CHARLOTTE – Quarterback Cam Newton heads into the bye week of his second NFL season searching for answers and the Carolina Panthers off to a slow 1-4 start.
Coach Ron Rivera said Monday his 23-year-old QB is pressing.
Rivera believes Newton, last year’s AP offensive rookie of the year, is trying too hard to make big plays and needs to concentrate more on taking what opposing defenses are willing to give him.
“He wants to make things happen so much,” Rivera said. “It’s all part of him developing as a football player.”
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Newton struggled again during Sunday’s 16-12 loss to Seattle. Newton was sacked four times and completed just 12 of 29 passes for 141 yards as the offense failed to produce a touchdown.
“I have to be accurate throwing the ball and the check downs and that didn’t happen” Sunday, Newton, who did not speak to the media Monday, said after the loss to the Seahawks. “To a degree, I’m kind of embarrassed, you know? But things are going to get better.”
His disappointing stats have almost nowhere to go but up.
Newton has thrown five interceptions and just four touchdown passes. He has rushed for three touchdowns but also has fumbled five times, equaling his total from last season.
There are 21 starting quarterbacks in the NFL with a higher pass completion percentage. Looking at the numbers, it’s no surprise Newton has struggled badly at times to help the Panthers put points on the board.
Rivera said defenses have adjusted to Newton and the Panthers’ style of offense, which means Newton sometimes must go for shorter pass completions rather than attempting to force the ball down the field.
“There are some things teams are doing to take certain things that we do with our passing game,” Rivera said. “We’ve got to be able to go from what we’re doing, what we’re seeing, and react to that and then make plays accordingly. I think we have that ability in this offense, when you look at the different routes that we run, the combinations that are out there. If they take certain things away, we’ve got to go somewhere else and use those options. We haven’t been successful doing that. But we can be, because it’s there. It’s within what we do.”
Against the Seahawks, Rivera said Newton may have tried to force the ball to wide receiver Steve Smith too often. The coach said there were times when Newton had other wide receivers, or tight end Greg Olsen, open on routes underneath the Seattle pass coverage, but failed to get the ball to them.
“I think Cam was trying to get the ball downfield too far,” Rivera said. “If you look at some of the things that happened, there was one play where he had (wide receiver) Brandon LeFell underneath on the short cross. When you see those opportunities, those are ones you have to take.
“I think as he continues to develop in this offense, he’ll begin to understand those are some of the options that he has.”
Smith said Newton will be fine.
“Quarterbacks get all the credit when you win and all the blame when you lose. It’s always been that way,” Smith said. “People forget that even Tom Brady started out on the bench. It takes time to find that tricky balance for your offense, and a season is like a journey.
“There are going to be some potholes and flat tires along the way.”
In Sunday’s loss to the Seahawks, Newton also badly missed on a potential game-winning touchdown pass to backup tight end Ben Hartsock, Tge tight end was wide open in the end zone on a fourth-and-goal play from the Seattle 1-yard line on the Panthers’ next-to-last possession.
Now Newton and the rest of the Panthers will have the bye week to figure out if they can salvage their season.
“We’re a chunk team, a big-play offense,” Olsen said. “And when we’re on, we can light it up. We just need to learn sometimes to maybe be a little more patient. All of us.
“It’s not always going to be a home-run ball. Sometimes we’ve just got to take what’s there and keep the chains moving.”
Rivera said he believes that Newton will be able to find the rhythm that enabled the young quarterback to produce a combined 35 touchdowns last season (21 passing, 14 rushing) while throwing for more than 4,000 yards. The coach also pointed out that there have been periods this season where Newton has looked like the same quarterback he was a year ago.
“He’s had his moments,” Rivera said. “To sit here and give him a grade would be unfair, because you’ve got to take it, in my opinion, by game. To look at some of the games, some of the things he’s done really, really well and some of them he hasn’t done as well as he’s capable.
“We’ll just keep coaching him and expressing to him the things we need him to do to be successful.”