Every season it seems that some new style of quarterback comes into the league and everyone falls in love with said player ans style. And it seems that every follow up season to that gets filed under “sophomore slump.” I think that’s the perfect phrase to sum up the 2012 season for Cam Newton and Ron Rivera in Carolina.
Being in a tough division, no one really expected the Panthers to make much noise, but not many expected them to struggle as much as they did either. If you simply go by the record, they improved by a game. But this team doesn’t have the feel of a team on the rise or even one that improved over 2011. We’ll take a look at why now.
My biggest peeve about the Carolina offense is that they have sunk nearly $81 million into their stud running back tandem of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, yet they aren’t a “running” football team. Cam Newton had more rushing yards than either guy last season and both of them combined only had 266 attempts all season. That is unacceptable and not using the personnel you have to your full disposal.
Meanwhile, the coaching staff finds it worthwhile to let Newton drop back over 600 times and almost 40 times per game. With the way he threw the ball in 2011, I can see the urge to want to do that. But with that much money and talent put into the running game, the quarterback shouldn’t be leading the team in rushing.
With Newton’s inconsistent sophomore season that saw him make poor decisions, poor throws and excessive celebrations while his team is getting dominated, drawing the ire of local media, the offense struggled mightily much more than they succeeded. Finishing 18th in the league in points scored didn’t take much pressure off of the mediocre defense.
When you look at the overall yards allowed by this unit in 2012, you’d think they were pretty solid. They were in the top ten for yards allowed, but were 18th overall in points allowed. The problem with this side of the ball all season was allowing the big play on defense.
But it wasn’t all bad. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy had solid year’s off the edge, both finishing with double digit sacks. Outside of them two, the rest of the team generated only 15 sacks and even less quarterback pressure consistently. This was the reason guys like rookie Luke Kuechly had big years up the middle.
Kuechly led the team in tackles as a rookie with 103 en route to being named the NFC defensive rookie of the week and the month at one time this season. He was also named to the NFL all rookie team, proving it wasn’t a reach to take him in the top ten of the 2012 draft. This unit is young, but they got some key pieces in place.
I guess it would be kind of harsh to say that the team got worse in 2012. I think a safer phrase to use would be that they were stuck in the mud. They didn’t improve, but they certainly didn’t get worse. Their draft had some hits and some misses and their play calling is still a head-scratcher. The stubbornness to become a running football team was so much that running backs coach John Settle was relieved of duties, but the rumor is that it was a mutual decision.
We’ve seen it time and time again; a young, athletic, running quarterback that is a playmaker takes the league by storm in his first year or two, then seems to come down to earth once NFL defenses have a year’s worth of tape on him. I think this is why Cam Newton struggled so much early in the year. The team did improve at the end of the season, winning five of their last six games. But it’s clear they still have a long way to go.