keep him out this week or much longer. This is why he held out. This is why many players hold out, because their careers are a knee or a foot or a back or a concussion away from ending. Yes, this is why they hold out, and this is why they're right.
4. Jones-Drew may have a Lisfranc injury. To be blunt, there is now an epidemic of these injuries. That's the only way to describe it. Read this.
5. Tom Brady says fans have become spoiled by New England's success. He is 1,000 percent correct. He could not be more correct. It's not just some of the spoiled Patriots fans. It's spoiled overall media and spoiled overall NFL. There's Brady, in particular, with a constantly rotating lineup -- constantly rotating backfield, constantly rotating receiving group -- still having the Patriots in the Super Bowl hunt every year. Just this past week, the Patriots posted their 16th consecutive game with 350 yards or more of total net yards, matching the longest streak ever (the Rams in 1999 and 2000). Year in, year out the Patriots are in the thick of it and the whiners whine. Patriots fans: Root for the Lions. See how that goes. Or the Browns. Or the Raiders. Seen Carson Palmer lately? Goodness.
6a. Champ of the week: Paul Tagliabue. Will do a fair job reviewing appeals of the Saints players.
6b. Chump of the week: The computer that put together the lame slate of games this past week.
6c. Tweet of the week: Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall on Ndamukong Suh's hard hit on Jay Cutler: "A Suh. What u did to Jay wasn't cool. Great players don't have to do that." Hit was totally legal, Brandon.
7. Don't be surprised if the superb acting job by the Steelers' Emmanuel Sanders, who was clearly faking an injury to save a timeout in Pittsburgh's game against Cincinnati on Sunday night, leads to at least a phone call from the league to the Steelers. The NFL has warned teams repeatedly about faking injuries to save timeouts.
9. Some in the league believe the reason for Matthew Stafford's almost at times shocking level of inaccuracy is some sort of undisclosed injury he's hiding. It's more likely we all overrated Stafford in the first place.
10. Hopefully, we're done forever questioning Cutler's toughness. His decision-making? Question away. His toughness? Never again.