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Panthers going somewhere with Rivera, Newton

Posted May 8, 2013

Adam Schein recently published a column on NFL.com entitled “Carolina Panthers going nowhere with Ron Rivera, Cam Newton.”

I’m not sure where the Panthers will finish in 2013. We’ll see how it all plays out on the field. But as someone who covers the team on a daily basis, I thought I’d share my perspective on some of the topics discussed in Schein’s piece.

Below are a few passages from the column, followed by my take.

There's just this problem I can't get past when it comes to Cam Newton, Ron Rivera and this year's Carolina Panthers. I don't think they have a chance. They don't have a chance for anything. Honestly, the Panthers could be one of the four worst teams in the NFC.

The Panthers finished second in the NFC South with a 7-9 record by way of tiebreakers over the Saints and Buccaneers in 2012.

Seven of Carolina’s nine losses were by a touchdown or less, and the Panthers won five of their last six games.

In 2012, the Panthers finished 12th in total offense and 10th in total defense. Carolina has increased its win total in each season since 2010, yet Schein believes they are on their way to a bottom-four finish in the conference.

Let’s find out why.

I don't believe Newton has what it takes to eradicate and/or mask areas of deficiency. I don't believe he is an elite, upper-echelon quarterback.

Time for some statistics and some additional insight from Jack Moore’s article on advancednflstats.com. It is titled, “Cam Newton: The Best First Two Seasons Ever.”

For starters, Newton has thrown for more yards in his first two seasons (7,920) than anyone in NFL history. His 62 total touchdowns after two seasons are second only to Dan Marino.

Here’s more from Advanced NFL Stats: “Looking deeper, Newton has compiled 244.2 EPA (expected points added) and 5.04 WPA (win probability added). In the Advanced NFL Stats era -- dating back to 2000 -- only Aaron Rodgers has more EPA in his first two years as a full-time starter (at least 10 games started).”

For reference, the explanation of EPA can be read here and WPA here.

Here’s another noteworthy portion of Moore’s article: “Newton's statistical accomplishments through the first two seasons of his career will be the most prolific of anything we've seen in the NFL, ever… The writers bending their words to please them should stop and take a look at what's happening on the field. Newton has performed to a level nobody could possibly expect out of a quarterback at his age and development point in his career. To see what Cam Newton has done in his first two seasons and call it anything other than fantastic is lunacy, or worse.”

Well said.

(Newton) also can be inconsistent protecting the ball.

A trait attributed to almost every young starting quarterback ever, but let’s examine it.

Peyton Manning as a rookie? 28 interceptions. Andrew Luck? 18 interceptions.

Newton threw 17 picks as a rookie and 12 in his sophomore season.

Cue advancednflstats.com once again: “Newton's only major category away from the top: a 2.8 percent interception rate, still 16th of the 78 quarterbacks since 1933 to start at least 20 games in their first two seasons. Only Andy Dalton attempted more passes than Newton of those above him on the list.”

Yes, Newton has had his fair share of fumbles (15 total, five lost) but how many modern day quarterbacks also lead their team in rushing like Newton did in 2012? The last one to do it was Donovan McNabb in 2000.

And when it comes to protecting the ball, Newton is improving. He set a team record for the most consecutive pass attempts without an interception late in the 2012 season with 176, breaking the previous mark of 150 by Jake Delhomme.

(Newton’s) teammates have yet to vote him a captain. That tells me something.

It says the Panthers have been led by a veteran group of offensive captains in 2011 and 2012 – Steve Smith and Jordan Gross. Newton continually expresses his admiration for those captains and his time to wear a ‘C’ is coming.

When I look at the young group of quarterbacks, I don't put Newton in the category of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson. He hasn't earned it. Luck and RG3 carried bad teams and were the epitome of clutch; the vets followed their lead.

If you don’t think Panthers veterans follow Newton’s lead, you didn’t see the season finale in New Orleans and you certainly didn’t see what happened in the locker room postgame.

Newton suffered rib and ankle injuries. He was examined by doctors and played on. The Panthers won, 44-38.

That game meant nothing in terms of postseason qualification. It meant everything to Newton’s teammates and coaches.

Here’s a quote from a vet, left tackle Jordan Gross: "Cam coming back in today was just awesome. It made my day. Cam has just continued to impress me this season with his growth, his leadership, his attitude, his play, his game management."

I’ll also share this: As a writer for Panthers.com, I’m able to enter the locker room with the players and staff immediately after games.

After that Week 17 win over New Orleans, head coach Ron Rivera was emotional as he addressed the team. Newton put his arm around his coach and grabbed the attention of the room (pictured above).

“Everybody in this locker room, none of you gave up,” Newton said. “Coach, we didn’t give up on you, man.”

Newton raised his voice.

“There are a lot of things that happened in games this season, where we were this close. We could have done just a little bit more. We could have given just a little bit more. You all know it. I know it. Think about that this offseason.”

That was the final locker room speech of the season. Newton was the voice of the team. And everybody in that room was listening.

On the defensive side of the ball ... I loved the selection of Star Lotulelei in the draft. Luke Kuechly is a stud; I voted for the star linebacker as Defensive Player of the Year. But this defense still has more holes than Swiss cheese.

Again, the Panthers ranked 10th in total defense last season.

In 2013, the Panthers defense will welcome back three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason, who missed the majority of 2012 due to injury. They also will add the aforementioned Lotulelei and second-round pick Kawann Short to bolster the interior. The pair of rookies joins Dwan Edwards, who ranked third among NFL defensive tackles last season with six sacks.

Speaking of sacks, let’s not forget defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy. Johnson recorded 12.5 last season, and Hardy had 11. Carolina was one of two teams to feature a pair of players with double-digit sack totals.

The front seven featuring Kuechly -- Schein’s 2012 Defensive Player of the Year and the 2012 NFL tackle leader – appears to have the pieces in place to be pretty solid.

Here's the other ultra-important issue: Carolina clearly has the worst roster in the division.

I’m not saying the Panthers are perfect, but there’s more talent in Carolina than that statement suggests. This is a team that swept the Saints in 2012. A team that was a 59-yard, last-minute heave away from sweeping the Falcons. A team that lost to the Buccaneers by six points twice, once in overtime.

And if we are going to say a team is destined to fail based on roster evaluations in May, why bother playing the games? Maybe it’s because the NFL features tremendous parity and surprise playoff teams seemingly every season.  

History suggests the Panthers are an improving team led by a prolific young quarterback. Schein’s crystal ball suggests something else.

The Panthers will have their say on the field this fall.