1st Down – Cam is for Real
A year ago at this time, Cam Newton was at Auburn getting ready to play for a National Title against the Oregon Ducks. The consensus number one overall pick at the time was Stanford’s Andrew Luck. Everyone that knew anything about football just knew the Carolina Panthers would select Luck with the first pick.
Enter January 2011 and Luck decided that he would stay in school and return for his junior season at Stanford. Newton went on to lead Auburn to the National Title in Glendale. Ron Rivera was hired by the Panthers to be the successor to John Fox in Charlotte. The rest became history.
In last April’s NFL Draft, the Panthers took Newton with the number one pick. At the time, even with the numbers Newton put up at Auburn, no one thought he would transcend into the NFL. Everyone, including myself, thought of him more of the Tim Tebow type. After all, he was Tebow’s backup at Florida for a while.
All questions were answered by week 2 of the NFL season as to whether Newton could play quarterback in the National Football League. He put up over 400 yards passing in each of his 1st two games as a professional.
Newton has gone on through the first 12 games of 2011 to already set a record for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in one season with 13. Never mind he still has four more games to go before his season is complete.
He currently has just under 3,300 yards passing, putting him on pace for 4,400 yards for the season. That’s an astounding number for a seasoned veteran, much less an untested rookie. He has thrown for 13 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. No, that isn’t a great ratio, but find me a rookie quarterback that has put up the numbers Cam has.
Needless to say, the Panthers have found the quarterback that can lead them into the future. With a little help around him, Newton has the potential to be an MVP in the League someday. As it is, he is running away with the NFC Rookie of the Year title.
2nd Down – Ndamukong Suh Troubles
Detroit Lions defensive tackle, Ndamukong Suh came into the NFL last year with all the hype of a future Hall of Famer. Coming out of Nebraska, he was hailed as the next great player on the defensive side of the ball. For the first 26 games of his career, he didn’t disappoint.
Suh instantly made himself a force on the defensive line, causing havoc in the running game while still putting pressure on the quarterback in the passing game. His only downfall was being called a dirty player.
Through week 10 of this season, he had racked up almost $50,000 in fines for what was deemed as dirty hits on other players. This is kind of awkward considering he didn’t have that moniker coming out of Nebraska.
Then came week 11. In a game against the Green Bay Packers, Suh not only shoved the head of the Packers Evan Dietrich-Smith into the ground following a play, he proceeded to stomp on his arm while getting up from the ground. In swoops NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Suh ends up with a 2 game suspension and a requirement to attend anger management counseling.
His troubles didn’t stop there, though. This past weekend, Suh was in his hometown of Portland, Oregon. While there, he managed to wreck his vehicle with passengers in it. In the initial police report, no injuries were listed, and the case was closed as a simple accident.
On Monday, two of the passengers in Suh’s vehicle came out and rebutted the story Suh gave to the police. One of the passengers had to actually be taken to the hospital to have stitches placed in her head. The police report was amended to show an accident with serious injury, but the police have declined to press further charges.
All this trouble in the last couple of weeks makes you wonder what is going on in the mind of this young man. Suh has all the talent in the world to make him an elite athlete in the NFL and to propel him to stardom. It seems, though, he is taking the road that we all seem to see far too often; that of star athlete turned bust because of personal issues.
I for one want to see Suh come out of this and get back on the field and produce like the rest of America knows he can. There is no need for him to join the ranks of those players that couldn’t handle the spotlight and eventually fade away into the night.
3rd Down – Contract Year, Prize or Bust?
This year has seen an abundance of players that are playing for contract extensions or new contracts altogether. Players like Chris Johnson of Tennessee and Ryan Fitzpatrick of Buffalo have already secured their large paydays to no avail.
Johnson held out of training camp and the preseason until the Titans gave him a massive payday. Once he returned to the field, however, his numbers didn’t live up to the money he received. Until the last two weeks, Johnson looked a shell of his former self, averaging a mere 60 yards per game. His last two week he has come to life, averaging over 170 yards rushing per game. While he is back on pace to eclipse the 1000 yard mark for the season, he is still regarded as a bust considering the contract he was awarded.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, the starting quarterback of the Buffalo Bills came roaring out of the gates leading the Bills to a 5-2 start and the AFC East divisional lead. After that start, the Bills awarded Fitzpatrick with a healthy pay raise, making him one of the top paid quarterbacks in the game. What has happened since then? The Bills have lost 5 straight games and Fitzpatrick can’t seem to tell his own team from the opposition.
This all leads to a player that came into this season looking for a new contract and his team wasn’t willing to talk to him. What did he do? He simply came out and was having one of the finest years a running back can have.
Matt Forte of the Chicago Bears decided he would let his talents and his play earn him a big payday. Until he went out with an MCL sprain in week 12, he was 2nd in the NFL in total rushing yards. He was letting his actions speak. The only problem was the Bears were taking advantage of the results he was producing week in and week out.
With his MCL sprain, Forte is likely done for the regular season. Starting quarterback Jay Cutler is out as well and the Bears have dropped their last two games making it seem like Forte may potentially be done for the season. If the Bears can’t right the ship, Forte will end the season on a very sour note compared to how he was performing.
4th Down – Miami on the Rebound
Since starting the season a pathetic 0-7, the Dolphins have quietly gone 4-1 since. What gives then? All this has happened since former starting quarterback Chad Henne went down with a season ending injury. Matt Moore has stepped in and played admirably leading the Dolphins offense.
The biggest difference in the Dolphins’ turnaround, though, has been the play of its defense. In the Dolphins seven defeats, the defense was averaging giving up 24 points per game. In the five games since, they have only given up on average 10.5 points per game.
A lot of this is attributed to their rushing defense. Currently, the Dolphins rank 5th in the NFL in rushing defense giving up only 93 yards per game. If you can stop an opponent’s rushing attack, you can make them one dimensional and force them to pass and cause turnovers. That is exactly what the Dolphins have done.
On offense, running back Reggie Bush has seemed to find his fountain of youth from his days at USC, and is putting together a solid year in the backfield. Running the ball was the biggest knock on Bush in his time in the NFL. In college he could hit the corners and outrun all the defenders. In the NFL, that game plan just won’t work. You have to be able to carry the ball through the middle and hit the holes your offensive line gives you. This season, Bush has bought into that concept.
The unfortunate part to the turnaround of Miami is it most likely will not save the job of head coach Tony Sparano. He was essentially labeled a lame duck coming into this season and with the start the Dolphins had he solidified his way out the door.
How will the Dolphins end the year? Only the last four games will decide that. At this point, they will need to play the role of spoilers and either hurt their opponents playoff seeding, or keep another team from making the playoffs altogether.
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Stats used in this column obtained from espn.com