Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 12/11/12
At 4-9, the Carolina Panthers’ season looks far different now than most fans would have imagined in August.  Coming off a 2011 season that was full of improvement and optimism, the sky was the limit for the Panthers.  Cam Newton, a rookie quarterback, was the team’s most valuable player, and he proved to be the centerpiece of the organization moving forward.  The Panthers went from a 2-14 team in 2010 to a 6-10 team in 2011.  Many supporters believed the 2012 season could bring 9, 10, or even 11 wins.   Center Ryan Kalil went so far as to write a letter to fans in the Charlotte Observer guaranteeing that Carolina would be playing in the Super Bowl. The reality is, at 4-9, the Carolina Panthers are struggling.  An important fact to recognize is that this team would be far worse without Cam Newton at quarterback.  He has fulfilled his role of stabilizing the passing game for the Panthers.  He has excelled, and he has improved.The most critical gauge for a player’s continuing success is improvement.  Improvement is different at varying stages of a player’s career, but it is always recognized.  Cam Newton has improved himself since 2011, although some disagree.  Stats will clear the air.From 2011 to 2012, Newton:Decreased his interception percentage, or interceptions per pass attempt, from 3.3% to 2.6%.  Improvement: Better decision-making.Increased his yards gained per pass attempt from 7.8 to 8.3, and his yards gained per completion from 13.1 to 14.2.  A full yard per completion is great progress.  Improvement: More efficient passing.Is on pace to almost match his total passing yards, in approximately 35 less attempts. Improvement: More efficient passing.Increased his rush yards per attempt from 5.6 to 6.2.  Improvement: More efficient rushing.Is on pace to surpass his total rushing yards by 80 yards.  Improvement: Rushing consistency.The most comparable statistics are the ones that are broken down per attempt.  As the total number of attempts will continually vary, the efficiency in a yards per attempt stat will always remain the same.  With that said, Cam Newton has improved on his yards per attempt in both the passing and the rushing categories.  He has run the Carolina offense quite well.The offensive troubles for Carolina stem from the run game, and more importantly the running backs.  I pointed out Newton’s improvement in his rush attack, in order to illustrate that, where the Panthers have struggled, he has excelled.  Carolina, as a team, is less potent because of a vast change in running power. From 2011 to 2012, the Carolina Panthers:Yards per rush attempt regressed from 5.4 to 4.3.  One yard on every attempt is game changing.  They were first in the league in yards per rush attempt 2011.Went from the 3rd ranked rush offense to the 11th ranked rush offense.  Where Newton is picking up slack, the running backs are failing.In such a competitive league, stats like the above can completely change a team’s season.  For those who may have doubted him in the beginning of the season, Cam Newton is clearly not Carolina’s problem.  He will improve with each passing year, but he needs help.  Newton has the ability to pull a team from the dirges of the NFL and make them compete.  If the Carolina running game can pick up as Newton continues to mature, the team can be a force to be reckoned with in years to come.  Follow me on twitter @Nicolas_Kern     
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