Do you remember after a few games into the 2012-13 NFL season when Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had to answer to every reporter and their mother regarding his performance up to that point? His numbers were top 10 in the league, yet he was being questioned why he wasn’t performing as he did the previous year when he won MVP and led his team to a 15-1 record.
Rodgers, seeming offended, responded basically by saying that he has played well and that obviously it is going to be nearly impossible to top the previous year’s performance.
Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton seems to be going through the same ordeal after his performance in 2012. As a rookie in 2011, Newton put on a phenomenal display of athleticism and the ability to pass the ball better than his college critics anticipated. In his first NFL season, he passed for 4,051 yards, 21 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He also ran the ball for 706 yards while scoring 14 touchdowns on the ground.
As a sophomore, Newton passed for 3,869 yards, 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while also finishing with a higher quarterback rating (86.2) than last year (84.5). He rushed for 741 yards and scored eight touchdowns on the ground.
Many of his critics will point out that he threw for nearly 200 yards more as a rookie and scored six more rushing touchdowns, both facts. What they fail to take into consideration is that Newton reduced his interception total by five. That number, to a coach, is more telling than passing yards or rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. If Newton is turning the ball over less, I have a feeling his coach, Ron Rivera, believes he had an improved year.
In a way, it would be unfair to judge Newton based on his rookie season. While it was a fantastic year for a rookie and will undoubtedly never be forgotten, it was also his first year in the NFL. Because of that, maybe defenses did figure him out in part. By focusing on Newton more in the redzone, defenses were able to limit his scores that way. At the same time, however, Newton limited his mistakes through the air and finished with a higher rating.
I can see an argument for either side, but in the end I do believe that Newton had a more mature and more improved year as a sophomore. As a coach, that’s all you can ask for from your young and developing quarterback.